Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Remembering the Women of Lambton

The Lambton Heritage Museum's current feature exhibit Shine: Spotlight on Women of Lambton offers insight into the history of women in Lambton County and the contributions they have made to our community. I'm using this blog post as an opportunity to explore some wider themes of women's history, including how women's history became an area of study, how the roles of women have changed, and the impact of using a new concept for "work".

Two women fishing near Grand Bend. Image courtesy of
the Archival Collection of the Lambton Heritage Museum.

Many history books describe the achievements of men and remain silent about women, and the roles of women are often forgotten. This slowly started changing in the 1960s and 1970s when a new way of thinking about history developed. Social historians began looking beyond the upper classes, politicians, and heroes to study how so-called "ordinary people" lived. This contrasts sharply with historians who focused on royalty without looking at peasants, and generals without looking at soldiers. Since many women did not have opportunities to establish themselves as power politicians or businesspeople, this new perspective that looked beyond the "big names" of history began to include women.

Sports Team at the Boys Brigade Hall in Sarnia. From the
Photograph Collection of the Lambton County Archives.
The roles, responsibilities and opportunities for women in 2013 are very different than they were in the past. It's important to remember that women in Lambton County in the 1800s lived in a society that had very different perspectives on the opportunities available for omen. These roles of women should be considered in the wider context of what society expected from women, and what women were taught they could give back to society. Expectations have changed drastically since Lambton County's population began growing more quickly in the mid-1800s. Changes in the roles of women will continue, and in 2113 historians may look back over the last hundred years and marvel at the lives of women in 2013!

This discussion also applies to the concept of work. Women have traditionally been left out of discussions about work because the concept of work ignores a lot of the unpaid work that women do (housework, childcare, care of the elderly or sick, community service). If we think more broadly about the concept of work we can better understand the contributions women in the past made to society. Women in rural settings contributed to their households not only through tending children, cooking and cleaning, but also by managing the household budget and often assisting in physical tasks around the farm.

To learn more about the Women of Lambton and hear their stories, visit the Lambton Heritage Museum's exhibit Shine: Spotlight on Women of Lambton, featured until November 8, 2013.

Staff at Imperial Oil in 1919. From the Holland Paisley Photographic Collection,
Lambton County Library, Sarnia Branch. H102-39.

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