Photo- Lanark & District Museum
The Explorers who met on Thursday evenings in the United Church in Cowansville, Quebec worked on getting stars and eventually the “E’ pin which promoted you to C.G.I.T. The C.J. I. T. gals wore cool middy blouses and navy blue skirts and their meetings opened with devotion and singing followed by a small “business” meeting. Then meetings would proceed with a social portion, often consisting of games or crafts and treats. I wonder if I could say that mission statement today.
CGIT was established in 1915 by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and the major protestant denominations in Canada as a means of promoting Christian living in girls aged 12-17. The CGIT movement was started by four young Canadian women: Winnifred Thomas, Olive Ziegler, Una Saunders, and Constance Body.
As World War One continued overseas Thomas, Ziegler, Saunders, and Body looked at the lack of leadership roles available to young women at home and the need to provide service opportunities for girls. The four women formed the Canadian Advisory Committee on Co-Operation in Girls’ Work, financed by the YWCA, to study the interests and needs of female youth.
The Committee and CGIT movement was female dominated in its leadership and argued that girls should have opportunities equal to boys to serve their country in wartime and that training opportunities were needed for female self-betterment.
Sandy Dobie– I remember having to iron those cotton blouses. If you were a young teen in a small town you likely belonged.
Sue Johnston– I was a CGIT gal….loved the uniform
The years 1916-1917 saw the Committee attempting to determine what style of education would be most useful for Canadian girls. The overwhelming majority of existing scholarship on religious youth education was focused on boys and the Committee hoped to design a program that reflected the needs and wants of female youth. The first CGIT program was published in 1917 in a booklet called “Canadian Girls in Training — Suggestions for the Mid-Week Meetings of Sunday School Classes, Clubs, etc., for Teen-age Girls”. The booklet’s popularity greatly contributed to the establishment of the CGIT movement nationwide.
The YWCA financed the CGIT movement for the first five years while it worked to become established on local, provincial, and national levels. By 1920 CGIT groups were being run across Canada and emphasized providing young women with the same opportunities that were available to young men, training girls for humanitarian service, and providing a safe space for personal and religious growth.
CGIT also served as leadership training for many young girls and the movement flourished with local groups being organized. In 1933 there were 40,000 members in 1100 communities across Canada. Retreat weekends, summer camps, leaders’ councils, and conferences sprouted up across the country providing additional leadership and skill building opportunities.
The early years of CGIT saw discussions of working with the Girl Guides of Canada however it was decided that the values of the two groups did not align. CGIT disliked the emphasis Girl Guides placed on the accumulation of badges and competition. Rather CGIT maintained that activities relating to physical, intellectual, religious, and service development should be undertaken for their own enjoyment and value. A Girl’s Standard issued by the CGIT provided guidelines for girls to measure themselves by and after 1920 the CGIT Purpose summed up the goals set by the organization:
As a Canadian Girl in Training
Under the leadership of Jesus
It is my purpose to
And thus, with His help,
Become the girl God would have me be.
In the 1930s the CGIT broke ground with its inclusion of sex education and its use of The Mastery of Sex by Leslie D. Weatherhead to provide appropriate sex education. This education was often framed around the need to provide guidance for future wives and mothers. However this emphasis on family life was frequently paired with sessions on vocations, talks from professional women, and the promotion of post-secondary education.
Author’s Note– I don’t think I remember sex education in my small rural town:)
This another photo from Kathleen Anne Palmer-O’Neil.. this is a Girls’ Conference, Iroquois Ontario, November, 1928. Looks like the CGIT (Canadian Girls In Training) to me? Anyone remember that? I know I was in them briefly.–Charles Dobie Photo
CGIT did not aim to radically change female roles in Canadian society. Rather it aimed to promote female influence in already accepted female spheres. It placed considerable emphasis on the role of women in Christian education, the home, and the community. CGIT provided spaces for women to engage in self-discovery, intellectual pursuits, and community leadership roles.
Membership declined nationwide following World War II but continued to thrive in numerous small communities. The community anniversary I participated in was one of those regions where CGIT continued to thrive through the 1950s and 1960s. After 1947 the movement was under the direction of the Department of Christian Education, Canadian Council of Churches. In 1976 the organization became an independent ecumenical body and is now supported by Canadian Baptist Ministries, Presbyterian Church in Canada and the United Church of Canada.
The decline in membership can unsurprisingly be linked to the decline in mainstream church membership. Parents and youth are looking outside of the church for extracurricular activities, and leadership opportunities for young women can be found in a diverse range of organizations today.–by Krista McCracken
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.