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Themes - Activism

Florence Bird

Photograph of Florence Bird

(1908-1998)

Broadcaster, journalist, senator

Source


The Honourable Florence Bird née Rhein was born to a comfortably off family in Philadelphia in 1908. Both her parents were progressive in their views of women's abilities. Her studies at Bryn Mawr were followed by a "grand tour" of Europe and, in 1928, marriage to journalist John Bird. They moved to Montreal in 1931. While there, Florence Bird tried her hand at writing fiction, producing four novels - all of which were rejected by publishers. She then turned to book reviews and short stories, the latter for the Canadian Forum. Some of her female friends had formed a peace study group, to whom she began giving lectures. She also lectured the Montreal Junior League and the YWCA. This public speaking experience would later prove valuable in her career.

In 1937, the Birds moved to Winnipeg where John worked for the Winnipeg Tribune. Florence wrote several pieces for that paper, without pay. It was at this time that she adopted the pen name Anne Francis, taking the name from maternal relations. The beginning of the Second World War in 1939, led to the formation of the Central Volunteer Bureau (CVB) in Winnipeg, established to co-ordinate volunteer activities. Florence Bird handled publicity for the CVB until her writing and broadcasting career began taking up most of her time. Throughout the war, she wrote a weekly column for the Winnipeg Tribune about women's war work called "Holding the Home Front". For five years, the Birds provided wartime refuge to the wife and children of an Oxford friend of her husband.

Her broadcasting career began with "Behind the Headlines" in 1941 for a provincially owned radio station. The following year, her broadcasts were for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) under the name "Headline History". This radio work for CBC continued with a move to Ottawa in 1946; she later assumed the roles of producer, interviewer and scriptwriter.

Florence Bird is best remembered for her work as chair of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. In an interview several months before her death in 1998, she indicated that this is just what she wanted. Formed in 1967 to "inquire into the status of women in Canada...to ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society," the Commission was initially greeted with derision. Tabled in 1970, the Commission's report contained 167 recommendations. The recommendations, many based on the public hearings held and 468 briefs received, dealt with issues such as day care, the Indian Act and equal pay for work of equal value.

Florence Bird was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1971 and was appointed to the Senate in 1978. Following the Royal Commission, Ms. Bird continued her journalism work and also served on Canadian delegations to United Nations organizations that emphasized women's economic rights and the role of women in developing countries. A recipient of the Governor General's Persons Award in 1985, she also was presented with a number of honorary degrees. Her name lives on in her writing and also in the Florence Bird Award for communications that increase public awareness of women's rights as human rights and the Florence Bird Memorial Library at Status of Women Canada.

Resources

Anderson, Doris. — "The report: making women more equal". — Chatelaine. — Vol. 44, no. 2 (February 1971). — P. 1

Anderson, Doris. — "Whatever happened to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women?" — Chatelaine. — Vol. 44, no. 11 (November 1971). — P. 1

Bird, Florence. — Anne Francis : an autobiography. — Toronto : Clarke, Irwin, 1974. — 324 p.

Bird, Florence. — Options unlimited : women in our developing society. — Fredericton : University of New Brunswick, 1975. — 18 p.

Edmonds, Alan. — "Cheer up, girls, help is on the way". — Maclean's. — Vol. 81, no. 1 (January 1968). --P. 9-10, 52, 56

Enman, Charles. "Champion of women's rights". — The citizen Ottawa. — (January 19, 1998). — P. A4

Francis, Anne. — Holiday in the woods. — Toronto : Clarke Irwin, 1976. — 111 p.

Jewett, Pauline. "Where were the MEN when Canada set out to find what makes life tough for its women?" — Maclean's. — Vol. 81, no. 12 (December 1968). — P. 12

Morton, Elizabeth Homer. — "Raising the status of Canadian women". — Queen's quarterly. — Vol. 78, no. 3 (Summer 1971). — P. 304-308

Newman, Christina. — "What's so funny about the Royal Commission on the Status of Women?" — Saturday night. — Vol. 84, no. 1 (January 1969). — P. 21-24

Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. — Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. — Ottawa : The Commission, 1970. — 488 p.

Speirs, Rosemary. — "Will this woman change your life?" — Chatelaine. — Vol. 42, no. 7 (July 1969), — P. 32, 52-3

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