For Varpu Lindström this visit to the rest home raised many questions. Who were these Finnish Canadian women? What experiences filled their long lives? What characteristics made them survivors? Why had their past been such a tightly kept secret?
This pioneering study of Finnish immigrant women in Canada from 1890-1930, first published in 1988 and now in its third edition, has become a classic. While the experiences and problems Finnish immigrant women faced were not significantly different from other European immigrants, many of their responses were. The women who left Finland for Canada a century ago were almost exclusively working class, usually single, and universally literate. The spirit of optimism and defiance of traditional values that had led these young women to emigrate in the first place was carried over into their lives in Canada. They campaigned vigorously for higher wages, better working conditions and, above all, for dignified, humane treatment whether they were live-in domestics, lumber camp cooks, or homesteaders. To achieve this they relied not only on hard work but also on co-operative communal efforts. These women on the margins, against formidable odds, strived to improve, with mixed results, their and their community's position in Canada.
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