Canada's Rebel Feminist Passes Doris Anderson
By Mark London
Doris Anderson on the cover of her autobiography, Rebel Daughter
"When you think about it, she altered the way this entire country looks at 52 per cent of the population, the women and girls."
Sally Armstrong, filmmaker and activist
Canada's former Chatelaine editor, campaigner for women's rights, journalist and author, Doris Anderson, passed away Friday, March 2, 2007. At age 85, she reportedly surrendered to pulmonary fibrosis.
Doris was born out of wedlock in November 1921, christened Hilda Doris Buck, to Rebecca Laycock Buck and Thomas McCubbin. During her somewhat happy, yet rocky childhood, she lived with a difficult and domineering step-father and her mother who scratched out a living operating a boardingroom house. Despite this challenging start, Doris Anderson went on to achieve amazing goals in both the literary and feminist worlds.
As a teenager, Doris found it difficult to accept her mother's vision of a woman's traditional life based on marriage and children. She began looking to women, such as her unmarried teachers, as role models - living examples of functional feminism in life.
In 1951, after holding a variety of jobs – researcher and writer for radio host Claire Wallace, ad copywriter at Eaton's Department Store, Star Weekly copy editor, freelancing fiction articles for Maclean's and Chatelaine – she realized that employment opportunities for women in journalism were severely restricted. During that year she began her permanent association with Chatelaine when she was hired as an ad promoter.
Doris rose through the positions of associate editor and managing editor soon after. Within six short years, she became the editor. From 1957 until 1977, she maintained this prestigious position, garnering two decades of control over Chatelaine – a magazine with one of Canada's largest circulations.
In 1957 she married lawyer David Anderson. In Rebel Daughter: An Autobiography, she writes, "What I wanted more than anything was to be able to look after myself and make sure that every other woman in the world could do the same."
As Chatelaine's editor, Doris was determined to give her readers "something serious to think about, something to shake them up." She included articles on the legalization of abortion, battered babies, Canada's outdated divorce laws, female sexuality, as well as, informative, practical pieces for working women.
"Doris was quietly putting out the most seditious magazine in the country," June Callwood, a Canadian journalist said about Anderson in 1997. "She was saying to women, 'Stand up.'"
Anderson raised three sons – Peter, Stephen and Mitchell – and heeded her own advice, always taking a stand. She was a self-reliant spirit defying authority in defence of her principles, and she re-shaped Chatelaine into one of the few places where feminist ideas were easily available to women.
Some readers felt that she was turning "a nice wholesome Canadian magazine into a feminist rag" (Rebel Daughter). However, circulation, which was 480,000 at the time Doris became editor, increased to 1.8 million by the late 1960s. The articles of Chatelaine, during that period, placed it in the forefront of feminism in North America.
Besides writing Two Women and, Rough Layout, her books include her autobiography Rebel Daughter (1996), The Unfinished Revolution: Status Of Women In Twelve Countries (1991), and Affairs of State (1988).
During a 2006 interview with Shameless Magazine, Anderson said the things she was most proud of were "Firstly, having kids. Next, it would be Chatelaine. That magazine and I, we were made for each other. It was floundering when I took over and it was time to give women a new message. I had an amazing opportunity."
Her biggest challenge: "Just getting a start at all, with what was expected of women, I had pressure not to excel at school because it was cool to hide your brains to get a husband."
Advice to young women: "The main thing is not to undersell yourself. Don't settle for less than what you can achieve or less than what women should be achieving."
Bibliography: Rebel Daughter: An Autobiography (1996, ISBN 1-55013-767-0) The Unfinished Revolution, (1991, ISBN 0-385-25271-4) Affairs of State, (1988, 0-3852-5154-8) Rough Layout, (1981, ISBN 0-7710-0742-6) Two Women, (1978, ISBN 0-7705-1653-X)
Mark London is a Toronto based freelance writer and associate editor of IN who has been with the FWO-Int'l from the early years volunteering much of his time in assisting young writers' careers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org