Looking Back: Women's History in Ontario Teacher Federations

Mary Morison

some 28 percent of women teachers were married compared to five percent 10 years earlier. A few years later married women made up the majority of teachers.

Work and Pregnancy

Skyrocketing birthrates were the reason children filled elementary schools, but board administrators considered the sight of a pregnant teacher in a classroom scandalous. Most boards required women to resign when they became pregnant.

Women with children faced barriers when they wanted to return to work. Women who did get jobs were rehired at the bottom of the scale or offered part-time positions with little chance of full-time work. Many boards that did provide maternity leave would only reinstate a woman if a position was available.

Although statutory bargaining rights were years away, FWTAO took maternity leave to the bargaining table, proposing a modest plan with provisions for a leave, the right to return to work and reinstatement at the same pay level with increment and seniority.

It also lobbied the provincial government to address maternity leave. In December 1970 the  Women’s Equal Opportunity Act  was enacted. It provided for a statutory maternity leave of 17 weeks and barred discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status in hiring, firing, training and promotion.

The Second Wave of Feminism

The 1960s and 1970s saw a resurgence in feminism. The suffragists believed that once women had the right to vote they would have true equality. They were mistaken; equality in law does not by itself result in substantive equality. In spite of laws governing equal pay,

non-discrimination and pregnancy leave, women still faced systemic discrimination. Women’s groups formed across the country. With more access to education than their mothers, women in the 1960s were graduating from universities with new views about family and career. The contraceptive pill became available in 1960 and, although prescribing or distributing information about contraception was illegal in Canada until 1969, the pill gave women the freedom to control their childbearing and to plan their lives around education, career and family instead of just family.

Women’s groups joined together and called on the federal government to investigate the factors contributing to women’s inequality. In 1967, Prime Minister Pearson appointed the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. In 1970, the Commission made recommendations about education and training, maternity leave, birth control and abortion, improved pensions, women’s shelters, child care, family law reform and affirmative action.

Women in Education

Women elementary teachers generally found their working conditions were better than those of many other women workers. More than 50 years of action by their federation had given them employment rights, rights for married women, pregnancy leave. New bargaining legislation allowed them to negotiate improved rights for women. Now


teacher smiling at camera standing outside

When both of her parents died within months of each other, Barnett decided to dig deeper for her passion.

General Secretary Sharon O’Halloran

Our commitment to equity and the environment means that we must elect a government in Ontario that takes justice and fairness seriously.