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Making Do

Women, Family and Home in Montreal during the Great Depression

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Making Do: Women, Family, ahd Home in Montreal during the Great Depression by Denyse Baillargeon

List of Tables



Chapter 1: Domestic Labour and Economic Crisis

Homework Is Also Work

The Evolution of Domestic Labour before the Depression

Oral Sources

Chapter 2: From Birth to Marriage

Birth Families

Place of Birth and Residence

Father’s Occupation and Standard of Living

Number of Children and Place in Family


Working Experience

Domestic, Factory Hand or Salesgirl?

Learning Domestic Work

Chapter 3: Beyond Romance: Courtship and Marriage


Finding a “Good Husband”

The Wedding Day

Setting Up Housekeeping

The Trousseau

Savings and Personal Property

The First Home

Chapter 4: Motherhood

Sexuality and Contraception



Preparing for the Birth

Giving Birth

The Confinement

The Care and Discipline of Children

Infertility and Mothering

Chapter 5: Working for Pay and Managing the Household Finanace

A Living Wage

Income to Balance the Budget

Odd Jobs

Working in Your “Spare Time”

Managing the Budget and Women’s Economic Power

Making Ends Meet

Chapter 6: Housework

Women’s Space and Workplace

The Neighbourhood


Implements of Work

Organizing Household Tasks

The Cycle of Household Chores

Cutting Back on Necessities

Chapter 7: State, Family, Neighbours, and Credit

Government Assistance

Unemployment and Husband-Wife Relations

The Family

The Neighbours




Appendix A: Interview Guide

Appendix B: Thumbnail Biographies of the Women Interviewed

Appendix C: Scale of Winter and Summer Rations Approved by the City of Montreal (c. 1935)

Appendix D: Furnishing Bought by an Informant upon Her Marriage in 1932

Appendix E: Floor Plans of Working-Class Flats

Appendix F: Percentage of Montreal Households Owning Various Equipment 1931–1958

Appendix G: Househould Appliances and Other Articles Used by Housewives





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.


``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. ...A solid contribution to women's history generally and to Canadian women's history in particular. ''

- M.J. Moore, Choice

``The translation of this book, which was well received when it was published in French in 1991, will be welcomed by anglophone readers interested not only in the history of working-class women but also in the history of the popular and political cultures of 20th-century Canada. ''

- Dominique Marshall, Canadian Book Review Annual