Following are texts associated with the chapter on “Women and the Quiet Revolution.”

Texts include:

The Advent of the Pill
Women Get Organized
The “Femmes d’aujourd’hui” Show
Women Storm the Labour Market
The Bird Commission
Following are texts associated with the chapter on “Women and the Quiet Revolution.”

Texts include:

The Advent of the Pill
Women Get Organized
The “Femmes d’aujourd’hui” Show
Women Storm the Labour Market
The Bird Commission

© 2011, Musée québécois de culture populaire. All Rights Reserved.

Something New Welcomed with Eagerness and Relief

At the request of a woman, Dr. Gregory Goodwin Pincus, an American biologist specializing in parthenogenesis, perfected the first contraceptive pill in 1956. The discovery of this molecule was to be a determining factor. A bomb was launched. It was the beginning of the contraceptive revolution. In 1960, the American government authorized the commercialization of this new product. But many Americans did not wait for permission from the authorities to obtain the desired pill. In 1959, more than 500 000 among them took the necessary means to have it prescribed by their physician to relieve menstrual pain. A few months after the United States, the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker also allowed the sale of the anovulantory pill, but not to all women. Pleading gynaecological problems, Quebecers also purchased the pill. Some physicians were reticent to prescribe it. Women simply went to see more accommodating physicians, informing others of the names of physicians more open to the idea.

The Pill, a Revolution for Women
Read More
Something New Welcomed with Eagerness and Relief

At the request of a woman, Dr. Gregory Goodwin Pincus, an American biologist specializing in parthenogenesis, perfected the first contraceptive pill in 1956. The discovery of this molecule was to be a determining factor. A bomb was launched. It was the beginning of the contraceptive revolution. In 1960, the American government authorized the commercialization of this new product. But many Americans did not wait for permission from the authorities to obtain the desired pill. In 1959, more than 500 000 among them took the necessary means to have it prescribed by their physician to relieve menstrual pain. A few months after the United States, the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker also allowed the sale of the anovulantory pill, but not to all women. Pleading gynaecological problems, Quebecers also purchased the pill. Some physicians were reticent to prescribe it. Women simply went to see more accommodating physicians, informing others of the names of physicians more open to the idea.

The Pill, a Revolution for Women

The pill was quickly embraced by many women. They acclaimed and welcomed it with enthusiasm. Finally, there was an end to complicated diaphragms, so painful to install. The contraceptive pill was simple to use, effective and cheap; stopping its use could lead to conception. The advent of the pill marked the break between sexuality and procreation. Sociologist Evelyne Sullerot wrote that the pill gave women the freedom to take their time, anticipate things, explore, make mistakes, make plans, get an education, join the labour force, change their minds /.../and, in a word, choose (translation).

© 2011, Musée québécois de culture populaire. All Rights Reserved.

Old Women’s Associations

 Women’s associations had existed for a long time in Quebec. In the 19th century, there were philanthropic associations in the cities. Members were middle class women from French and English communities. In rural areas, associations flourished during the 20th century. There were farm women’s circles as of 1915, branches of the Union catholique des fermières in 1944 – the female version of the Union catholique des cultivateurs (UCC) --, which became branches of the Union catholique des femmes rurales in 1957. During this last year, homemakers’ circles emerged as well as the Ligue des femmes du Québec, a reform association of unionist women who embraced the communist movement.

The Emergence of a New Kind of Feminism

 In the early 1960s, women’s organizations were less dynamic than the organizations of the first half of the 20th century, which had battled for the right of women to vote, finally obtained under the Liberal government of Adélard Godbout. However, the slump was short-lived. With the efferve Read More
Old Women’s Associations

 Women’s associations had existed for a long time in Quebec. In the 19th century, there were philanthropic associations in the cities. Members were middle class women from French and English communities. In rural areas, associations flourished during the 20th century. There were farm women’s circles as of 1915, branches of the Union catholique des fermières in 1944 – the female version of the Union catholique des cultivateurs (UCC) --, which became branches of the Union catholique des femmes rurales in 1957. During this last year, homemakers’ circles emerged as well as the Ligue des femmes du Québec, a reform association of unionist women who embraced the communist movement.

The Emergence of a New Kind of Feminism

 In the early 1960s, women’s organizations were less dynamic than the organizations of the first half of the 20th century, which had battled for the right of women to vote, finally obtained under the Liberal government of Adélard Godbout. However, the slump was short-lived. With the effervescence of the Quiet Revolution, a new kind of feminism emerged. One of the first indications of what was to become known as neofeminism was the creation, at the initiative of Thérèse Casgrain, of the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) in 1966. The federation was run by women of various professional backgrounds and its purpose was to coordinate the actions of several women’s associations directed at the recognition of the fundamental rights of women and the mitigation of various forms of discrimination against them. One offshoot was the Conseil du statut de la femme in 1973, a leading advisory agency. By the end of the 1970s, it grouped together 130 000 members from some 30 associations. Again, in 1966, branches of the Union catholique des femmes rurales and homemakers’ circles united to form a new entity known as the Association féminine d’éducation et d’action sociale (AFÉAS). Members of the FFQ originated primarily from big cities, whereas AFÉAS recruiting took place in rural areas and small cities. By the end of the 1970s, the latter organization grouped together some 35 000 women from 600 circles who lobbied for women’s rights and pressured local authorities.

More Radical Women’s Organizations

 In addition to the FFQ and AFÉAS, several other women’s associations emerged at the end of the 1960s and during the next decade. Some were identified with the radical feminist movement known as the Front de libération des femmes du Québec and the Montreal Women’s Liberation Movement. These organizations fought male domination.

© 2011, Musée québécois de culture populaire. All Rights Reserved.

The Hackneyed Image of Women on Television

In 1978, the Réseau d’action et d’information pour les femmes (RAIF) presented a memorandum before Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearings on the renewal of network operating licenses. Among other things, the RAIF denounced the female stereotypes promoted in the most popular serial dramas: the sweet but immature housewife; the working woman always occupying a subordinate position; women dominated in their relations with men; the easily irritable feminist; and finally, the way women were portrayed in television spots, most often confined to the role of housewife.

A Very Popular Magazine Program

The magazine program Femme d’aujourd’hui aired daily on Radio-Canada contributed to stamping out stereotype images of women. The show aired for the first time 1965 and remained on the air for 17 years until 1982. More than 3 000 Femme d’aujourd’hui shows were produced. At the end of the 1960s, audience ratings translated into close to 300 000 viewers daily. In 1970, i Read More
The Hackneyed Image of Women on Television

In 1978, the Réseau d’action et d’information pour les femmes (RAIF) presented a memorandum before Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearings on the renewal of network operating licenses. Among other things, the RAIF denounced the female stereotypes promoted in the most popular serial dramas: the sweet but immature housewife; the working woman always occupying a subordinate position; women dominated in their relations with men; the easily irritable feminist; and finally, the way women were portrayed in television spots, most often confined to the role of housewife.

A Very Popular Magazine Program

The magazine program Femme d’aujourd’hui aired daily on Radio-Canada contributed to stamping out stereotype images of women. The show aired for the first time 1965 and remained on the air for 17 years until 1982. More than 3 000 Femme d’aujourd’hui shows were produced. At the end of the 1960s, audience ratings translated into close to 300 000 viewers daily. In 1970, it was estimated that one fifth of French-speaking women in Canada aged 25 to 59 watched the show and one in three tuned in at least once a week.

A Magazine Program that Meets the New Expectations of Women

At the onset, Femme d’aujourd’hui was a practical magazine program focused primarily on a target audience of housewives and their chores (cooking, sewing, decoration, etc.). In 1966, the second year of its existence, the show, now directed by Michelle Lasnier with Aline Desjardins as its new host, went in a resolutely new direction. Chores were relegated to the background, replaced by cultural, social, economic and political subjects. The show interviewed women working in various spheres of activity and provided a voice to women from all backgrounds. The issues of emancipation and woman’s independence were broached. Models presented were not related to the perpetual trilogy of teacher – nurse - housewife.

Femme d’aujourd’hui, a Small Television Revolution

In the context of the Quiet Revolution, the Femme d’aujourd’hui magazine program pounded traditional social models. Like many other factors, it was a vector of social change.

© 2011, Musée québécois de culture populaire. All Rights Reserved.

 Women on the Job Market: an Old Phenomenon

 Women have always been an abundant labour force that employers could easily draw upon. During the industrialization of the 19th century, young girls and women worked mainly in textile, clothing, tobacco and shoe factories for wages half those of men. Their delicate agile fingers were in particular demand among manufacturers such as matchstick producers. Their services were also required in the services sector in full development at the end of the 19th century (office work and department stores).During the two world wars, in plants and offices women took over the jobs of men gone off to war. As in the past, they were paid less than the men. By participating full bore in the war effort, women seriously shook up the yokes of tradition and chauvinism.

Women’s Work Condemned

 As was the case after the First World War, many thought that women would don their aprons and return to their stoves after the Second World War ended. Such was not the case. On the contrary, more and more women entered the job market. The Read More
 Women on the Job Market: an Old Phenomenon

 Women have always been an abundant labour force that employers could easily draw upon. During the industrialization of the 19th century, young girls and women worked mainly in textile, clothing, tobacco and shoe factories for wages half those of men. Their delicate agile fingers were in particular demand among manufacturers such as matchstick producers. Their services were also required in the services sector in full development at the end of the 19th century (office work and department stores).During the two world wars, in plants and offices women took over the jobs of men gone off to war. As in the past, they were paid less than the men. By participating full bore in the war effort, women seriously shook up the yokes of tradition and chauvinism.

Women’s Work Condemned

 As was the case after the First World War, many thought that women would don their aprons and return to their stoves after the Second World War ended. Such was not the case. On the contrary, more and more women entered the job market. The church and organizations such as the Confédération des travailleurs catholiques du Canada (CTCC), the Ligue ouvrière catholique (LOC) and the Jeunesse ouvrière catholique (JOC) condemned this new state of affairs. They viewed women at work as a danger to the family, and more particularly its head, the father. In their eyes, the work world contributed to diverting the woman from the role that God has assigned her.

Women, Work and the Quiet Revolution

 Women entered the job market in even greater numbers during the Quiet Revolution, so much so that their numbers were three times greater in 1971 than 30 years earlier (see Figure). Increasingly, many among them were married women. From 8% in 1941, the proportion of the female workforce rose to 49% in 1971.The phenomenon was not exclusive to Quebec; it was observed elsewhere in the western world. For historian Eric J. Hobsbawm, the massive entry of married women on the job market and easier access to higher studies for girls were at the origin of the renewal of feminist movements in the 1960s.

Women’s Revolution and Work

Several descriptors have been used to describe the 20th century. Some view it as the century of wars and massacres, the most violent of all. Others remember the remarkable progress made in science and communications. The 20th century was also the century of women, of their emancipation and coming of age. This revolution was the result of work, and of the place that women were able to carve out for themselves in a universe primarily reserved for men.

© 2011, Musée québécois de culture populaire. All Rights Reserved.

Creation of a Royal Commission on the Status of Women

Throughout the western world in the 1960s, there were questions regarding human rights, Blacks, minorities and racial segregation. But what of women’s rights and gender-based discrimination? Pressured by groups of women increasingly present on the public place and following the example of the American government and seven others in Europe, the Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson established a royal commission on the status of women in 1967. Its president, Florence Bayard Bird, an Ottawa journalist, was seconded by six commissioners including two from Quebec: Jeanne Lapointe, professor of literature at Université Laval, and Jacques Henripin, professor of demography at the Université de Montréal. Up to 469 memoranda and some one thousand letters were presented to the Bird Commission. During the 37 days of public hearings, the commissioners heard from nearly 900 people.

The Bird Commission: Forceful Conclusions

The Bird Commission tabled its bulky report in 1970. The findings were disconcerting. In principle, Read More
Creation of a Royal Commission on the Status of Women

Throughout the western world in the 1960s, there were questions regarding human rights, Blacks, minorities and racial segregation. But what of women’s rights and gender-based discrimination? Pressured by groups of women increasingly present on the public place and following the example of the American government and seven others in Europe, the Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson established a royal commission on the status of women in 1967. Its president, Florence Bayard Bird, an Ottawa journalist, was seconded by six commissioners including two from Quebec: Jeanne Lapointe, professor of literature at Université Laval, and Jacques Henripin, professor of demography at the Université de Montréal. Up to 469 memoranda and some one thousand letters were presented to the Bird Commission. During the 37 days of public hearings, the commissioners heard from nearly 900 people.

The Bird Commission: Forceful Conclusions

The Bird Commission tabled its bulky report in 1970. The findings were disconcerting. In principle, men and women were equal; but in fact, they were not. The average income of men and women over 65 years of age provided a fine example. The income of men ($3 044) was nearly double that of women ($1 596). To remedy the situation, the commissioners tabled a long series of recommendations to iron out the inequalities between the sexes in different spheres of society. The avant-garde measures proposed included a minimum legal age of 18 for marriage, the multiplication of daycare centres and birth control clinics and the right to abortion. Another section of the report dealt with the specific problems faced by Aboriginal women

Reception of the Bird Commission Report

The Bird Commission report was well received overall. However, several women’s groups thought that it added nothing new and had not gone far enough. Irrespective of this, the great merit of his report is that it brought to light the inequalities and injustices suffered by women and heightened the awareness of Canadians regarding these issues.

© 2011, Musée québécois de culture populaire. All Rights Reserved.

Photograph of a group of women from the Quebec Women's Federation

The Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ), a leading association in Quebec, is established in 1966. Its first Board of Directors comprised 16 women.

Paul-Henri Talbot
20th Century
La Presse, April 25, 1966, p. 16


Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

Acquire a historic perspective. Establish relations between Quebec as it was before, during and after the Quiet Revolution

Educational Connections (cross-curricular competencies)

Build on information (make the most of information).
Build on information (place knowledge in perspective).
Express one’s opinion (exercise critical judgment).
Take advantage of technology (make the most of information technology and communication).
Immerse oneself in a situation (apply one’s creative thinking).
Commit oneself to exploration (apply one’s creative thinking).

Educational Results

Encourage the student to examine the subject from a historical perspective.
Bring the student to understand the present based on the past.
Bring the student to express an opinion on this history.
Bring the student to develop critical thinking.

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