How World War 1 changed the lives of canadian women

Shown on the example of L. M. Montgomery's "Rilla of Ingleside" and Mary Swan's "The Deep"

Term Paper, 2006

19 Pages, Grade: 3



1. Introduction

2. Canada and World War 1

3. Women at home during World War 1
3.1 Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
3.2 How World War 1 changed Rilla`s world

4. Women at the front during World War 1
4.1 The Deep by Mary Swan
4.2 How World War 1 changed the twins` world

5. Comparison

6. How World War 1 changed the lives of Canadian women in general
6.1 Canadian women before World War 1
6.2 Canadian women during World War 1
6.3 Canadian Women after World War 1

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

War always has a great influence on a country and the people that fight in it. This was also the case for Canada, when England declared its entrance into World War 1 in August, 1914[1].

Thousands of men enlisted during the first days of war, ready to fight and die for their homeland and what they thought to be a better world. Of course this meant a dramatic change in life for them. Leaving behind family and work, not knowing whether one would live to see Canada again.

However, in most cases one thinks of the changes a war would force on the men of a country, but most often women are affected just in the same way. This is also the case for Canada during World War 1. Women in those days had to face all kind of problems they were not used to by this time. They found themselves fear about the beloved ones and in psychological conflicts on what they could do to support their homeland. Some decided to work at the home fronts, while others wishing to be close to the battlefield, decided to follow their men overseas. In addition to such mental conflicts, a family had to be financed, and a country`s economy had to be kept stable.

So, one could argue that women lives also underlay enormous changes under the influence of World War 1.

The aim of this paper is to look at Canadian women`s roles in the course of the war and how they are reflected in Lucy Maud Montgomery`s Rilla of Ingleside and Mary Swan`s The Deep, which show two kind of contrastive but for the time realistic pictures of women. These fictional personal experiences will give an idea of what the individual woman had to face at war time.

In addition, some historical information will focus on the changes that World War 1 brought to Canadian women in general, and will round and complete the image of women`s position in World War 1.

2. Canada and World War 1

When Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, Canada being a part of the Empire was automatically involved in it. Because of the loyalty towards the “mother home”, that Britain still was at that time, and the unquestioned belief that the war would be over in the course of only a few months, the idea of war was meet with great enthusiasm by the people.

Few Canadians questioned the recruitment propaganda and newspaper reports that depicted the war in terms of a struggle between democracy and tyranny. Without opposition, Parliament passed the War Measures Act, which gave the federal government broad emergency powers to suspend civil liberties and to regulate any aspect of society or the economy deemed essential for the conduct of war.[2]

The urge to fight was so big that only two months after the war`s beginning 30,000 men were ready to leave Canada for Europe[3].

By the end of the war, some 625,000 men and women were mobilized for the armed forces, over two thirds of them served overseas. The toll of Canadians casualties included upwards of 60,000 killed in action (…) and more than 200,000 wounded. The Canadian fighting effort was truly remarkable for a country of only 8 million people.[4]

All that men that went overseas, not only left behind their families but also a economy that wanted to be maintained. However this is were women stepped in. As the women`s movement was starting to see efforts right before the Great War, they now could prove that they were able to replace men in the working world.

Also in many other regards “World War 1 was a turning point for Canada as a nation. The Canada of 1919 was profoundly different from the Canada of 1914 in several fundamental aspects – demographic, economic, political and social.”[5]

3. Women at home during World War 1

One picture of women during World War 1 is that of women staying at home while there male family members and friends went overseas to fight for their homeland.[6] Those women tried to support their country by doing work in caritative organizations and gave of mental support to their husbands, brothers and sons at the front. The picture of such women is shown in Lucy Maud Montgomery`s Rilla of Ingleside[7].

3.1 Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Rilla of Ingleside depicts the life of young Rilla Blythe during the years of World War 1. Rilla, the youngest child of the Blythe family, is a beautiful but a bit selfish and foolish fifteen-year old girl when the war starts. During the course of the story she has to face serious occasions that somehow force her into adulthood. So she founds herself responsible for a little war baby she cares for, although in the beginning of the story she obviously is not very fond of babies. Also she has to see three of her brothers of to war, of which only two return.

In Rilla of Ingleside Montgomery shows what war life was like for those who stayed behind. The reader gets a good idea of what work was done at the so called “home front”. The picture of women described in Montgomery`s Rilla of Ingleside is of the more traditional kind, as will be shown on the following pages. As she herself also came from a traditional background, she knew very well what she wrote about. In the war years she took part in many activities she was going to let her protagonist do as well, for example “knitting socks for soldiers and Red Cross activities, quiltings, organization of concerts, recitations and coaching of plays.”[8]

The following chapter looks at the original text more closely to find some of the devices for what war was like and how Rilla changed during the course of time.

3.2 How World War 1 changed Rilla`s world

As mentioned above Rilla before the war is a young and thoughtless girl, worrying about thing that will bebome truly unimportant in the course of the story: “There was nothing in the world to worry about – not even freckles and over-long legs – nothing except one little haunting fear that nobody would ask her to dance” (Rilla, p. 25). Even when the war begins, she cannot imagine that it will have a great influence on her life. However, when her first brother leaves for the war she for the first time mentions that she is grown now and that women had to face such things (Rilla, p. 40). From that moment on the reader becomes witness of Rilla`s maturing process. There is for example the little war baby Rilla finds and takes care of. Although in the story`s beginning Rilla openly speaks of her dislike of babies (“(…) she had no “knack with kids”. She saw an ugly midget with a red distorted little face, rolled up in a piece of dingy old flannel” (Rilla, p. 62)), in the end she loves the child and is truly sad that she has to let him go when his father returns from the war (“Rilla saw him go with many tears but with a heart free from broding” (Rilla, p. 268)).

Another device for Rilla`s maturing is how her temper changes, and how she and others get aware of that. In the beginning she often gets into quarrels with the other girls from the community and seems selfish and childish. A very good example for that is when she walks home from the dance with one of the girls after the her family forgot to take her home with them. Mary Vance starts making fun of Rilla, who begins to cry (Rilla, p.38). However in the course of the story she learns to stand up others, but also to get her temper under control, which can be viewed, when there is a concert organized by the Junior Red Cross, and Rilla has to overcome a personal argument with another girl, in order to make her sing at the concert: “Rilla choked back a retort. After all, there was no use in arguing with Irene, and the Belgians were starving” (Rilla, p. 111). As mentioned above not only Rilla, but different people get aware of the change that has came over Rilla. Her mother remarks that “she used to be such an irresponsible young creature. She has changed into a capable, womanly girl and she is such a comfort to me” (Rilla, p. 258). And also Kenneth finds a different Rilla from the one he dad left behind: “The slim Rilla of four years ago had rounded into symmetry. He had left a school girl, and he found a woman” (Rilla, p. 277).


[1] Riendeau, Roger: A brief History of Canada. New York: Facts on File, 2000. P. 189.

[2] Riendeau, Roger: A brief History of Canada. New York: Facts on File, 2000. P. 189.

[3] Brown, Craig (ed.): The illustrated History of Canada. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1997. P. 410.

[4] Riendeau, Roger: A brief History of Canada. New York: Facts on File, 2000. P. 189.

[5] Prentice, Alison: Canadian Women – A history. Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988. Page 213.

[6] A closer look to women at home during World War 1 will be taken under chapter 6.2

[7] Montgomery, Lucy Maud: Rilla of Ingleside. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1985. (On the following pages only the abbreviation Rilla and a page reference will be used)

[8] Schwarz-Eisler, Hanna: L. M. Montgomery: A Popular Canadian Writer for Children. Pfaffenweiler: Centaurus, 1991. P. 19.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


How World War 1 changed the lives of canadian women
Shown on the example of L. M. Montgomery's "Rilla of Ingleside" and Mary Swan's "The Deep"
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
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433 KB
Quote paper
Vanessa Lengert (Author), 2006, How World War 1 changed the lives of canadian women, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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