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Think about it

In between puttering I have been reading some interesting books.

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Not sure where I got the Ontario History, The Ontario Historical Society, Vol. CIII No. 2 Autumn 2011, but it has proven to be enlightening to say the least. It has short articles on several topics. I have only managed two so far, The Strange Second Death of Lewis Yealland and The Masculinity of the Children’s Aid Society.


Each is complicated and hard to read and I have to go back and read paragraphs over and over just to get a basic understanding of the article.

I had never heard of Dr. Yealland. He was a graduate of the University of Western Ontario medical school. Some of his case studies from The First World War are recounted, which were based on his work with electroshock therapy on shell shocked and traumatized soldiers. The treatments are barbaric and horrific by today’s standards but at the time, as the article points out, were revolutionary and often proved to have effective results.

In 1918, Dr. Yealland’s work was endorsed and often recommended. In the perspective of 1991 he was vilified and his reputation destroyed. The author, Dennis Duffy, is not advocating for the doctor or trying to clarify but to “provide an alternative to a matter that contemporary discourse seems to have made up its mind about.”

It was a captivating, thought-provoking, yet challenging read with a serious point to be made.

The second article in the book entitled, “At last a practical man got a gun,” The Masculinity of Children’s Aid, 1893-1912, written by Mike Reid, was of particular interest to me having had some involvement with the Children’s Aid Society. We have all heard horror stories related by people who have had dealing with the Society. I am acutely aware there are two sides to each story. A person’s response is relevant to the side of the issue from which they are viewing the Society’s participation. I appreciate and am grateful for the actions taken.

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I am still trying to digest this article. Research into Ottawa, Brantford and Belleville CAS’s from 1893 to 1912 are featured. The article states child care in the 1800s was the jurisdiction of women, who managed, raised funds for and led the procedures of care for the children put in their care. By 1890 such child care had become dominated by men who felt these female-run orphanages cost too much, were not delivering the “proper moral influences” and could not go in and rescue children from homes they deemed immoral. They decided “neglected children, especially boys, should be in moral, private homes on farms rather than institutions.” Make of that what you will.

Women were relegated to being foster mothers or overseeing other foster mothers, with men making all the decisions. The Ontario Children’s Protection Act gave this new organization, The Children’s Aid Society, the right to “apprehend children without warrant” any child they determined to be neglected, and the ability, through the court system, to legally make said child a ward of the CAS who could then transfer guardianship to the Society’s chosen foster parents. Neglect included any moral issues these men didn’t think appropriate.

In Belleville the push was to have the Humane Society confirmed as a CAS but the Humane Society didn’t want the job so a committee was formed to look into it. They came back with the recommendation the Woman’s Christian Association, which was wholly made up of women, should become the CAS but that idea was rejected on the premise the public would view it as a Protestant organization, which was a more palatable consideration then because it was a women’s organization. It was decided the reluctant Humane Society would be best.

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From the Humane Society/Children’s Aid Society’s first meeting recorded, “Its chief objects… were the prevention of cruelty to animals, the protection of insectivorous birds and the care of children.”

Read that again.

I have always maintained children and women were not, and still are not in many minds, valued. They are deemed “lesser than” on the scale of ability, intelligence, merit. I see, in this article, an example of how children and, in some ways, women at that time were not regarded as essential, useful, consequential. There is a plethora of examples of this same attitude in history and still today. It’s not only about lack of equality but it is about lack of value, worth.

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