Pauline Jewett:
A Passion for Canada

by Judith Mckenzie,
ISBN: 0773518223

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Pauline's Passion
by Clara Thomas

Pauline Jewett had been a front-runner among Canadian women, both academically and politically, even before she became the first Canadian woman to serve as president of a university. Those of us who were academics at the time were her loudest cheerleaders, for we knew first-hand the difficulties she had most certainly faced on her journey to the presidency of Simon Fraser University. Judith McKenzie's biography, Pauline Jewett: A Passion for Canada, gives an even-handed account of those difficulties, and of the combination of ambition, ability, determination, and confidence required to overcome them.

The book is slim on details about Jewett's early years. Although McKenzie speculates that her father influenced her to attend Queen's University, I suspect that one of her teachers or her principal in St. Catherine's also played a role in spotting and nurturing her ability; some reference to this influence would have been appreciated. The educational context also merits more attention: in those days, applying for an entrance scholarship to one university automatically committed a student to that institution; there was no question of qualifying for several scholarships and choosing the best option. Another important point has to do with the political climate of the time. In 1940, the year Jewett entered university, women were not required to train for war-related work, as McKenzie mistakenly believes, though that fall, for the first time, intercollegiate athletics were cancelled and men were required to attend Canadian Officers-in-Training courses. In 1942, women students were expected to spend a few hours a week at some war-related effort, and Jewett, like so many other women undergraduates, was seriously tempted to join the RCAF.

McKenzie gives an excellent account of the influence of Jean Royce, Queen's Registrar, who positively affected many women's careers. She had the ability to spot unusual talent, and she was one of three mentors during Jewett's years at Queen's. The others were Dr. Alice Vibert Douglas, Dean of Women and Full Professor of Physics, and Dr. Corry of the Political Science Department. Dr. Douglas provided encouragement with a valuable cautionary component; the boring nature of the housekeeping responsibilities of a Dean of Women was not lost on Jewett. Corry's backing was invaluable in Jewett's acceptance at Harvard; but later, after she, an ABD of great promise, had successfully taught at Queen's, he passed her over for a tenure-stream appointment in favour of John Meisel. Corry's "betrayal", as she considered it-and certainly with reason-plagued her always. However, the disappointment did galvanize her: she finished her thesis on "The Wartime Prices and Trade Board" and then spent several months doing post-doctoral research at the London School of Economics. She did not, however, convert her thesis into a book, and McKenzie rightly sees this failure as a major setback in her academic career, as well as the root of her own lasting uncertainty about her abilities as a research academic. The slogan, "Publish or Perish", already powerful in the American system, was in its infancy in Canada; but it grew ever more mandatory in the post-war years until it became what it is today, threatening the basis of universities' accountability to the public they serve.

In 1955, after directing a study of the organization of the Canadian Nurses' Association and while making a firm and important lifetime friend of Muriel Uprichard, the nurses' project coordinator, Jewett was hired by Carleton College. In the previous three years, she had applied to eighteen Canadian universities without success. Carleton, however, was new and experimental, the 1943 invention of a small group of idealistic academics, and the perfect place for Jewett to test her academic aptitude and skills. With the influx of post-war veterans, Carleton had grown apace, and by the mid-fifties, it had attracted a group of especially gifted faculty-among them, John Porter, whose book, The Vertical Mosaic, became known internationally. Jewett found her colleagues so congenial that together they purchased land on Constant Lake, northwest of Ottawa; her cottage there became the emotional centre where she found her deepest sense of home for the rest of her life.

A successful academic, popular teacher, and, by 1960, elected Chair of the Department of Political Science and Economics, Jewett became increasingly restless. She was intrigued by politics and attended parliamentary debates on her free days, eventually taking a leave of absence from Carleton to run for the Liberals in a Northumberland County riding in 1962. It is at this point in Jewett's career that McKenzie shows us her best work. Obviously extremely well-versed in the political scene, McKenzie treats the important Liberal Kingston conference of 1960 in some detail. Jewett became a well-known activist in the party, friendly with movers and shakers like Walter Gordon (Stephen Azzi's book, Walter Gordon and the Rise of Canadian Nationalism, was also published by McGill-Queen's University Press this spring). From time to time, McKenzie does fall prey to unnecessarily digressive theorizing, but her story of Jewett's first, difficult, and unsuccessful campaign in Northumberland, then of her success in 1963, is excellently told. The events that followed-disappointment in Pearson's ignoring her as Cabinet material, the Conservatives' opportune placing of George Hees as the winning candidate in her riding-convince me, as they do McKenzie, of two major factors in Jewett's defeat: she was eager and certainly deserving, but the die were still heavily loaded against women, and she was, above all, an academic. Neither her temperament nor her learning nor her vocabulary gave her enough of the "common touch" that she needed. She was a first-rate policy-maker with the principles and trained mind that made her a formidable supporter of her party's best platforms; but her parliamentary career was on a rocky road from the beginning.

By the time she became president of Simon Fraser University in 1974, things had begun to be very different for women. Because of the great university boom in the sixties and the general euphoria of the centennial year in 1967, academics were enjoying the "golden years". By the mid-seventies, the time was right for the first woman's presidency. At a time when presidents were ousted with frightening frequency, and at Simon Fraser especially, where Jewett's areas of specialty, Political Science and Economics, had been flashpoints of controversy, she was a logical and intelligent choice. In spite of very real and unavoidable difficulties, she fulfilled her mandate successfully. Simon Fraser had been under censure from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, a serious business for both administrations and faculties across the country; under Jewett's leadership, the censure was lifted. She made the university familiar and popular in the Burnaby and Vancouver communities. Finally, and most importantly, she played a large and enthusiastic part in the Canadianizing of Simon Fraser University (the faculty was fifty-eight per cent Canadian when she arrived) and in the equitable treatment of women.

But Jewett had had the tantalizing experience of being where the parliamentary action was, and she cut her term short by one year in order to seek a nomination, this time in the New Democratic Party. After an initial defeat, she ran in 1979 in the New Westminster-Coquitlam riding and won with a more than respectable majority. Thus began the years that almost certainly gave her the greatest professional satisfaction. Among Canadian women, she was high-profile and an admired mentor; under Broadbent's party leadership, she was vocal and well-regarded. The New Democratic Party was then entering its most successful federal years, gaining respect among the population, and through the turbulent eighties, she was in the forefront of parliamentary causes and conflicts: Star Wars, the Cruise Missile, and Meech Lake. Even after deciding not to run again in 1988, she could not resist putting her name up for the presidency of the NDP Party, though she lost many men's backing because of her own outspoken support of Audrey McLaughlin for Party Leader; she subsequently lost the presidency. She retired from public life, but by no means into obscurity. For many years, she had worked at top pitch and she continued the fight for her principles, for the Canada whose present and future she cherished beyond measure, and for women's equality with men-in education, opportunity, and pay.

Jewett died of cancer in 1992, with loving friends at her bedside. The last honour bestowed on her, less than three months earlier, was a ceremony at Rideau Hall, where she received a Companionship in the Order of Canada from Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn. 

Clara Thomas is a professor of English at York University.


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