Compulsory War Work for Women Students – Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

by | Jan 11, 2022 | History, Research

Queen’s University Red Cross Work Room, c.1942

In Back the Attack! Canadian Women During the Second World War – At Home and Abroad (1985), Jean Bruce provides a compilation of WWII primary source excerpts.  In it, I found this entry:

NICE WARM QUILTS  When the students went home at Christmas, I told them to bring back any scraps of cotton or chintz they could lay hands on.  The University loaned us the attic of the old Arts building, and we had a workroom there.  Three kind ladies loaned me sewing machines, and we sewed the bits and pieces into big patchwork squares.  I bought great rolls of grey flannelette, and my students made these nice warm quilts with flannelette backing.  They went to stations on the North Sea coast of England, where torpedoed and rescued sailors were brought in.  I remember getting word back from men who said they liked our coverlets because they didn’t slip off the bed! Dean of Women, Queen’s University, Kingston

At the time that I discovered this, I was working on my Master’s degree at Queen’s University.  I headed over to Queen’s University Archives and under the expert guidance of archivist Heather Home, I was able to piece together the context for this entry.  The Dean of Women at Queen’s during WWII was Vibert Douglas.  I read every bit of paper in Dean Douglas’ fond, which led me to reviewing Queen’s senate publications from the war period. Heather also suggested that I review the yearbooks from the period, as they often carried photos of special events.  And sure enough, in the 1942 Queen’s yearbook, I found a page with photos of female students engaged in making quilt blocks by hand, and assembling quilt layers on the floor.  The page was titled ‘Red Cross Work’ and the caption was as follows (Levana was a society at Queen’s University that represented all female students up until 1967):

“The Levana war effort has been directed largely to Red Cross activity, and the Queen’s branch of the Red Cross Society opened its workroom in the Old Arts Building early in October, 1940…Work for the first term was voluntary and a considerable number of knitted articles, quilts for refugee children and personal property bags were turned in to the Kingston Red Cross.  At the Levana meeting of January 15th, 1941, it was voted that there be, for every member of Levana, one hour a week compulsory work in the Red Cross room.  The result of this move has been a great increase in both the number and variety of articles completed…On behalf of the Queen’s Red Cross, the executive wishes to thank all who have cooperated in the work, directly or indirectly, and especially Dr. A.V. Douglas who has shown a most active and helpful interest at all times.”   

Further research at the Archives led me to these minutes of the Senate, dated September 18, 1941:

“Compulsory War Work for Women Students – Principal Wallace spoke of the compulsory military training for men students and suggested that the women students be required to do some war work during the session.  On motion of Principal Kent, seconded by Professor Baker, it was agreed that all first year women students be required to take First Aid in the first term and to do some special war work in the second term…It was agreed further that all senior women be asked to engage in some form of war work to be organized by a Committee of students under the direction of Miss Douglas.”

Photographed from Queen’s University Yearbook, 1942

Queen’s was certainly not the only Canadian University to host a Red Cross workroom and ‘enlist’ female students to participate.  I continue to research the ‘recruitment’ of female student ‘volunteers’ for the war effort.