The women who influenced my life

By Frances Sedgwick
True North Perspective

Frances Sedgwick's keen eye and ear for the human condition reveals the heart and soul of Parkdale in southwest Toronto, one of the country's most turbulent urban areas where the best traditions of human kindness prevail against powerful forces that would grind them down. True North Perspective proudly presents a column by writer Frances Sedgwick. Her critical observation combined with a tender sense of humour will provide you with something to think about ... and something to talk about.

As International Women's Day approaches I cannot help but reflect on the women I have known, read about and the women I cherish today.
How these women have had an  influence on my life.
I know we have  some way to go to get full equality but had it not been for courageous women of the past we would be much further behind.
It is hard to imagine the hardships women went through in the not so distant past. That is in my life time. Never mind the days before the technology of today.  I'm talking about the days before daycare, before indoor toilets in rural areas, hot running water.
Imagine diapers hanging above the stove to dry.  No "pampers" in those days. Pots boiling on the stove full of more diapers.
No daycare. You slaved in the kitchen all day with the "kids" at your feet. You prepared meals for your "man". You washed his greasey work clothes on top of the stove beside the pots of diapers.
You never, ever, had a "day off".
One of my heroes is my sister. She went through all this.
Her wisdom, guidance, continued advice and encouragement is a rock to me.
When I ventured out to the workplace I had the privilage of learning bookkeeping from the First Woman Chartered Accountant in Ontario, Helen Burpee. What a lovely, modest person she was. I'll never forget her patience with me.
When Helen found a mistake I had made her face would light up and she would say "how interesting", and plunged in to find the problem.  This was so different from the approach of other "teachers".

I think of the suffragets who fought for the right of women to vote.
I do a lot of canvassing and when I get to a door where the lady of house says she isn't going to vote or that she has to wait for her husband to come home to know who to vote for I sigh sadly. 
I tell them how these brave women of the past fought for the right for us to vote.  We must use that hard fought right.
I think of the women Trade Union leaders, like Annie Buller and Lillie Ilomaki, who stood up there with their male counterparts and gave leadership to improve working conditions for the workers. I was so privileged to have not only known of them but to have known them in person.

Today we have women up there continuing the fight.
And here in my Parkdale I think of the women involved in the community fighting to improve conditions at the grass roots level. Don't ever forget that grass roots level.  Like Pat Capponi  who is a psychiatric survivor and has written about her survival in her book Upstairs in the Crazy House and continues helping others.  Women like Bonnie Brooks whose poems from her book Poems from Street Level about living on the streets I ran in an earlier column.

Women like Cathy, one of my best friends, out there where ever there is a need for solidarity and support for the underpriviledged, the unjustly accused, she is there.
Happy Women's Day Everyone!
My Parkdale