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a stand-up woman Doris Anderson

by Frances Rooney | June 11, 2007

Doris Anderson, 1921-2007

  • Long-time editor of Chatelaine
  • Decade-long campaigner for the Royal Commission on the Status of Women
  • Head of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women
  • Force behind section 28 of the Charter of Rights: “Notwithstanding anything in the Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed to male and female persons,” not just to men
  • President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women
  • Columnist
  • 50-year supporter of greater representation of women in Parliament and the tool of greater women’s say in how the country is run, proportional representation
  • Mentor to dozens of Canadian writers and journalists including June Callwood, Michelle Landsberg, Barbara Frum, Adrienne Clarkson, Eleanor Wachtel
  • Champion of fairness for all women.

This is an impressive list of achievements for any person in any time of history. Just how impressive it is in this case becomes more clear in light of the circumstances into which Doris Anderson burst in the 1950s.

Back then, magazines were telling women how to be sweet, unquestioning, subservient helpers to the husbands they had to work hard to please and keep.

Shortly after Doris became editor of Chatelaine, McCall’s Magazine ran an article for teenage girls that listed 142 ways to popular (August 1958). The list included:

# 65 Learn all about sport and cars.
# 79 Offer your services as water boy [yes, water boy] for the football team.
# 83 Develop a perfume that smells of ham and eggs to wear in the morning. The boys will love it.

This was a time when:

  • Divorce was almost unheard of, and divorced women and their children were stigmatized and ostracized in most “respectable” circles.
  • The assumption was that every woman wanted to be married, and that marriage was supposed to follow soon after graduation from high school or university.
  • Independent women were pitied and made fun of.
  • Women could get credit cards only with the permission of their fathers or husbands.
  • In many places, married women were prohibited by school board policy and/or law from teaching school.
  • Birth control – and information about birth control – was illegal in Canada, and would be until 1969.
  • Mainstream magazine ads showed white women swooning over new vacuum cleaners, dancing ecstatically with brooms, and all but disappearing into their adored new washing machines.
  • Women who had been independent and had worked in “men’s” jobs during World War Two were being squeezed out of the workforce and pushed back into the kitchen.

A new invention, the suburb, was becoming a virtual prison for many women. Suburban life meant isolation in vast planes of tract housing. Almost no women had cars. These endless rows of houses had no public transportation. There were no shops, no public libraries, no large parks or cultural centres nearby. During the day, these women were stuck with nowhere to go and no way to get there if they did have somewhere to go.

In record numbers, women turned to alcohol. The invention of tranquilizers produced a generation whose frustration and boredom were masked by dependency on prescription drugs, often monitored by their husbands as well as their doctors.

Women who did work were paid an average of 43% of what men received. The common argument for this imbalance (the term “pay equity” had not yet been coined) was that men had to support their families, while women worked for a little extra “pin money” to get small luxuries and treats. At the time, 25% of Canadian women were in the workforce, and the numbers were steadily growing.

The largest representation of women in a profession was doctors; 7% of general practitioners were women.

When Doris Anderson took over as editor of Chatelaine, she was paid $23,000. The editor of Maclean’s made $53,000. This inequity continued when Chatelaine became by far the largest revenue producer in the Maclean-Hunter empire.

Pregnant women were often fired. When the powers at Maclean-Hunter found out that Doris Anderson was pregnant, she was sent to work at home.

Women had virtually no voice in politics. It may not surprise us that in one of her first editorials in Chatelaine, Doris Anderson advocated greater representation of women in Parliament. In 1957, it was tantamount to heresy.

Her 1959 editorial about abortion brought threats that she would be fired and the magazine shut down.

Well before Betty Friedan, and when many magazines were telling women to greet their husbands at the door dressed in Saran Wrap and cocoa butter, Doris Anderson’s Chatelaine was running articles and editorials not only on women in politics and abortion but about:

  • the problems of working women,
  • battered babies,
  • women’s sexuality,
  • Canada’s archaic divorce laws – which forced women to appear before the Senate in Ottawa to argue their cases.

As she said in her autobiography, Rebel Daughter, Doris Anderson’s aims were simple:

What I wanted more than anything was to be able to look after myself and make sure that every other woman in the world could do the same … Like many feminists, I never dreamed – or wished – to be rich ... We wanted far more than that: We wanted to change the world.

In response to her friend’s desire to change the world, Michelle Landsberg said at the end of her public tribute to Doris in May, 2007: “Dear, dear Doris, you did.”

  • 1921 November 10 – born Hilda Doris Buck, Medicine Hat, Alberta, to Rebecca Laycock Buck, spends first five months of her life in a home for unwanted babies before her single mother takes her home
  • 1929 mother marries her father, Thomas McCubbin
  • graduates from teachers college, teaches in rural Alberta
  • 1940-45 puts herself through university
  • 1945 graduates, University of Alberta
  • 1945 moves to Toronto to be a journalist
  • goes to Europe to write fiction – an opportunity open to few women
  • 1950 returns from Europe
  • 1951 is hired at Chatelaine in advertising promotions
  • 1957-72 marries (has three sons), divorces
  • 1957-77 editor of Chatelaine
  • 1978 runs as a Liberal in a by-election for the Eglinton riding in Toronto – loses
  • 1979 is appointed chair of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women
  • 1981 February – resigns in protest of government interference, which leads to cancellation of National Conference on Women and the Constitution
  • 1981 spring – resignation leads to Ad Hoc conference of 1,300 women in Ottawa, which in turn leads to ...
  • 1981 April – inclusion of section 28 in the Charter
  • 1982 President National Action Committee on the Status of Women
  • 1982-92 columnist, Toronto Star
  • 1992-96 Chancellor, University of Prince Edward Island
  • 1998 chair, Ontario Press Council
  • 1998-2007 meets with and encourages feminists, particularly around proportional representation
  • 2007 dies March 2
honorary doctorates:
  • University of Alberta | 1973
  • Waterloo University | 1992
  • Simon Fraser University | 1997
  • Order of Canada | 1975
  • YWCA Woman of Distinction Award | 1982
  • Person’s Award | 1991
to continue the work

Two causes that were extremely important to Doris Anderson were:

  • Canadian Women’s Foundation, “Canada’s only national public foundation dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls.” To donate to the Doris Anderson Fund at Canadian Women’ Foundation, go to the website linked to below.
  • Equal Voice, a group of more than 1,200 women and men who have formed “a multi-partisan non-profit organization devoted to the still-bold idea that more women must be elected to every level of government in Canada.” To contribute to the Doris Anderson Fund for electoral reform at Equal Voice, contact the organization through its website, linked to below (Equal Voice cannot issue tax receipts).
related items
  • Affairs of State, by DORIS ANDERSON, Doubleday Canada, Toronto | 1988
  • Rebel Daughter: An Autobiography, by DORIS ANDERSON, Key Porter, Toronto | 1996
  • Two Women, by DORIS ANDERSON, a novel, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto | 1978
  • The Unfinished Revolution: The Status of Women in Twelve Countries, by DORIS ANDERSON, Doubleday of Canada, Toronto | 1991
  • Roughing it in the Suburbs: Reading Chatelaine Magazine in the Fifties and Sixties by VALERIE J. KORINEK, University of Toronto Press, Toronto | 2000
  • Unfolding Power: Documents in 20th Century Women’s History, by PAT STATON, ROSE FINE-MEYER, and STEPHANIE KIM GIBSON, eds., Green Dragon Press, Toronto | n.d.

This feature was first published on’s predecessor site CoolWomen.


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