The business of women: gender, family, and entrepreneurship in British Columbia, 1901-1971




Buddle, Melanie Anne

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study examines female self-employment in British Columbia from 1901 to 1971. Entrepreneurial women comprised a small proportion of the total female labour force but they exhibited differences from the rest of the labour force that deserve attention. The study relies on the Census of Canada to gain perspective on trends in female self-employment over a broad time period; qualitative sources are also utilized, including Business and Professional Women’s Club records, to illustrate how individual businesswomen reflected patterns of age, marital status, and family observed at a broad level. The role of gender in women’s decisions to run their own enterprises and in their choice of enterprise is also explored. While the research focus is British Columbia, this study is comparative: self-employed women in the province are compared to their counterparts in the rest of Canada, but also to self-employed men, and to other working women, in both regions. Regionally, women in British Columbia had higher rates of self-employment than women in the rest of the country between 1901 and 1971. Self-employed women in both British Columbia and Canada were, like wage-earning women, limited to a narrow range of occupational types, but they were more likely to work in male-dominated occupations. Self employed women were also older and more likely to be married, widowed or divorced than wage-earning women; in these aspects, they resembled self-employed men. But there were gender differences: whether women worked in female or male-dominated enterprises, they stressed their femininity. The need to take care of their families, particularly if they had lost a spouse through death or desertion, provided additional rationale for women’s presence in the business world. Family, marital status, age, gender and region all played a role in women’s decisions to enter into self-employment between 1901 and 1971.



Women-owned business enterprises, British Columbia, Entrepreneurship, History, Businesswomen, Self-employed women