October is Women’s History Month

Be re-inspired by these 19th and 20th century women, and illustrative imagery and information about 21st century women as “connectors”. Find out about the history of Women’s History Month and other Canadian and International recognitions.

19th Century Wives, Mothers, and Daughters

6 women pioneers
“It is difficult to know exactly how many Black women … migrated to Vancouver Island …. this lack of visibility is due in part to their classification in the historical record only as wives, mothers and daughters.” Sherry Edmunds-Flett

Nancy and Lucretia Alexander: On July 1, 1858 the Alexanders boarded the ship “Oregon” for Vancouver Island. Lucretia is the 5th child, 3rd daughter, born in 1861. She grew up in a loving, respected and active family; at the age of 25 she married William Mortimer of New Westminster and raised 8 children. In July 1995 the Alexander family gathered for a reunion in Victoria. Over 200 descendants came from across Canada and the United States. Today more than 100 descendants of the Alexander family still live in the area.

Maria and Harriet Gibbs: Maria graduated from Oberlin College in 1854. She then taught school in Philadelphia. In 1859 she married Mifflin Gibbs and moved to Victoria. Maria had all their children, 4 boys and 2 girls, here in Victoria. Ida, the youngest daughter completed her college education at Oberlin College in 1884, receiving both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English. Harriet (shown), began her study of music at the age of nine. In 1889, Harriet became the first African-American woman to graduate from Oberlin Conservatory with a degree in music.

Sylvia and Emma Stark: Sylvia was born into slavery in Clay County Missouri in 1839. Sylvia taught herself to read. “When the master’s children did their homework, she would listen. When they went out to play she would practice by herself. Her master would have been very angry if she had known as it was against the law to teach a slave.” Marie Stark Wallace. Emma was born in California on February 17, 1856; she was four years old when her family settled on Salt Spring Island. Completing high school; on August 1, 1874 at the age of 18, Emma was hired to teach in a one-room school in the Cedar district near Nanaimo, becoming the first Black teacher on Vancouver Island.

“A Home for Our Children in the Right Place”

“… Through their labour – inside and outside of the home, their social and benevolent activities as well as religious involvement, the women of the African Canadian community built better lives for themselves and their children.” Sherry Edmunds-Flett

Sherry is the executive director of the L.I.N.C. (Long-term Inmates Now in the Community) Society -an organization she founded in 1992 with her late husband Glen Flett. L.I.N.C. manages the Soapbox Community Garden and Emma’s Acres-an award winning agricultural social enterprise, both located in Mission, B.C.
Sherry graduated from Queen’s University in 1982 with a BA Honours in Sociology. She wrote her Honours thesis under the direction of Hans Mohr of the Law Reform Commission. A year later, Sherry graduated with a Bachelor of Education in English and Music from Queen’s. Her graduate degrees include: a Masters in African Area Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (1988) and doctoral candidate status in History from Simon Fraser University. Her PHD thesis is on the history of African Canadian women in British Columbia from 1858-1938. Sherry was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 and the Champion of Diversity by the Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards in 2017.
Sherry is a lifetime member of the Association of Black Women Historians, a member of the Black Canadian Studies Association, a member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and a member of BC Black History Awareness Society. She can be reached at seflett@telus.net or at 604-852-5514.

Our Society is grateful to Sherry for allowing us to share with you Chapter 3 (draft) “A Home for our Children in the Right Place” of her thesis.

” … Through case studies of first generation women who migrated to Vancouver Island between the years 1858 and 1860 …. the province’s African Canadian women existed at the intersection of gender, race and class in the nineteenth century.”

“These were younger women, with a majority under the age of 35 years, either girls who had come with their families… or young married women who emigrated with their husbands. A handful … were in their late thirties or early forties with only four women over 50 years of age.”

Read the full chapter

20th Century Trailblazers and Icons

Rosemary BrownEleanor Collins, C.M.Barbara HowardRuby Sneed
Rosemary Brown Commemorative StampEleanor Collins, C.M.Barbara HowardRuby Sneed
The first woman of African descent to serve in a provincial legislature in Canada. She was elected in 1972 and served until 1986. In 1975 she ran for the leadership of the Federal NDP Party. Canada Post Commemorative Stamp 2009.The first woman in Canada and the first artist of colour in North America to host her own national-weekly television music variety show in 1954.
Photo by: Ghassan Shanti.
The first Black woman to represent Canada in an international athletic competition (Empire Games, Australia, February 1938) and the first person from a visible minority to be hired by the Vancouver School Board. Photo: Creative Commons License.Renowned Classical Pianist and Music Educator. In 1972 she undertook a work study in Japan under Dr. Shinichi Suzuki and later developed the first Suzuki Piano Program in western Canada at the Vancouver Music Academy.
Photo Courtesy of Theresa Lewis.


21st Century: The Connectors

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the “The Tipping Point” coined the term “connectors”. These people are able to span many different worlds, subcultures and niches with their energy, insatiable curiosity and a willingness to take chances; extraordinary people with a knack to make friends, develop acquaintances and partnerships.

Black business woman sitting in chair leaning forward

HERstory in Black: This project was initiated in 2017 as part of Canada 150 celebrations to share the experiences of 150 women who excel in their field, who push for greater diversity and who help build vibrant communities.

Black Canadian Women, Writers and Authors: Each year when February rolls around there is a sudden influx of content featuring black writers, artists, historical moments and figures. The Room centres on writers in the here and now that you should read all year.

Woman sitting on floor using computer, bookcase and stacks of books around her
Women in a business meeting

How She Hustles is a vibrant network of diverse Canadian women that connect through social media and special events; through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube; a virtual village of social influencers and supporters.

About Women’s History Month

In Canada, this month corresponds with the celebration of Persons Day on October 18. It was on October 18th, 1929 that Canadian women were first declared to be legally considered as ‘persons’, giving women the right to be appointed to the Senate of Canada and paved the way for women’s increased participation in public and political life. In Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States it is celebrated during March, corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8.
A Victoria woman started it all. Lyn Gough of Victoria led the campaign. The goal was to encourage greater appreciation of the notable contributions of women to Canadian history.
The Project Team: Project leaders were Lyn Gough, Katherine (Kay) Armstrong, and Kathy Blasco; all from Victoria, B.C. Other Victoria women involved in the campaign were Sylvia Bagshaw, Catherine Draper, and Avis Rasmussen. Lyn Gough is a historian and author of a book about pioneers in the Women’s Temperance Movement. Kay Armstrong was a recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case, and Kathy Blasco was a school teacher.

Other Resources

Persons Day in Canada is October 18
Federal Government’s Status of Women Department is soon to be Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE)
International Women’s Day is March 8
International Day of the Girl Child is October 11

Read the full stories of the women featured in this article.
*Nancy Alexander *Rosemary Brown *Eleanor Collins *Harriet Gibbs-Marshall *Ida Gibbs-Hunt *Barbara Howard *Ruby Sneed *Emma Stark *Sylvia Stark

Credits and Reference Materials:
Sherry Edmunds-Flett. PHD thesis on the history of African Canadian women in British Columbia from 1858-1938.
Mothers and Daughters:
Gallery compiled by BC Black History Awareness Society
Nancy Alexander: Image A-01068 Courtesy of Royal BC Museum and Archives
Lucretia Alexander: Image M01015 Courtesy of City of Victoria Archives
Maria Gibbs: Courtesy of Association for the Study of African American Life and History; and Crawford
Kilian, Author “Go Do Some Great Thing: The Black Pioneers of British Columbia”.
Harriet Gibbs: Public Domain
Sylvia and Emma Stark: Courtesy of Myrtle Holloman, Salt Spring Island, B.C. & Peggy Cartwight
20th Century Trailblazers and Icons:
Rosemary Brown: Canada Post Commemorative Stamps.
Eleanor Collins: Photo by: Ghassan Shanti, Courtesy of Judith Maxie
Barbara Howard: “Barbara Howard is being inducted @BCSportsHall in the Pioneer category. She is a LEGEND!” by miss604 licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Ruby Sneed: Courtesy of Theresa Lewis
21st Century Connectors:
Business Woman and Women in Meeting: Unsplash christina-wocintechchat-com
Researcher-Writer: Pexels Christina Morillo 118156