Cover image for Making do : women, family, and home in Montreal during the Great Depression
Making do : women, family, and home in Montreal during the Great Depression
Baillargeon, Denyse, 1954-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Ménagères au temps de la crise. English
Publication Information:
Waterloo, Ont. : Wilfrid Laurier University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 232 pages ; 23 cm.
General Note:
Translation of: Ménagères au temps de la crise.
Reading Level:
1420 Lexile.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ1459.Q3 B3413 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Life in the Great Depression -- long lines of unemployed, soup kitchens, men riding the rails, public works projects -- these are the graphic images of the Great Depression of the 1930s, popularized by the press and seared into our memories. But outside of a few distinctive stories gathered from the oral and anecdotal writings on strategies used to survive, we know next to nothing about the daily life of the working class during those long and hungry years. How did the families survive when the principal breadwinner was unemployed? How did they feed, shelter and clothe themselves when relief payments covered barely half of their essential needs? To answer these questions Denyse Baillargeon looks at the contribution of the housewives. By interviewing Montreal francophone women who were already married at the beginning of the 1930s, and by examining their principal responsibilities, she uncovers the alternative strategies these housewives used to counter poverty. Their recollections made it possible to shed light not only on the impact of the economic crisis on their household duties during the Depression but also on their lives from childhood to World War II, and on the living conditions of the working class from which most of them came. This material is all the more valuable because it proceeds from a generation of women that will soon disappear and who have left very little in the way of written evidence behind. This study, which draws us into the intricate lives of individuals, reveals a previously unexplored dimension of the Depression and shows the importance of considering the domestic sphere for understanding the complete history of the working class.

Author Notes

Denise Baillargeon is an associate proffesor of history at Universite de Montreal.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Baillargeon's well-conceived study is welcome for its fresh perspective and contribution to a growing genre of women's history focusing on women's experience of daily life in an era of privation. Even though more restricted in time and with different national focus, this book compares favorably with Elizabeth Roberts's A Woman's Place: An Oral History of Working-Class Women, 1890-1940 (CH, Sep'85). In separate chapters Baillargeon treats marriage, motherhood, finances, and diurnal activities. The study rests on interpretation and explication of testimony collected systematically through interviews with 30 women who lived through the Depression as young married adults. The interview questions and biographies of interviewees (all born between 1897 and 1916) are included in appendixes. The author presents fascinating insights about francophone women's lives in Montreal during the Depression, e.g., that they employed birth control more widely than one might suspect in a church-dominated culture, or that they thought the Depression did not substantially change their standards of living, which were remarkably similar. In addition, Baillargeon's study confirms information about the numerous and inventive means by which women have coped with penurious and difficult lives. A solid contribution to women's history generally and to Canadian women's history in particular. All levels. M. J. Moore; Appalachian State University

Table of Contents

List of Tablesp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 Domestic Labour and Economic Crisisp. 5
Housework Is Also Workp. 9
The Evolution of Domestic Labour before the Depressionp. 11
Oral Sourcesp. 14
Chapter 2 From Birth to Marriagep. 23
Birth Familiesp. 23
Place of Birth and Residencep. 24
Father's Occupation and Standard of Livingp. 25
Number of Children and Place in Familyp. 28
Schoolp. 32
Working Experiencep. 34
Domestic, Factory Hand or Salesgirl?p. 34
Learning Domestic Workp. 41
Chapter 3 Beyond Romance: Courtship and Marriagep. 47
Courtshipp. 48
Finding a "Good Husband"p. 54
The Wedding Dayp. 58
Setting Up Housekeepingp. 59
The Trousseaup. 60
Savings and Personal Propertyp. 61
The First Homep. 63
Chapter 4 Motherhoodp. 67
Sexuality and Contraceptionp. 68
Motherhoodp. 75
Expectingp. 77
Preparing for the Birthp. 78
Giving Birthp. 79
The Confinementp. 83
The Care and Discipline of Childrenp. 85
Infertility and Motheringp. 87
Chapter 5 Working for Pay and Managing the Household Financesp. 91
A Living Wagep. 92
Income to Balance the Budgetp. 95
Odd Jobsp. 95
Working in Your "Spare Time"p. 96
Managing the Budget and Women's Economic Powerp. 102
Making Ends Meetp. 107
Chapter 6 Houseworkp. 113
Women's Space and Workplacep. 114
The Neighbourhoodp. 115
Housingp. 116
Implements of Workp. 121
Organizing Household Tasksp. 125
The Cycle of Household Choresp. 128
Cutting Back on Necessitiesp. 135
Chapter 7 State, Family, Neighbours, and Creditp. 141
Government Assistancep. 141
Unemployment and Husband-Wife Relationsp. 150
The Familyp. 153
The Neighboursp. 160
Debtp. 163
Conclusionp. 167
Appendicesp. 171
Appendix A Interview Guidep. 171
Appendix B Thumbnail Biographies of the Women Interviewedp. 177
Appendix C Scale of Winter and Summer Rations Approved by the City of Montreal (c. 1935)p. 184
Appendix D Furnishings Bought by an Informant upon Her Marriage in 1932p. 185
Appendix E Floor Plans of Working-Class Flatsp. 186
Appendix F Percentage of Montreal Households Owning Various Equipment 1931-1958p. 187
Appendix G Household Appliances and Other Articles Used by Housewivesp. 188
Notesp. 193
Bibliographyp. 213
Indexp. 229