THE RURAL VOICE - JANUARY 2014
Aggie's Voice, by Donna Mann,
Published by The Bruce-dale Press 2013,
Juvenile Fiction, Softcover 5 ¥2 by 8 */4 inches
177 pages $20.00
Agnes MacPhail becomes an adult in new book Aggie's Voice
Reviewed by Karen Webster
Aggie's Voice takes us back to a very different time a century ago when women did not have the right to vote, their pay for work was much less than that of men and much of their freedom was constrained by others.
Indeed the book begins with Aggie putting up preserves in her mother's kitchen while her father is entertaining this very vocal neighbour. Aggie McPhail had a desire to be a teacher, however her schooling was curtailed when her father refused her permission to attend high school.
Her determination won out and now, after she completed four years education in two at the Owen Sound Collegiate and Vocational Institute, we travel with her to her aunt and uncle's home in Stratford. Here she completed her high school education and then went on to attend Stratford Normal School in the year following its opening.
As Aggie and her friend Mae attend the grand opening of this institution we are given a peek at the lovely architecture of the building that stands yet today. As a former student there, this reviewer was taken back to the idealism that a new teacher such as Aggie felt. She was determined "to be the best teacher ever".
The opening address of the Normal School principal, Dr. Silcox was prophetic of Aggie's path in life as he challenged his students with "What will this class do toward the solution of the problems of our Dominion and our empire?"
Aggie had concerns with those living in poverty in Stratford and often talked with her uncle about the current affairs of the day. Thus it is not surprising to find that after a decade of successful teaching, Aggie, now called Agnes, became the first Canadian woman elected as a Member of Parliament.
During her tenure in government Agnes left a legacy of championing rural issues, pensions for seniors and workers' rights. Her concern with the penal system led her to form the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada in 1939 to address the plight of women in the justice system. Agnes was a delegate to the League of Nations and also served as an MLA.
Donna Mann has crafted a book, which like its predecessors Aggies's Storms and Aggie's Dream, is written for the young and the young at heart who want to learn about or remember Agnes Macphail. (Agnes changed the spelling of her surname after a visit to Scotland) This book, though written in an easy-to-read style, conveys the hopes and conviction of a young woman who achieved great strides in leading the way for Canadian girls of successive generations to follow. The relatively short time taken to read this book is well worthwhile as it delivers a clear portrait of a great Canadian in her developmental years.
Karen Webster is a retired elementary school teacher and farmer living near Wingham, ON.