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...
John Woodsworth's professional site
(page updated 8/9/04)
 

Edith Margaret
Woodsworth
a tribute
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posted on the occasion of the 104th anniversary of her birth
8 September 2004


EDITH WOODSWORTH (b. Edith Margaret Gray, 8 September 1900 in Stratford, Ontario) spent most of her adult years as a professional woman and an activist in a number of international organisations.  She grew up in and around Winnipeg, and graduated in Classics from the University of Manitoba in the early 1920s.  She spent most of the 1930s in London (UK) working first for Canada House and then for the Cunard Steamship Line, part of the time escorting young British brides-to-be on their way to Canada where they had arranged to be married to Canadian prairie-dwellers. 
   During her ten years in London she had a busy social life, and helped organise the Hambone Club, a social club for local ex-patriate Canadians.  This experience introduced her to many Canadians who would later go on to distinguished careers at home.   On a visit to Ottawa in 1961, she impressed her son by ringing up and chatting with three of her 'old friends' -- three of the most prominent women in the nation's capital at the time: Olive Diefenbaker (wife of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker), Pauline Vanier (wife of Governor-General Georges Vanier) and Charlotte Whitton (the Mayor of Ottawa). 
   (One of our family's treasured possessions is a photo of Edith wearing a lovely gold-embroidered satin evening gown -- taken by Karsh of Ottawa -- along with the gown she wore for the occasion.)
   Coming home to Canada just before the outbreak of war, she married and moved with her husband Charles Woodsworth to Vancouver.  During World War II she and two other women operated a salvage service, collecting household items from around the city for wartime needs.  She and her husband at one time lived on a small boat, and would take short trips around the coastal waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland.  On their last few trips they were accompanied by their infant son, John Alan.
   Following a divorce soon afterward, Edith and her son lived with her recently widowed mother, Margaret Dunsmore Gray.  She spent several years working for the Vancouver branch of the international Welcome Wagon firm, but grew increasingly frustrated by the apparent lack of concern at the time on the part of its American headquarters for either the woman's or the Canadian point of view (issues which may well have been remedied in the interim).  In the mid-1950s, with her son going into his teens, she decided to launch a new career in real estate.  While still a salesperson for a Vancouver firm she undertook a painstaking study programme and eventually acquired her her own realtor's licence.  She and two friends, Joey Ashdown and Marianne Linnell (at that time a Vancouver city alderman), opened the Triangle Realty, one of the few Vancouver firms at the time run exclusively by women.
   While she did not consider herself a 'feminist' per se, she took a lively interest in women's issues.  On the strength of her Manitoba classics degree, she joined the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) and began attending the triennial conferences of its international counterpart, the IFUW.  On two of these occasions (Paris, 1956, and Helsinki, 1959) she brought along her mother (then in her late 80s) and her teen-age son and chauffeured her family on extended motor-trips around first southern and then northern Europe, from the French Riviera to Lyngenfjord in Norway, north of the Arctic Circle.  In 1956 she and her family crossed the Atlantic from New York to Southampton on the Cunard Line's Queen Mary, returning from Liverpool to Montréal on the smaller, brand new Carinthia.  The 1959 outbound trip was made on the Holland-America Line's Statendam, returning on the Nieuw Amsterdam on its last voyage as flagship of the fleet.
   On the way to the Helsinki conference the family stopped for several days in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, where Edith had agreed to represent Canada at an international meeting of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; her mother and son were also permitted to attend the keynote address given by Dr Linus Pauling, in the very city where five years earlier he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.  In Helsinki they accompanied her on a number of IFUW conference field-trips, one of which was to the Marttaliitto  -- the Finnish 'Martha organisation'.  Established in 1899 "to promote the quality and standard of life in the home"; it takes its name from the story of Martha and Mary in the Bible (Luke 10:38-42). 
   Following the Helsinki IFUW conference Edith and her family took a six-day tour to Leningrad (now St-Petersburg) arranged by the IFUW.  It was on this trip that mother Margaret, then 89, experienced flying for the first time in her life (on a small Russian plane), and that son John was first introduced to the Russian language and culture which subsequently became his passion and profession.
   Edith later served for a number of years as Canada's delegate on the IFUW Council, which meant annual trips to destinations such as India, Cambodia, Greece, Mexico and Japan.  In Vancouver she served on the planning committee for renovating the local branch's new headquarters in the beautiful Hycroft Manor on McRae Avenue, and her family still remembers taking afternoon tea with her in the club's sumptuous Hycroft surroundings.
   She was also active in the local chapter of the Canadian Institute for International Affairs.  Occasionally accompanied by her son and daughter-in-law, she attended many talks by prominent international speakers, often held in members' homes followed by a mid-day tea.
   From the early 1960s she took part in the activities of International House at the University of British Columbia, frequently holding get-togethers in her home for students from all over the world.  Many years ago she herself had spent some time at New York City's International House in America, and during the time she was attending the IFUW conference in Paris in 1956, she had arranged for her son to stay with a family residing at the Maison Internationale at the Cité Universitaire in Paris.
   She was an active worker in her church, Second Church of Christ, Scientist, Vancouver, where she served, for example, as Board Member and Sunday School teacher.
   Edith Margaret Woodsworth passed on in December 1981, leaving a legacy of outreach, warmth and friendship among the many people who knew her and appreciated her innumerable contributions to the world around her, especially to the progress of Canadian women.  She has a very special place in the hearts of her remaining family, who will always treasure her memory.  To her son in particular, she was indeed a precious mother, unwavering in her nurturing, caring, generosity and love.
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"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you... 
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

-- John 14:27
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