The IODE has played a key role in the making of Anglo-Canada in the image of Britain, and has been an important part of British imperial and Canadian national history. Due to gender-blind frameworks, however, historians have paid little attention to the IODE. Today, at a time when the countries are focusing on national, rather than imperial, histories, the IODE is mistakenly portrayed as British or ‘international’. There is a sense in which it is seen as old-fashioned and as part of the past. Throughout the twentieth century, the IODE did manifestly age. As the grey hairs multiplied there has been a concerted effort to remain as innovative and ‘up to date’ as the IODE was when it started out with the marking of graves in 1900. As has happened with other women’s organizations, the IODE has found many of its initial concerns to have been accomplished, or else professionalized, while others have been found to be no longer appropriate. Concern over an ageing demographic emerged in the mid-1960s, when the IODE asked ‘Are we dinosaurs?’1 The longevity of the IODE is impressive, and although membership never again reached the heights attained in the First World War and, after a boost during the Second World War, has steadily declined, the IODE has managed to leave a distinctive, if somewhat hidden and changing, imprint throughout the twentieth century.
Why the membership declined can be explained by a variety of factors. The peaks during wartime suggest that many women joined seeing in the IODE an avenue by which they could contribute to the war effort rather than out of a more general dedication to the philosophy of the IODE. The IODE was founded during the South Africa War, and thrived in membership during subsequent wars. Without those boosts, doubtless the otherwise gradual decline in membership would have been hastened, but it is difficult to imagine an alternative history for an organization whose identity was so bound up with the ultimate test of patriotism: war. Meanwhile, the intergenerational structure of the IODE has been able to keep the Order going, with new generations of women prompted to join because of the proffered continuity with the past and the promise of interaction with their peers, rather than being lured by new ideas.
Current members themselves view the declining membership in the context of women’s changing place in society. The twentieth century saw huge changes in the lives of Western women, Canadian women included. In general, women have displayed decreasing interest in the work of women’s organizations. As increasing numbers of women joined the paid workforce, there was simply not enough time for voluntary work. Interestingly, as welfare states have grown, many women in paid employment have found themselves occupied in ‘women’s work’ that was previously the domain of the voluntary sector. ‘Working women’ were not available for meetings held in the afternoons, and their evenings were often spent doing housework and caring for children. Besides these reasons, current members sense that their ideas do not appeal to younger generations. There are suggestions that young women are now more self-absorbed, that they lack a sense of the importance of helping others, and are perhaps even lazy. Members see the secularizing of society and the advance of conspicuous consumption as related to the IODE’s declining relevance – the latter factor seeming rather ironic given the IODE’s image of white gloves and fur.
But what makes the IODE so interesting is its perseverance as an organization, and its ability to adapt and re-invent itself, building on ideas largely moulded at the beginning of the twentieth century. It might be assumed that as the British Empire declined, so too would the IODE. Here, the IODE’s positioning as a national, as well as an imperial, organization is an important factor, one on which this book has focused. The IODE was able to latch on to a growing Canadian nationalism, at the same time as it reluctantly shed the imperial past and ideas that were seen as increasingly redundant in modern Canadian society. Such adaptation is applicable on a wider scale to the other former ‘white dominions’ or ‘settler societies’ of the British Empire, which have also developed national identities out of their imperial pasts, simultaneously fostering an attachment to the British Commonwealth. In its relationship to the Empire and the Canadian nation, the IODE has undergone changes that bear a resemblance to the histories of other imperial patriotic organizations, such as the Victoria League, the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts Movements, and the Royal Empire/Commonwealth Society.
Throughout the book I have used the history of the IODE to explain how the Order constructed a hegemonic Anglo-Canadian identity that was based upon mimicking Britain. Clearly, there was in that regard considerable regional variation within Canada, but I argue that a dominant, if changing, narrative did exist. Further, tracing the history of the IODE reveals a shifting focus from that of a Canada seeking a ‘sense of power’ within the British Empire to that of a nation situated in its own geographic space. How this process came about is the domain of my second argument: that the IODE’s Anglo-Canadian identity was produced in a recursive relationship to the threats and resistance that, at specific moments, challenged its composition. There was a recurring sense that threats posed by difference forced the IODE to redefine the hegemonic. In the early years of the twentieth century it was the threat of immigrants from the less desirable positions on the racial hierarchy that led the IODE to value British immigrants. Similarly, it was because of the fear that immigrants would not assimilate that the IODE focused on canadianization and, in doing so, more clearly defined a Canadian identity based upon features of that Canadian space. War forced the IODE to defend and define itself against the enemy, serving the ‘mother country’ in an ever-strengthening capacity, while war memorialization, which continues today, perpetuated memory and simultaneously promoted imperial and national identity through the education of future generations. During the Cold War, Communism was the enemy, with the IODE focusing on the threat it posed to Canadian space and identity, and, in ‘combating Communism’, redefining the principles of Canadian democracy and citizenship away from those of Britain and towards those of North America.
For many Canadians, the British Commonwealth itself is no longer important. Canadian identity is now located in Canadian space, with conquest, progress, modernization and the assimilation of all difference no longer considered unquestioned objectives. ‘White settler society’ now appears to be a limited descriptor, one that fails to encompass the complexities of gender, race and class, and risks a reassertion of Anglo-Celtic dominance. The IODE’s work in the Canadian north at once shows the most complete relocation of Anglo-Canadian identity from British imperial space to Canadian space, and captures the contemporary fragmentation of a previously totalizing Canadian identity. Despite this fragmentation of earlier universals, however, there remains a strong continuity with the past. IODE members still mention ‘a bright future’ for the Canadian north, but the discourse of modernization and canadianization is muted. One woman, when asked about how successful she considers the IODE’s work in the north to have been, focused on providing children with food and education as the way to a bright future.2 With the IODE’s earlier belief in modernization and progress in question, its projects are becoming increasingly local, and there are doubts as to how much longer the Labrador project can last.
Twentieth-century changes in the lives of women included new voting rights, entry to the paid workforce in unprecedented numbers, opportunities in higher education and occupations previously reserved for men, and a generally increasing voice and influence. Ironically, as women’s traditional place was challenged, and women were more than ever present in positions of power and influence, the IODE found itself most comfortable in the maternal spaces of charity work and benevolent and gendered care, without the overarching patriotic purpose it had asserted early in the twentieth century. As figures 9.1 and 9.2 show, no longer is the IODE visible marching through streets on Remembrance Day, presenting briefs to government, or having its latest opinions featured in newspapers. Instead activity continues in private and muted ways that are embarrassed about the past.
It is not possible for the IODE to simply forget the past. Rather its past is seen as a process of transformation, and that the IODE survives to the present is evidence of the importance of its adaptability. Literature on colonialism that generalizes about the colonizing process often implies a rupture in political rule or an event of cultural resistance as the defining moment in the identity of a nation. As the country’s hegemonic identity has been controlled by Canada’s Anglo-Celtic immigrants from the imperial centre, attempting to impose a white settler society, changes to the Canadian identity are not about making a clean break from the colonial to the post-colonial, erasing past rules and dominance. Rather, change is about the perpetuation of British values and their adaptation to Canadian space. As representative of this change, the IODE has continued to argue for the importance of the tenets and institutions of British colonialism, especially the monarchy, to Canada.
In 1968 the IODE presented a brief on the monarchy to the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on the Constitution, urging renewed emphasis on the importance of the monarchy’s place in Canada.3 In the 1990s, amid increasingly general doubts in Canada and Britain, IODE members retained a strong sense of the importance of Canada’s system continuing to be that of a federal constitutional monarchy, stating: ‘I think that everybody needs something that is pretty well unobtainable. You need a focus’;4 and ‘I think that the Queen is an enduring symbol, and that’s something that you don’t have to worry about going away. You need a head of state [who is] above and beyond …’.5 Another member expressed her belief that the monarchy offers a level of ‘protection’ missing from the government of the USA, and referred to Ronald Reagan as having been as ‘crazy as a march hare. You know, I wouldn’t let Ronald Reagan look after my own chequing account.’6 The new Canadian flag and the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution were changes that many members of the IODE could accept only after some time had passed.
The biggest silence in the history of the IODE is in respect of the underlying importance of Canada’s southern neighbour. The influence of the USA, as became very evident during the Cold War, was a large contributing factor to the IODE’s focus on Canadian space. On the one hand, the IODE has considered the USA a republican enemy, threatening Canada with its politics and culture. Here endless work by IODE members in film and education, and in the general promotion of Anglo-Canadian culture, although not often documented as such, was undertaken to ward off American influences. In fact, however, if attachments to British institutions are stripped away, the IODE’s brand of patriotism, with its emphasis on hard work and fundraising, has much in common with the patriotism of women’s organizations’ in the USA. Even during the Cold War, when Canada moved into its north for strategic reasons that involved a threat from the USA, the IODE remained caught up in the rhetoric of British democracy, while adopting American anti-Communist sentiments.
Another noteworthy silence is that over French Canada. Highly placed on the IODE’s perceived hierarchy of races, French Canadians were sometimes referred to as a ‘founding race’; but they were not considered a serious challenge to the dominant Anglo-Celtic Canadian identity of the IODE, and were left largely alone. The lack of mention of French Canada in IODE documents is startling. This book definitely represents ‘one solitude’ of Canada’s history. Opposition to conscription during the two world wars, although considerable, was in the main geographically confined to Quebec, while IODE attention was centred on being a loyal member of the British Empire, and not on addressing domestic problems. It was not until the 1960s that the IODE paid attention to French Canada, as resistance to Anglo dominance mounted and there were demands for greater recognition of bilingualism and biculturalism.
The membership of the IODE is no longer a matter of class. Whereas the first IODE members could be regarded as a group of élite women in long white dresses, hats and gloves, often the wives of doctors, lawyers and business people, contemporary members are ‘just ordinary people’ who are ‘much more relaxed’.7 A contemporary member, who considers herself to be ‘untypical’, and with no family history of IODE membership, recalls the mid-1950s when her friends asked her to join: ‘It seemed like a bit of an honour to be asked because it seemed like all the best people in town belonged to IODE.’8 A Calgary members thinks that IODE has become more flexible, with fewer issues labelled ‘Private and Confidential’ – ‘or, as they used to say, “on the different levels”, especially at executive levels’; primary chapter members can now feel comfortable talking to national officers and are told to have fun while they are working.9 Class change has varied provincially. The Prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and also Ontario, appear to be the more diverse, whereas provinces with smaller memberships, such as Prince Edward Island, have retained their homogeneity. A Charlottetown paper reported in the late 1950s that ‘the IODE is not a class-conscious organization, though among its members are women whose social background is in the “upper brackets”’.10
As the hegemonic Anglo-Canadian identity fragmented, there was an opening up of membership to those of diverse religious beliefs. This is seen as a strength by a contemporary Roman Catholic member in Fredericton, who believes that the IODE gives a chance for women of other religious backgrounds to become involved: ‘It doesn’t matter what church you belong to, you can belong [to the IODE].’11 Overall, however, the mainstream continues to be Christian, with a traditionalist interest in education:
I went to my grandchildren’s school for Christmas, and there was a lot of controversy about the school’s being Christian when we have so many ethnics coming in. And I went to that programme and people who had the highest profile positions in those plays and concerts that they put on were the Indians, the Orientals, the whole bit. They loved it. You talk to the Jewish people. They say that when they went to school they loved the Christian Christmas: it was colourful, it was exciting. They had parts in plays, they did things. And why is it that, if such few people are criticizing it, we should be taking it away? Everybody’s so afraid of our image. I really strongly believe that one of the strongest things that we should be supporting at all times … [is] Canadians, being good, and good citizenship. Being good Canadians.12
In these contemporary attitudes towards race, religion and culture, despite an overall trend towards the acceptance of difference, little has changed since the start of the IODE at the beginning of the twentieth century. While difference is sometimes accepted, there is the belief that assimilation is actually in the best interests of different religions and ethnicities. Indeed, this is presented as if it were a principle of the Christian Church.
In recent times, the founding patriotism that made the IODE unique as an organization of women primarily concerned with citizenship, and not necessarily with children, has been officially replaced by charitable endeavour and a distinct focus on children. Meanwhile, unofficially, patriotism has remained, with the focus no longer on Canada within the British Empire, but on the Canadian nation. Individual members continue their patriotic focus. A Regina member who rejects the perception that the IODE should be embarrassed for ‘flag waving’ proudly flies her flag on every Canadian occasion: ‘I’ve had kids come to my door and say, “What have you got your flag out there for?” And I’ll say, “Well this is such and such day, and I feel proud to be a Canadian, aren’t you proud to be a Canadian?”’13 A Calgary member was drawn to the IODE by its patriotism:
I guess that one of the things was that it was patriotic. And I’ve always really been a proud Canadian … I’m really concerned about my country … I want to keep Canada a country that my family, my kids, and my grandkids can be safe in. And be proud of. So I guess that’s why I work for Canada, because I think if you’re working for the IODE you’re working for your country.14
Patriotism may now be centred within Canada, but British colonial attitudes from the past remain the dominant influence, as can be seen in this New Brunswick member’s assertion of her enduring patriotism:
I’ve always been patriotic. I really have been. Probably unnecessarily. I can remember when we were first married and we were listening to a show on radio and they ended with God Save the King, and I stood up in bed just to be facetious. But that’s how much I felt you should stand up for God Save the King. My husband laughed at me. He said, ‘Really, you know, standing up in bed!’15
Over the years, fundraising has moved away from its early patriotic orientation to involve anything that makes money. There is continuity, though, and the retention of fundraisers of large scope and organization, such as operating coat checks and taking entries at exhibitions. In Vancouver municipal members have operated the coat check at Hastings Park for over thirty years.16 On the opposite side of the country, in New Brunswick, a chapter took entries for the handicrafts building at the Atlantic National Exhibition. A participant noted that receiving $1,500 for their labour was a much easier way of raising money than baking or selling tags: ‘It’s an enjoyable way [of raising money], and we give prizes to school children for their entries and handicrafts.’17 After the Second World War, fashion shows, a transmutation of previous pageants, became a popular and nationwide fundraising event for the IODE. For individual chapters, a large event such as a fashion show could raise enough money in a single evening to keep the chapter’s budget going for a year.18 While bridge parties were a common event in the past, enjoyed by many members, running, but not playing, bingo is now widespread. An Ontario member notes: ‘In every chapter we have bingo and make fantastic money. Usually you work so hard to raise money, and now they’re doing it the modern way of bingos.’19 Similarly, a Saskatchewan member stated:
Lots of it is bingo these days. I try with fundraising. A lot of times I’ve bought something and donated it for a raffle, and made up the tickets. But everybody hates buying tickets, and I’m not much for bake sales, a good tried and true. But I think that, a lot of times, you work for a few days doing the baking, and then you turn around and buy it back. We do catering, too, and we have the bridge club, fashion shows … Some chapters make fruit cakes for Christmas and Christmas puddings. We used to have hockey pools for the Stanley Cup play-offs.20
While exercise and fitness were important parts of the IODE’s constructions and justifications of racial preferences, competitive sports is another area of notable silence. Given the strong connections between the Empire’s unity, drilling for war and competitive sports, it is ironic that the IODE was remiss in this powerful twentieth century agent of popular nationalism. But as a bastion of masculinity, more so than the spaces of politics and Parliament, commerce and academia, the sporting arena was not a domain of the IODE.
In Cat’s Eye, the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood describes interwar classroom activities at Queen Mary’s school:
Over the door to the cloakroom, so that you can feel you’re being watched from behind, there’s a large photograph of the King and Queen, the King with medals, the Queen in a white ballgown and diamond tiara … Things are more British than they were last year. We learn to draw the Union Jack, using a ruler and memorizing the various crosses for St George of England, St Patrick of Ireland, St Andrew of Scotland, St David of Wales. Our own flag is red and has a Union Jack in one corner, although there’s no saint for Canada. We learn to name all the pink parts of the map.21
In this description of Anglo-Canadian sensibilities fact meets fiction in that it was probably the IODE that placed the picture of the king and queen in Atwood’s classroom, provided a school library, offered prizes for imperial essays and influenced the school curriculum. The IODE has been a vital part of Anglo-Canadian sensibilities, present in the hearts and minds of Canadians.
But rhetoric has never been enough for the IODE. It has worked hard to make an impact in education, health and welfare. At its foundation, the IODE was ahead of the governments concerned, displaying its initiative with the marking of graves in the South Africa War, and in providing bursaries for children of the war-dead after the First World War. Members of the IODE were listened to on school and health boards. During times of war and peace, but especially during the two world wars, and again with postwar civil defence work, and in the Canadian north, the IODE has been called upon by Canadian governments. Those governments took the IODE’s recommendations seriously, and in its work the IODE was trusted to be organized and efficient. As times changed, and the IODE shifted from patriotism to charitable work, it lost none of the high regard in which Canadians have held it. Such respect is still particularly strong with regard to the IODE’s contribution to the two world wars.
The IODE is an important part of imperial history. It made a substantial and arguably enduring effort during the twentieth century to produce and perpetuate Anglo-Canadian identity. Yet, because of a masculinist, imperial division of space, relegating women to a ‘separate sphere’, as a women’s organization the IODE has not always been considered important; and despite the IODE’s widespread influence it has not always been given the recognition that it deserves. As itself a supporter of a totalizing Canadian identity, being considered unimportant has not necessarily been a uniform disadvantage for the IODE. Rather, combining race and class positions, the IODE was able to access gendered feminine as well as masculine spaces. In this way, the IODE’s history reveals a complex relationship to a patriarchy that is not as stable as it is often assumed to be. Although comprised of a group of women, the IODE is not to be treated as separate from patriarchy, masculine identity and public spaces, as it helped to produce those constructions as part of its overall standpoint as national and imperial citizens. Indeed, to push the argument further, the IODE was responsible for propping up patriarchy. In recent years deconstruction has been the fate of many categories previously considered absolute. As this history of the IODE indicates, now is perhaps the time for understandings of patriarchy to be complexified.
An examination of the IODE’s history reveals that, in terms of their feminist politics, not all women’s organizations are to be categorized in a straightforward manner. Women’s historians since the 1970s have in the main looked to women’s groups of the past as feminist forbears who can provide inspiration and examples for the present. Their focus was on overtly feminist groups, which had women as their central cause. On the contrary, the IODE was first and foremost patriotic, and often advanced a conservative politics. Yet, to label the IODE ‘conservative’ is not to do justice to the complex workings of feminist and patriarchal politics. In some of its patriotic work, even that which on the surface privileged a returned serviceman, such as the War Memorial Scholarships, the IODE was supportive of women. As with all areas of its educational work, the presence of members who believed women to be the equals of men and deserving of equality of opportunity, a considerable number of them teachers themselves, ensured that the IODE offered strong support for women’s education at all levels. In the landmark cause of first-wave feminism, women’s suffrage, the IODE was a central player, being perceived by the nation and the Empire as credible because of its patriotism. And it is worth repeating that among the IODE’s membership were important firsts for Canadian women: two of the first women academics (Wilhelmina Gordon and Mary Bollert); Canada’s first woman mayor (Charlotte Whitton); the first woman Canadian federal minister (Ellen Fairclough); the first woman provincial lieutenant-governor (Pauline McGibbon); and the first woman chancellor of a Canadian university (also Pauline McGibbon). For an organization that was premissed upon a willingness to speak out on citizenship, it makes sense that civic duty was taken seriously. The history of the IODE shows that feminist outcomes can stem from a variety of motives, and that the effects might be useful for Anglo-Celtic women, while detrimental to others.
As Anglo-Canadian identity was hegemonic, claiming total dominance and demanding the assimilation of all difference, it was threats and not silences that led the IODE to defend and define Canada. Until the 1960s, French Canada was perceived as non-threatening by the IODE, which accordingly paid it little attention. As French Canadian voices were heard, in the face of threats from those outside of Northern Europe and Britain, they were to some extent accommodated. Over the years, a series of challenges to Anglo-Celtic principles, from immigration, war and Communism, forced the IODE to define a national identity that was increasingly constructed within Canadian space and from Canadian subjectivities. Canadianization, war work, memorialization, education, health and welfare were some of the many ways of producing this identity. In recent times, the IODE has represented the fragmentation of such a totalizing identity. Although racial hierarchies are officially dismantled, prejudices continue, and there is still strong support for old universal attachments, such as the monarchy, and for a Canada within the Commonwealth. Rather than a clear break with the past, as the official donation of the IODE archive, and the name and badge changes, might at first indicate, there is an underlying continuity with the past and a re-presentation of a strongly mainstream tradition.
Maternal identity is the key and enduring, if changing, facet of the IODE’s imperialism. While the race and class components of Anglo-Canadian identity are now destabilized, it is the gendered private spaces of charitable undertakings, construed as peripheral in the production of hegemonic space, that now offer the most stable domain for the IODE. Whereas, for the IODE, the maternal was constructed at the beginning of the twentieth century to support patriotism and citizenship, at the end of that century the maternal was constructed to support individual charitable endeavours. Due to such constructions, the IODE is able to carry on its re-presented ideas in spaces that shield its enduring patriotic motives. These are patriotic motives which have been transformed, and may have lost much of their confidence, but they demonstrate that times do not change as quickly as we might think. The history of the IODE and its part in the making of Anglo-Canada in the image of Britain demands that we constantly challenge those whom we choose as agents in explaining the past – and the present.
In focusing on the IODE this book makes a contribution to the new area of female imperialism. The IODE’s unique position, as the oldest and largest female imperialist organization, is easy to argue for. The IODE was by far the most active organization of those comprised of twentieth-century female imperialists. It encompassed the most diverse membership, and carried out the widest variety of projects. That the IODE originated in Canada constitutes an intervention in British imperialism and in the developing nationalism of the white settler societies, because imperial histories have often seen imperialist attitudes as originating in Britain rather than in other parts of the Empire. That the IODE was largely confined to Canada reveals female imperialists’ struggle for control of the Empire. That the IODE obeyed the Victoria League is evidence of the colonial deference to what was considered to be the superior imperial metropolis, one that it sought to emulate. The Victoria League may have barred the IODE from imperial expansion, but had the situation been different I doubt that the IODE would have flourished in New Zealand or Australia in the way it has in North America. Canada was central to the IODE’s vision from the time of the 1901 Toronto take-over from the Montreal foundress Margaret Clark Murray, and the invention of an identity situated in North America has gained in strength ever since. Branches of the Victoria League in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, while sharing a general resemblance to the IODE, especially in their educational and immigration work, were much smaller, retained a more rigid class structure and were happiest when hostessing at garden parties and attending imperial lectures in their privately cultivated spaces. This is to suggest that the myth of egalitarianism, which has been identified as important in images of masculinity in the white settler societies, does not necessarily apply either to femininity or to colonial élites more generally. And from Canada, along with its ability to encompass an ever-increasing cross-section of society and to roll up its sleeves and work, when it came to tea parties and getting dressed up the IODE has also trumped the other female imperialists with its formidable panache. The 1928 English Schoolgirl Tour showed the Order at its most organized; while its contribution to the war effort demonstrated the considerable size of its possible output. Canada’s need to define itself against the USA was something that the other dominions had no immediate need to attempt, and helps us to understand the IODE’s determination, as well as, paradoxically, some of its cultural influences. The IODE’s history tells how British imperialism and settler nationalism worked in one twentieth-century white dominion. Always Canadian, its imperial foundations turned into national ambitions, while it’s maternal identity experienced a loss of confidence and shifted from patriotism to charitable work. For the IODE, female imperialism and national identity were always intertwined, in an ever-evolving relationship that spanned a century.