My mother Bernice Ethelyn Crittenden Knight smack dab in the middle of the front row in a Bruck Mills promo photos in Cowansville, Quebec.
When I was growing up as a child I never thought that women were supposed to be restricted to being homemakers. I grew up during a time that was a decade after World War ll. Some women had taken jobs while the men were away at war. History states that after the war, many decided to keep some sort of job, and some did, but most became the Suzy Homemaker that you see in the 1950s ads.
My mother used to work at Bruck Mills in Cowansville, Quebec before she married my father. There were 600 people that began working there in 1922 and they employed 30 men and women at the start. In 1946 when my Mother worked there were 4,000 employees: 2200 women and the remainder men. After she married she not only looked after her children and the house, but gave piano lessons and sometimes helped out during lunches at school. In fact most of the women from what I remember on Albert Street worked in various retail stores or manufactures and new appliances were being made that allowed women to spend less time in their homes.
My grandmother worked for as long as I can remember helping the family South Street electrical contracting business and then doing the books every week on the dining room table. Saturday nights before Lawrence Welk the small metal cash box would come out and she would teach me to balance the books with my Grandfather sitting beside me. I worked in the store on Friday nights and sold fixtures and typed out invoices on carbon paper on the old typewriter every summer. I never knew I should be learning homemaking ways to please a future husband as my family taught me differently.
Looking back, the smartest woman in Cowansville was hands down Doris Wallet of Albert Street. She was a businesswoman before I even knew what business was all about. Not only did she keep her house spanking clean and look after her children, she ran a small men’s wear store on Main Street where the old Continental store once stood. Her husband Murray worked at Vilas and Doris ran the shop during the day. I loved going hanging out in the small store with wooden floors before her daughter Sheila and I went to the Bluebird Restaurant after school. She had a great personality and you could see she loved to do what she did. Years later they moved to Knowlton and had a hardware store. Doris was always involved, and I never realized how smart she was until I thought about it today.
There were also many Avon, Watkins and Tupperware business ladies during my childhood. A Tupperware manufacture had opened up in Cowansville and suddenly the local women were making money marketing and selling the new plastic products from their own home. There was always the various Tupperware parties up and down the street and when pink and blue plastic salt and pepper shakers appeared on our table you knew everyone else had them too.
Suddenly everyone visited each other’s home and my Mother was making her pineapple squares once a week to bring to somebody’s house. As for Avon, every child I knew owned a Snoopy Rubber soap dish and our Mothers reeked of Avon’s Daisies Don’t Tell Cologne!
I guess I was lucky, but from what I see in the news archives Cowansville, Quebec was pretty progressive. In 1913 Dr. Robertson, chairman on agriculture and technical education, spoke at the town hall on the need for education on farming. He encouraged a 5 month course for men and a 3 month course in the summer for women. Robertson said the Dairy Farmers would be in trouble if women were not included. The Cowansville school board encouraged women in the 1950s to join the men as they said women would have a softer view on things and it would balance out the board.
Growing up with strong women taught me to never worry who gets the praise or the credit– just work hard, and don’t look back. Thanks to the women in my childhood I use my hands, head and heart for the good of others. I learned from the best– a foundation of women from the past.