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Canadian Women in Print, 1750–1918

By Carole Gerson
Subjects Literary Criticism, Social Science, Women’s Studies
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Paperback : 9781554583041, 300 pages, May 2011
Hardcover : 9781554582204, 300 pages, May 2010
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554586882, 300 pages, June 2010

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Canadian Women in Print, 1750–1918 by Carole Gerson

Part A: Contexts: Women and Print in Canada, to 1918

1. Women and the Broader Contexts of Print

2. Beginnings to the 1850s

Part B: Women Writers at Work

3. Strategies of Legitimation

4. The Business of a Woman’s Life

5. Canadian Women and American Markets

Part C: Breaking New Ground After 1875

6. Periodicals and Journalism

7. Stretching the Range: Secular Non-fiction

8. From Religion to Reform

9. The New Woman

10. Addressing the Margins of Race

Conclusion: Observations on the Canon


Selected Bibliography



Canadian Women in Print, 1750—1918 is the first historical examination of women’s engagement with multiple aspects of print over some two hundred years, from the settlers who wrote diaries and letters to the New Women who argued for ballots and equal rights. Considering women’s published writing as an intervention in the public sphere of national and material print culture, this book uses approaches from book history to address the working and living conditions of women who wrote in many genres and for many reasons.

This study situates English Canadian authors within an extensive framework that includes francophone writers as well as women’s work as compositors, bookbinders, and interveners in public access to print. Literary authorship is shown to be one point on a spectrum that ranges from missionary writing, temperance advocacy, and educational texts to journalism and travel accounts by New Woman adventurers. Familiar figures such as Susanna Moodie, L. M. Montgomery, Nellie McClung, Pauline Johnson, and Sara Jeannette Duncan are contextualized by writers whose names are less well known (such as Madge Macbeth and Agnes Laut) and by many others whose writings and biographies have vanished into the recesses of history.

Readers will learn of the surprising range of writing and publishing performed by early Canadian women under various ideological, biographical, and cultural motivations and circumstances. Some expressed reluctance while others eagerly sought literary careers. Together they did much more to shape Canada’s cultural history than has heretofore been recognized.


  • Short-listed, Canada Prize in the Humanities (English), Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences 2010
  • Winner, ACQL Gabrielle Roy Prize for Literary Criticism 2010


``Anyone who knows of Carole Gerson's outstanding scholarship on early Canadian women's writing and early Canadian print culture might have hoped that she would distill and download her lifetime of information and research into one comprehensive tome. Well, she did, and this is the book. ... Canadian Women in Print is primarily a literary history, and because Gerson has such a strong command of her material, the highly detailed narrative of women writers and their entrance into print unfolds effortlessly. ... Her coverage of the canonical is supplement nicely by the not-as-well-known. ... She examines by way of ‘collage,’ as she says, some of the case studies and some of the motivations that induced women to get involved in writing and publishing. Her description of the book as collage helps to explain why the book ‘arranges many separate snapshots of specific individuals and scenes of writing in order to present larger composite stories’ (p. xiii). Indeed, the book is supplemented with the kind of iconic snapshots that would be an ideal introduction to a new researcher in this field. The collage strategy, echoing the best kind of nineteenth-century scrapbook, makes the book very readable and highly digestible. ... Her. here is nothing less than the definitive, condensed introduction to the field. ... In short, the most trustworthy reference work for any scholar wanting a concise and correct introduction to the field of early Canadian women's writing. Gerson's work has been nothing less than foundational, and here she solidifies again the importance of women's writing in Canada, and her role as its outstanding historian. ''

- Kathryn Carter, H-Canada, July 2014

``Ambitious in scope, Carole Gerson's Canadian Women in Print surveys over 150 years of Canadian literary history in order to successfully map the contexts within which many of Canada's female authors wrote. ... While admitting her study is ‘implicitly progressive and celebratory’, Gerson states the differing ways of approaching women's cultural production in this period ‘by focusing on the repression of women under patriarchy, or by focusing on how women created their own agency within the private and public spheres available to them’ (p. xi). I would suggest that Gerson manages this divide well, refusing to fall into the trap of overemphasizing the already well-established historical marginalisation of these writers, while similarly avoiding a tendency to overdetermine the way in which these authors are subversive or pioneering. Gerson convincingly charts a female print tradition beginning back in the eighteenth century that should be of great value to anyone studying Early Canadian women writers, or the development of Canadian print culture more generally. ''

- Sarah Galletly, British Journal of Canadian Studies, Volume 24, #2, 2011

``A must-read for all students of women's writing in Canada: as useful for its clarifying generalizations as for its effective marshalling and analysis of details, Canadian Women in Print demonstrates why Gerson has been, ever since the publication of A Purer Taste in 1989, such an important scholar in Canadian literary and book history studies. ''

- Janice Fiamengo, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, 48/2, Fall 2010

``Carole Gerson's assiduous study of writers, publishers, editors, and journalists provides a panorama of predominantly nineteenth-century Canadian women. ... The chiefly historical frame keeps the text readable, because Gerson rarely adopts complex theoretical idioms; her language is consistently straightforward and clear. ... The range of Gerson's study is vast. ... Her numerous headings keep the study's pace consistent and its emphasis focussed, both of which are necessary in a study of such an expansive era. That being said, Gerson's narrative is meticulous and impressive. Through statistical data, a plethora of explanatory footnotes, and well-supported historical evidence, she succeeds in reconstructing a percipient vision of this pre-1918 epoch. ... Gerson's primary goal, to broaden the frame of literary history and to make known the women that populate this enlarged scope, is certainly well-realized. This achievement is due partly to the confident, clear style of Canadian Women in Print; its conversational tone would seem inviting to any audience. Gerson's historical anecdotes, especially in her section on women's prefaces, prove similarily captivating, as well as illustrative. Moreover, the text is erudite, yet skillfully distilled to only its most significant conclusions. As such, the critic's wealth of knowledge never overwhelms the page or the reader, but her bibliography still provides a myriad of other historical, literary, or critical resources to aid scholars. Despite its aversion to alternative and equally helpful critical approaches, Gerson's project is fundamentally accomplished and instructive. It reclaims many lost figures and offers a foundation for future studies of a gradually enlarging historical lens focussed on Canadian women in print. ''

- J.A. Weingarten, Canadian Literature, #212, Spring 2012

``Carole Gerson is Canada's lead detective in the field of women's writing, and Canadian Women in Print, 1759-1918 could not have been written by anyone else as it attests to her astonishingly wide, yet precise, knowledge of women's roles all along the line of production. ...The choice to divide the book into ten finely honed chapters, each with its own angle of vision on the print industry rather than a linear chronology, works well. ... [R]eally an exemplary reference tool to savor chapter by chapter and to keep close at hand on the bookshelf. It is a must for Canadianists and feminists and an inspiration to young archival researchers wondering how they, too, might make their imprint on the field. ''

- Roxanne Rimstead, Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, 30.1, Spring 2011