"This is our war, too": Mary Dover, Commandant of the Canadian Women's Army Corps
During World War II, Canadian women, for the first time, were enlisted in the military to help win the war against fascism. Mary Julia Dover was among the first to enlist in the Canadian Women's Army Corps (CWAC); by the time she retired on VE-Day she was the second highest ranking officer in the corps. She was Commandant of the CWAC Training Centre at Kitchener, Ontario, went on to receive senior officers' training in the United Kingdom, and conducted a cross-Canada speaking tour in 1944 to encourage young women to enlist. Her commitment, intelligence, and charismatic personality would inspire many to do so. In 1946, she was awarded an Order of the British Empire in recognition of her leadership, dedication, and contribution to the war effort.
In 1918, the federal Women's Franchise Act gave the vote to female British subjects over the age of twenty-one. Suffragists like Nellie McClung believed that since women had proved invaluable to the war effort a new era of advancement for women would naturally follow. While initially eager to participate in the political life of Canada, women came to discover through the years 1919 to 1945 that the systemic barriers to male preserves of power were not as easy to overcome as they had anticipated.
For many young women, finishing high school became a more acceptable goal since it helped them get clerical work in offices. (1) In the wake of the heavy casualties during World War I, women's childbearing responsibilities as well as their role as wives and mothers, gained added emphasis in a society which needed to replenish and revitalize the next generation of Canadians. Women found themselves restricted to a pink-collar ghetto of professions such as nursing, teaching, social work, home economics, and library work. They had been permitted to enroll in Canadian universities since the late nineteenth century, but had achieved only a token representation in the professions. By 1921, women formed almost a quarter of the student population in Canadian universities, a figure that remained unchanged through the Depression years of the 1930s. (2) Many women enrolled in the Household Science programs which were socially acceptable since they acquired valuable domestic skills. (3)
With Canada's declaration of war against Germany in 1939, their situation changed. Single and eventually married women were called upon to make a vital contribution to the Canadian war effort during the years 1942 to 1945, when a serious manpower shortage occurred as men left to fight at the front. However, unlike World War I, the federal government intervened to coordinate women's voluntary contributions.
In March 1942, Prime Minister Mackenzie King's government created the Women's Division of the National Selective Service agency. The agency undertook a national registration of women aged twenty to twenty-four to identify young single women who could be recruited into the war industry. Although married women were required to register, the federal government hoped to employ single women only, leaving married women in the home.
Single women became the target of...