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Women's History at RBSC

A guide to women's archival materials at UBC's Rare Books and Special Collections

About These Collections

The fonds and collections included here contain the records of women from historically marginalized racial-ethnic populations as well as those of white women whose records have significant representation of people of colour. 

Note: This research guide is intended to be a work-in-progress that not only becomes more accurate over time, but more holistic and complete as well. We understand and accept that appropriate and respectful terminology will continue to change and evolve. To that end, we welcome and encourage any feedback, suggestions, or criticisms regarding any of the terminology or resources that we have presented here.

b&w photo of Joy Kogawa in 1995

Vancouver author Joy Kogawa, whose award-winning novel Obasan tells the story of a young Japanese Canadian girl forced into internment during WWII, is photographed here in 1995. Her fonds is housed at RBSC.

Image source: UBC Archives Photograph Collection, UBC Open Collections

Ker, C. (1995, January 1). Author Joy Kogawa [P]. doi:

Archival Collections

Born in England in 1859, Alice Ravenhill was trained in home economics, childcare, and sanitation. Arriving in B.C. in 1910, she became active in organizations devoted to issues of women, education, and First Nations and Indigenous peoples. She devoted her time to researching aboriginal culture, publishing books, and helping found the Society for the Furtherance of B.C. Indian Arts and Crafts. The fonds contains materials related to Ravenhill’s personal life, writing, and the various organizations she was involved in that pertain to Indigenous peoples.

Anna Scantland was born in Saskatchewan in 1931. In 1955, she received her B.A. at the University of British Columbia before marrying Erik Lund. Her experience working at the Hastings Community Centre in Vancouver, B.C. sparked her interest in the issues facing minority and immigrant peoples. She later returned to UBC to obtain her teaching certificate and began her teaching career in 1959. The fonds consists of textual records, such as a scrapbook, the manuscript of her novel Resignation, correspondence, guidelines for writing, and clippings on the subject of women and Japanese-Canadians, among others.

Annie Henderson was born in Sussex, England in 1873. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Kansas and her doctorate from Yale in 1905. Much of her interest during her life was devoted to British and American policies towards North American Indians. The fonds consists of Henderson's research material pertaining primarily to British native policy and to the slave trade. Included are testimonials and notes on Indian affairs, copies of letters regarding slaves, reviewed and republished articles by Henderson, lectures, Anti-Slavery Society notes, a speech, and miscellaneous clippings.

Beverley Simons (née Rosen) was born in March 1938 in Flin Flon, Manitoba. In 1958, she accepted a scholarship to study creative writing at the Banff School of Fine Arts, where she produced her first full-length play, My Torah, My Tree, an exploration of her Jewish heritage. The following year, she graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. in English and Theatre. In 1967, Simons was awarded a Canada Council ‘B’ grant, which enabled her to commence work on Crabdance, the play she is best known for. She continued to write and create throughout her life, generating plays, books, manuscripts, children’s stories, essays, and screenplays, most of which were never produced or published. The fonds consists of records related to her writing career, travels, and personal life, such as recordings, outlines, drafts, correspondence, photographs, and more.

Doris Fuller was born in Stockton, California in 1922. She married Frank Fuller in 1945 and they both went on to receive degrees in Geography and become teachers in the early 1960s. In 1967, they moved to Sechelt, B.C., where Doris became president of the Sechelt Teachers' Association. In 1980, Frank developed a curriculum on the Sechelt Indian cultural heritage. The fonds consists of correspondence, subject files, and photograph albums that pertain to the Fullers' professional careers, labour activities, and personal lives. The fonds also contains materials which reflect the activities of the Labour History Provincial Specialist Association of the BCTF, the Sechelt Indian Curriculum Project, and a film entitled For Twenty Cents a Day.

Hanne Wassermann Walker was born in Vienna, Austria in 1893. As a young woman, she attended trade school, wherein she studied portrait photography, freehand drawing, chemistry, commercial/business math and writing, and more. After trade school, Hanne attended the Röntgen Institute, Vienna's first x-ray institute, where she learned about human anatomy and physical wellness. She went on to pioneer a series of stretches and exercises for women she called “The Hanne Wassermann Method,” which she described as a form of gymnastics. She focused not only on physical improvement, but also the psychology of fitness, achieving enough success to open a school in Vienna, teach at an upscale resort in Italy, work as a personal trainer, and advance her philosophy and fitness techniques through lectures, books, pamphlets, and newspaper/magazine articles. Following Nazi Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria, Hanne and her family began making preparations to emigrate from Europe. She initially traveled, worked, and lived in other parts of Europe (Britain and Italy in particular), before moving to New York in December 1939, followed shortly afterwards by her mother and her partner, George. Her work took her to California until she eventually settled in Vancouver, B.C.

The Walker fonds consists of documents, archival records, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts pertaining to her life and work as described. These materials relate to several broad themes: health and fitness, travel, friends and family, immigration to North America, and art/photography. Hanne's collection provides a window into the early 20th century physical culture movement; the experience of Jewish Europeans in the lead-up to, during, and after World War II; and the landscapes of British Columbia between the 1940s and 1970s.

Irene Simmons Phelan was born in Ottawa in 1897 and grew up in Vancouver, B.C. Writing under the name Pamela Stephen, her work appeared in various magazines and newspapers over the course of her career, but her greatest professional focus was as a radio reporter and producer. Her show Indian Trails was aired across the country and her show Story Time was sponsored by the British Columbia Parent Teachers' Federation. Her book of short stories, Winged Canoes at Nootka and Other Stories of the Evergreen Coast, was published in 1955. First Nations and B.C. history were two of her primary interests as a writer and educator. The fonds consists of drafts, research notes, galley proofs, and other materials related to Stephen's books, radio shows, and plays.

Formed under the auspices of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens' Association, the Japanese Canadian History Preservation Committee sponsored an oral history project in 1985. The project was undertaken in order to more fully understand and chronicle the early experiences of Japanese Canadians. The fonds consists of 134 cassette tapes of 91 interviews with Japanese Canadians and two bound volumes containing an index of individuals interviewed, data sheets, and consent forms for use of the material. Of the interviewees, many are women.

This collection consists of approximately fifty small collections donated by various individuals and organizations. The collection encompasses a wide range of topics including relocation to internment camps during WWII, farming, lumbering, religious activities, and personal reminiscences, as well as various organizational records. Within these smaller collections can be found the records of Japanese Canadian women, such as the 1943 Annual Report of the United Church of Canada Women's Auxilliary, written in Japanese, and Michiko Midge Ayukawa’s 1990 M.A. Thesis, entitled “Bearing the Unbearable: the Memoir of a Japanese Pioneer Woman.”

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1910, Jessie Miller worked briefly as an Anglican missionary in Saskatchewan before being posted to a church in Gifu, Japan. She worked largely with women and children, particularly those living with blindness, and spent the majority of her life in Japan until poor health forced her to return to Canada in 1969. The fonds consists of Miller's slides of missionaries, hospitals, and houses in Japan, including street scenes of Tokyo.

Joan Gillis was born on Vancouver Island in January 1928. Her family eventually moved to Surrey, B.C. where she attended Queen Elizabeth Secondary School and made friends with a number of Japanese Canadians. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many of her friends and their families were ordered to move away from the coast and were forced into internment camps. Gillis found this to be unjust and wrote letters to her friends while they were being held away from home. The fonds consists of the incoming correspondence Joan received from them, the majority of which took place between 1942-1946 and came from different friends writing from farms and work camps in Northern British Columbia, Manitoba, and Alberta. The letter-writers discuss their day-to-day life at the camps, living and working conditions, their new schools and teachers, and ask after Gillis’ life in Surrey and the on-goings at Queen Elizabeth Secondary School.

Joy Nozomi Kogawa (nee Nakayama) is a renowned writer who was born in Vancouver, B.C. in 1935 to Japanese Canadian parents. In addition to the honorary degrees she received from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute and the University of Lethbridge in 1991, Kogawa has been granted degrees from Simon Fraser University, Laurentian University, and the University of British Columbia. She has won many awards for her 1981 novel, Obasan, which chronicles the internment and persecution of citizens of Japanese descent by the Canadian government during WWII, all from the perspective of a child. For her work, she was awarded the Order of Canada in 1986. The fonds consists of material related to Kogawa's writing projects, her personal life, her involvement in community organizations, and her participation in literary, cultural, and human rights conferences and events.

Fonds reflects Minoru Kudo’s involvement within the Japanese Canadian community both before and after World War II as well as the Kudo family’s experience of forced removal and its impacts on their lives moving forward. If offers insight into the actions taken by the British Columbia Securities Commission during the process of the forced removal of Japanese Canadian families from B.C. and the advocacy work of Japanese Canadians, as individuals and through groups such as the National Association of Japanese Canadians, to receive redress following the end of the war, both through the The Royal Commission on Japanese Claims(the Bird Commission) and outside of it. In addition to these materials, the fonds also illustrates the work of younger generations of Japanese Canadians to uncover and reconnect with their history. The fonds contains research files from the Kudo family, who worked to document and bring together recollections of the Mission City Japanese community as it existed before the war and where families were for forcibly removed to during it, as well as the Kudo family’s history specifically. A significant portion of the fonds is the translation work done by Kathleen Merken on Minoru Kudo’s diaries.

This fonds reflects the lives of Leonard and Kitty Maracle, an Indigenous couple who were politically active members of their community. Cordelia “Kitty” Maracle (née Hill) was born in 1923 in New York State and married Leonard Maracle in 1946. They each participated in political organizations dedicated to advocating for the rights of Indigenous peoples, particularly Non-Status Indians and, in Kitty’s case, Indigenous women. Some of the organizations include the B.C. Native Women’s Society, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the B.C. Association of Non-Status Indians (BCANSI), the Longhouse Indian Arts and Crafts Cooperative, and the Greater Vancouver Local chapter of the Metis Association. Kitty passed away in 2010 after 63 years of marriage to Leonard. The fonds consists of correspondence, meeting minutes, proposals and reports, notes, publications, newspaper clippings, photographs and various ephemera relating to Aboriginal rights and political activity primarily in British Columbia but also throughout Canada. The fonds also contains some of Leonard and Kitty’s personal papers, including correspondence, family photographs, writings and notes.

The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act was conceived in 2020 by community curator and exhibition designer, Catherine B. Clement, to commemorate one hundred years of the passing of Canada’s Chinese Exclusion Act. The community-based project has two components: first, a national, year-long exhibition opening July 1st, 2023 in Vancouver’s Chinatown; secondly, a community archive of the Chinese Immigration (C.I.) certificates issued to implement the Chinese Immigration Act (1885-1947), within which the 1923 Exclusion Act was a significant amendment and dark turn.

Project values include paying tribute to those who lived through this period, preserving documentary evidence and oral history, educating new generations, and public telling of this collective story. The project prioritized community participation through the “crowdsourcing” of family histories and archival documents from across every province.

Collection consists of records collected by Catherine B. Clement towards her research project on the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act that will mount a 100th year commemorative exhibition in 2023. The collection includes Chinese Immigration and other registration and identification certificates contributed by individuals, families and organizations across Canada.

Betty Keller was an author who wrote Pauline: The Life of Pauline Johnson (1981). Johnson, the daughter of a hereditary Mohawk chief father and English immigrant mother, was a Canadian poet, author, and performer who was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was also known by her Mohawk stage name Tekahionwake. The collection consists of research material for Keller's book on Johnson and includes photocopies of letters to, from, and about Johnson as well as copies of printed material.

Peggy Lee (nee Wong) was born in 1923 in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. She was one of fourteen children of Chew and Lee Sze Wong. The family moved from Guangdong to Canada and Chew Wong was initially a railway worker before opening a grocery store in Prince George. At fifteen, Lee moved to Vancouver to attend the Moler Hairdressing School. Two years later in 1941, she opened the Paris Beauty Salon in the Holden Building on East Hastings Street. This would be the first of a number of salons that Lee would own and operate. In 1942, Lee joined the St. John’s Women’s Ambulance Corps, with whom she served until the end of World War II. Her platoon was comprised completely of Chinese Canadian women, of whom Lee was the youngest. In 1951, Lee married William Henry Rees Lee. The couple raised four children, including a set of triplets. In the 1960s, Lee went into a partnership with a couple with whom she co-owned the Prince Eugene Salon, which eventually relocated to the Hotel Vancouver. Following her partners’ departure from the area, Lee retained the location and opened the Peggy Lee Beauty Centre, which operated between 1972 and 1985. As part of her career, Lee was highly involved in the hairdressing community both locally and internationally. Additionally, Lee has been an active member of the Chinese Canadian and veterans’ communities in Vancouver. For her service to these communities, Lee has been the recipient of multiple awards and nominated for a British Columbia multicultural award in 2015. In addition to community work, Lee was also actively involved in politics and served as a delegate for the Social Credit Party.

Fonds reflects Lee’s professional career, investment ventures, engagement with political and social communities, and life with friends and family. It offers particular insight into the social aspects of Lee’s life, as she kept many of the invitations, programs, and other ephemera relating to events that she attended because of her community involvement and philanthropy across all aspects of her life.

Rosemary Brown was born in Jamaica in 1930 and moved to Canada in 1950 to attend McGill University, where she obtained an undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies. In 1955, she relocated to B.C., where she earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of British Columbia. Drawn to feminism and the peace movement, Brown established the Vancouver Status of Women. In 1972, she became a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in the riding of Vancouver-Burrard and thus became the first Black woman elected to B.C. legislature, where she served as an MLA for 14 years until 1986, when she retired from politics. As an MLA for B.C., Rosemary fought for such issues as: ending discrimination; eliminating sexism in textbooks; the equality of women; affirmative action; and laws that protect rape victims. After her retirement from politics, Rosemary served as Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1993-96. The fonds consists of correspondence, speeches, research notes, and articles on various issues, such as discrimination, inequality of women, affirmative action, and sexual assault.

Rudolph and Edith Crook were Canadians who served as Baptist medical missionaries in the Szechuan province of China between 1920 and 1950. The fonds consists of a manuscript, black-and-white and colour prints, and slide images relating to life in the Szechuan province of China (1920-1950). The manuscript is entitled A Trip to Tibet (Summer 1930) and the photographs chronicle a trip taken by the Crooks with fellow medics and missionaries. The considerable slide and print collections reveals aspects of the people, life, and topography of China during the time the Crooks lived and worked there. 

Shizuye Takashima was born in B.C. in 1930. At age eleven, she was sent with her family to the Japanese internment camp of New Denver in British Columbia’s interior. Following the war, Shizuye studied art at the Ontario College of Fine Arts, where she continued on as an instructor after graduating. Her experience in internment camps was the subject of her award-winning autobiographical novel, A Child in Prison Camp. The fonds consists of an annotated draft manuscript of the novel.

Emma Crosby (nee Douse) was the daughter of a missionary who emigrated to Canada from England in the 1830s. In 1874, she married Thomas Crosby, another missionary, and moved with him to Port Simpson (now known as Lax-Kw'alaams), where for the next quarter of a century, they lived among the Tsimshian people. The fonds consists primarily of Emma's letters to her mother and others throughout the course of her married life and missionary work. The letters shed light on the complicated relationships between missionaries and Indigenous peoples in B.C. in the 1800s as well as provide details of the extent to which missionaries' wives were involved in missionary work.

Many of the letters in this fonds are digitized and available to be viewed here in Open Collections.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1923, Ulli Steltzer emigrated to the United States in 1953 with her two children. After teaching music and developing photographs in Massachusetts and New York, Steltzer moved to Princeton in 1957 to accept a job as a professional photographer for the Princeton Packet, whose Tulane Street studio she worked from for much of the next two decades. In addition to taking portraits of many prominent Princeton intellectuals and visitors from the late 1950s through the early 1970s, she also made frequent trips across the United States in her red Volkswagen to photograph and interview African American families in the South, as well as Hopi, Navajo, and Pueblo peoples in New Mexico and Arizona. In 1972, Steltzer permanently relocated her studio and home to Vancouver, British Columbia, where she befriended several prominent Haida artists, including carvers Robert Davidson and Bill Reid, who would become her frequent collaborators. Steltzer documented the art, culture, and traditions of the Haida and other coastal communities, as well as the Inuit, with whom she lived for several months. She used an unobtrusive hand-held Rollei camera to seek out Indigenous artists and peoples in their traditional territories, meet them informally and record their lives and work. Traveling widely throughout the Americas and Asia during her long career, Steltzer also documented life in Southern California, Guatemala, Cuba, China, and India, with a recurrent focus on immigrant communities and Indigenous peoples. Her photographs have been exhibited widely in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and have appeared in many photographic books and collaborations.

The collection consists of 67 black and white photographs of various sizes taken by Ulli Steltzer in the 1960s and 1970s. Subjects include Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples and artists, Black, LatinX and Indigenous peoples in the USA and Guatemala, and a small number of portraits and still-life.