This article outlines impulses toward internationalism in women's programming during the twentieth century at two public service broadcasters: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Canada and the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) in Australia. These case studies show common patterns as well as key differences in the establishment of an international frame for the modern domestic sphere. Research conducted in paper and audio recording archives relating to nonfiction programming for women demonstrates pervasive tensions between women's international versus national solidarities. The article argues that these contradictions must be highlighted—rather than papered over in a simplistic understanding of such programming as reflecting a binary domestic ideology of private versus public, home versus world—to fully understand media history and cultural memory from a gendered perspective.
American television officials yesterday saw a British woman, 3,000 miles away making bread on BBC Woman's Hour. It was the first BBC television programme to cross the Atlantic—and the climax of weeks of unsuccessful attempts. The face seen in U.S. television studios was fuzzy but recognisable. It was Mrs. Marguerite Patten giving a cookery lesson. Excited U.S. engineers telephoned to the BBC to tell them of the success.1
This article traces the transnational orientations of a set of programs aimed specifically at women audiences in the early years of public service broadcasting in Australia and Canada.2 As the excitement in 1956 surrounding the first transatlantic television broadcast attests, a new subject position for women was constructed in the challenge that broadcasting made to divisions between the public and private spheres. That said, the programs and their hosts, pace Mrs. Patten's groundbreaking and bread-baking appearance on US television, had been thinking along these lines and reaching across national borders since their inception in the 1930s.
Media histories at the scale of the individual program maker or host or broadcast institution are often caught within discourses of nationalism. The potential of broadcasting complexes to reach beyond national boundaries is a fascinating theme that has emerged in recent media histories.3 The gendered radiophonic imagination I map here used international frames to garner female audiences and speak to their concerns about world events. These individual broadcasters used their own self-understandings as modern “world” citizens, and experiences within feminist organizations, to transcend national interests in complex and far-reaching ways. In this sense, the radio oeuvres of these women contested the privatization thesis, which sees media as simply domesticating public space by bringing it into the home, and instead refigured relationships between home, world, and nation.4 Radio as a potentially trans-local and transnational medium attracted many of these women. Several drew from international professional organizations and networks such as the International Council of Women and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Thus elements of women's programming during the 1930s emerged within larger debates that were structured by international connections among women's organizations.5 When these extra-national scales of awareness, and associated feminist collective organizing, materialized in the broadcasts themselves, however, such content was singled out for scrutiny by management. So what was at stake in gendering internationality within radio for both broadcaster and institution? Why did certain material and topics within the programs challenge the prevailing narrow definitions of the audience as purely national?
The key to answering this question lies in the specific contexts of each case and the extent to which broadcasters challenged preconceptions of women's proper relationship to the domestic sphere. The article is structured in two sections. The first covers Irene Greenwood's “Women in the International News” talks on the local Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) station 6WF in Perth, Western Australia, during the 1930s and early 1940s. The second examines elements of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) programming for women in the immediate postwar period. Uncovering the specifics of each moment is instructive, especially for the way in which changing political alliances, in particular the foreshadowing of Cold War politics, played out in each location. What seem at times to be merely aesthetic or personality-driven choices were in fact grounded in a finely held balance within the remit of these institutions: to use a public medium to define women as responsible for the space of everyday life while bracketing out their wider involvement in public life.
While the role of public service broadcasting in upholding gender norms was often understood to be self-evident and incontestable, as it seemed to follow a natural progression from other gendered media such as domestic instruction manuals and women's magazines, which aimed to make home life more efficient and productive, the tensions between radio as indeterminately public and private, simultaneously local and international, and long-held assumptions about women's domestic role came to the fore in the 1930s and 1940s.6 The politicization of these tensions was central to the challenges taken up by audience and program makers alike to rethink domesticity as a “space apart” from the flow of public time and space.
IRENE GREENWOOD: “SHE WILL BE MISSED”
Pasted inside a scrapbook covered in blue and green floral-patterned paper, tucked in a box in an archive at a university library in Perth, Western Australia, is a cutting from the West Australian newspaper published on October 2, 1940 (fig. 1). Headlined “Well-Known Broadcaster,” with a phrase from the article, “She will be missed …” repeated in handwritten pencil below, the cutting appears in a homemade volume documenting the radio career of Irene Greenwood, née Driver, who appeared as a presenter on Australian radio for more than twenty years, from the early 1930s to the 1950s. In her radio broadcasts on both public and commercial radio, Greenwood, who later described herself as a “second-generation feminist,” drew on her involvement with a range of women's post-suffrage, peace, and Indigenous rights organizations, including the Women's Service Guilds of Western Australia, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Australian Federation of Women Voters.7 After her radio work, and into her sixties and seventies, she was also involved with the United Nations Association, the Family Planning Association, the Abortion Law Repeal Association, and the Women's Electoral Lobby.8 Sometime in the late 1980s Greenwood donated this scrapbook to the Murdoch University Library as an archive of her work in broadcasting and the women's and peace movements from the 1930s onward.9
Until they were abruptly discontinued in 1940, during the late 1930s Greenwood's weekly talks on Dorothy Graham's Women's Session on 6WF Perth stood out against the backdrop of other women's programming on the ABC local station, and likewise against similar programs on other stations, which were “geared towards the domestic and supportive role of women with an emphasis on home hints, child care, and self-improvement of a superficial kind.”10 Greenwood's talks, which began in July 1936, regularly emphasized women's role in international politics and the possibilities of broadcasting to explore questions of social justice and promote world peace.11 Titles are only recorded from mid-1937 onward, but what we do have is illuminating. The year 1937 featured “Japenese [sic] Women” (August 6); “A Woman Views the News” (August 20); and “China – Mme Sun-Yat-Sen, Mme Chiang-Kai-Shek” (August 27). The program's focus throughout 1937 was on inspirational and pathbreaking women in the news, including Belgian feminist Baronne Marthe Boël, “new President of the [International] Council of Women” (September 24); Natalie Kalmus, US color film pioneer, and Rosita Forbes, British explorer and travel writer (both October 1); and the New York World's Fair and its “Director, Women's Participation,” Monica Walsh (October 15). In 1938 Greenwood profiled British Labour figure and Fabian Society socialist Beatrice Webb (March 18), followed by Czech feminist Františka Plamínková in a talk on “The Czech Women: Their Country, Their Customs and Their Outstanding Woman – Senator Plaminkova” (May 27). Other progressive women activists and politicians appeared in a talk entitled “Dr. Edith Summerskill, Mrs. Elsie Parker, Miss Caroline Woodruff and Mrs. Stein” (June 10). Summerskill was a British Labour politician; Parker was secretary of the New York branch of the National Municipal League, an urban reform organization that later became the National Civic League; and Woodruff was a Vermont-based public educator and campaigner for pensions for female-dominated professions such as teaching. (“Mrs Stein” was not identified further.)
Greenwood promoted the possibilities of radio to organize women internationally throughout her career, first at the ABC's Perth station and later on a Perth-based commercial network. Her talks were topical and articulated a heartfelt need on the part of activists to make connections among international women's organizations. In early March 1937, Greenwood reported on recent celebrations of International Women's Day around the world, which had involved transnational radio broadcasts:
In every country of the world where there is a branch of the Federation of Business and Professional Women, International Women's Night was celebrated. On this evening women threw a girdle of thought around the world; they linked themselves together in a chain of friendship and cooperation. The theme for the celebration was this year “Women in Governments the World Around.”12
Greenwood also explicitly attempted to link individual, ordinary women's concerns with the flow of international events. Indeed, as an item in Perth's Daily News noted in 1938, “One of the results of the international strife this year is the keen interest taken by women in foreign affairs. … Young women in trams and buses read the foreign news in the papers, and take part authoritatively in discussion.” As a result, “a new Women's Group” was “formed for women interested in international and cultural studies” and had started meeting monthly at the YWCA. Greenwood was “the first speaker, and suggested to the group avenues of study and books for reading and discussion along economical, social, political and international lines.”13 The next meeting was to discuss the recent book by Australian trade unionist and founder of the Council of Action for Equal Pay, Muriel Heagney, Are Women Taking Men's Jobs? (1935). Drawing on the work of Marilyn Lake, Australian historian Ann Firth has argued that after gaining the vote in the 1920s, Australian feminists concentrated on recognition of women's maternal citizenship and made political claims through the figure of “the wife” in parallel to male citizenship as “breadwinner.”14 During the 1930s many Australian feminists reframed rights for women “as workers,” yet this push was not taken up in the transition of women into the postwar world, as evidenced in the trumping of women's equal pay within Australian government policies of male full employment in the postwar period.15 It is against this background of struggles to reshape women's citizenship that the discontinuation of Greenwood's talks in the early 1940s must be set. The internationalism of 1930s feminism, which would determine the individual career of Greenwood, placed her at odds with the cultural form of women's programming in the Australian context, which emphasized women's domestic role in a national frame.
WOMAN's PLACE IS IN THE WORLD
Greenwood was aware of the isolation of Australia, and Perth in particular, from world events during the 1930s, and Perth women's organizations made many efforts to bring international politics home through circulation of a diverse range of voices. Highlighting the confluence of feminism and international politics, a November 1938 report in Perth's daily broadsheet, the West Australian, flagged a meeting instigated by Greenwood that had brought together local women around their interest in world events. Members of the Perth Women's Service Guilds had been asked to bring to a meeting at its Nestle House headquarters “any letters received from overseas during the past few weeks which contain interesting impressions of current events and which might help to provoke general discussion”:
Some letters received have treated the subject lightly and have endeavoured to see the brighter side of things, discovering humorous incidents. Others have reflected the war-fever which cannot fail to attack any community in the midst of trench-digging and other air raid precautions activities, while others, again, have philosophized on the shortcomings of a civilization that can allow such situations to arise. Some letters, more particularly those originating in Central European countries, have been heart-rending in their poignancy, and one recalls reading only this week a pathetic little missive from an elderly Hungarian Jew (a relative of a Perth family) describing the plight of himself and his eight children—all out of employment because of their religion and faced with destitution and poverty. Between the lines could be read a story of despair and abandoned hope and of a fear of such dimensions as to be difficult for us in Australia to imagine.16
Greenwood explicitly crafted this kind of globally intimate voice at the end of the 1930s, and wrote about her ideas for linking “Women, World Events and Radio” in The Broadcaster in February 1939:
“The world is only as wide as your own imagination,” says an old Arab proverb. If this is so, then we today, however limited our imagination may be, can live in a limitless world, and for us in Australia, our much talked of isolation becomes a thing of the past. … I could go on and on, telling you of women who gave contributions of service to their respective countries last year, and whose activities were brought before the people through radio. … One fact emerges; women all round the world are building for the betterment of conditions—socially and culturally. They have been aided in their work of construction by radio, and through it their good deeds have been made to shine, not merely like a little candle, but as a great beacon illuminating the world.17
This moment of possibility for radio to reshape gendered domestic imaginaries was interrupted by a geopolitical shift that reverberated through the ABC as the federal state broadcaster with the opening of hostilities in August 1939.
CENSORSHIP AND THE WOMEN's COLD WAR
When Greenwood's talks in the Women's Session were cancelled by the ABC a year later, in October 1940, the West Australian's “Women's Realm” columnist noted Greenwood's departure and that “it would be with regret that listeners to Mrs. Irene Greenwood's weekly broadcasts … will learn that this feature is to be discontinued.” Greenwood would be heard for the last time at the end of that week, when she was to “review the achievements of women during the four years that she has been broadcasting.” The article's author sounded very close to Greenwood:
Few events of particular feminist interest have taken place in the world during these four years without calling for her comment, and her extensive reading of current literature dealing with international affairs has kept her abreast of developments at home and abroad. Since she gave her first broadcast on this session in July 1936, she has been on the air without fail every Friday morning, with the exception of Good Fridays, and has thereby perhaps established a record. Her broadcasts will be missed by those country women who, in their busy lives, have little time and few opportunities of keeping themselves up to date with developments in the women's movement both in Australia and overseas.18
In the margin of this page in Greenwood's scrapbook, the phrase “She will be missed …” is repeated in pencil.
Conrad Charlton, ABC manager for Western Australia, had written to Greenwood on September 10, 1940, communicating a decision, without explanation, from ABC's “Head Office … [that there would be] no further engagements of speakers to broadcast talks in the Women's Session … for the present. This instruction will come into effect early in October.”19 Isabel Johnston, state president of the Women's Service Guilds, writing to the editor of the West Australian, reported that members of her organization were “much perturbed” at this news that there would be “no further engagement of speakers to broadcast talks in the women's session”:
We feel quite sure that there will be a unanimous protest from the women in our rural centres that, evidently on the grounds of economy (for it can be for no other reason) they are going to be deprived of many of the weekly talks of speakers which they have enjoyed for many months, and in one case for a number of years. If the new policy of the ABC is given effect to, it means there will be a decided deterioration in our women's session. Matter will be put over secondhand, such as book readings, and no matter how good these readings may be, they will lack the appeal, and individuality of the women speakers. Household recipes and household hints have a part to play in a women's session no doubt, but the quarter-of-an-hour's cultural talk included in the session is what women look for and need at this time. There has been a reduction in the licence fee of 1/. The fee is now £1, instead of £1/1/, as formerly. But the women of the State, we feel sure, would rather not have this reduction in fee, if programmes are to be adversely affected, as [this] policy indicates.20
In the meantime, Greenwood continued to submit talks on “Women in the International News” for All Australia Women's Session on VLQ, the ABC's newly established shortwave station broadcasting to overseas and remote areas.21 According to a July 2 letter from B. H. Molesworth, federal controller of Talks, she also continued to submit talks to the ABC national program during 1941, which were broadcast on July 15 and August 12 “on Miss Gertrude Bell and Mrs Emily Pelloe respectively.”22 Correspondence with Molesworth in preparing these talks in May and June allowed Greenwood to reopen the discussion of the reinstatement of her talks on the Perth Women's Session, and on May 25 she repeated her appeal, saying she had “recently had letters from Secretaries of CWA groups who tell me of the dreadful cultural isolation of women in our outback districts today … and where ever I visit groups of women to speak, that they do miss the old women speakers.”23
Attached to Greenwood's letter is a typescript of talking points that outline reasons for bringing back the local women's session (and which perhaps were used in her appearance before the commission's hearing in Perth in May 1944):
This policy seems first of all to regard women listeners as the least important section of the listening public. It also overlooks completely the special needs and conditions of women in the State of Western Australia … [where due to dispersed population and petrol rationing women] will find it harder to get newspapers, periodicals or books—country towns are poor in library facilities. They will get into their centres for their meetings, discussions etc. less often. Radio therefore becomes an intellectual and cultural necessity. … It must be remembered that the time of the women's session in WA [Western Australia] is particularly suitable, and is part of a valuable block listening period from 20 to 11 [meaning 10:40] (“The Watchman”) through 11am–11.30 (Women's Session) to the schools broadcasts from 11.30 to 12. Women listen right through this period as it suits the country-woman who is preparing her big meal of the day and has her wireless close at hand. Letters and reports from CWA groups all stress this. The removal of speakers, interviews with visiting celebrities, travellers and so on will cause a blank at this time, which is greatly to be deplored.24
The connections that Greenwood saw between her talks and those of “The Watchman” are not mentioned in any other correspondence, but are telling. These talks by Edward Alexander Mann, the ABC's chief commentator and a hugely popular broadcaster, were based on his previous experience as a center-right, anti-Labor, nationalist politician from Perth in the federal Parliament in the 1920s. His daily session, titled At Home and Abroad, and weekly program, The News behind the News, were commentaries on world affairs that were agenda-setting for the national scene, and described by Ken Inglis as being legitimated “from the vantage point of a robust liberal imperialism and Christianity acquired in the time of Queen Victoria.”25 Until his identity was revealed in Parliament in 1939, the ABC programmed his talks anonymously because they were deemed contentious given his political background. Greenwood's portrayal of her talks in the Women's Session as a continuation of Mann's remit to talk about international politics from an Australian perspective helped align them as equally patriotic.
A reading of censorship regarding Greenwood's local ABC talks, despite Charlton's ostensible explanation that all talks were to be cut at this time, is supported by later research by other scholars who found that Greenwood, as well as other left-leaning writers for the ABC, were censored, especially when writing about Soviet Russia in the period after the Robert Menzies government banned the Communist Party in Australia in June 1940 and before the German invasion of Paris in June 1941.26 Catherine Fisher, in her research for Greenwood's entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, notes that Greenwood, as a member of the Communist Party of Australia from 1942, “was periodically under surveillance by the security services … [and although] she was sometimes asked to censor material in her ABC radio talks owing to their pro-Soviet messages, she became adept at navigating editorial policy while still promoting her agenda.”27 Lesley Johnson records a parallel instance of censorship of international talks in the national Women's Session in the late 1930s, when Constance Duncan, peace activist and YWCA leader, was told in July 1938 that her weekly talks on international affairs in the session were to be terminated. ABC management told Duncan that “The Watchman” and other current-affairs talks from the BBC were sufficient coverage, but a confidential internal report mentioned her “political sympathies” and her belief in “some form of ‘Christian Communism.’”28
Despite Greenwood's attempts to put pressure on the ABC via the Labor opposition leader John Curtin in late 1940—even proposing to set up a rival program on Labor's planned Perth-based radio station—her talks were not reinstated until 1944, when the Women's Session returned to the ABC.29 As the representative of the Women's Service Guilds, Greenwood gave evidence to an ABC hearing in Perth during May 1944 “in support of its application that the women's session be reinstated in the ABC programme … as a result of which hopes run high for the resumption of the sessions … particularly on cultural lines for the women in the outback and rural areas.”30
On August 4, 1944, Greenwood wrote to Molesworth about some issues with the sound of her voice on a recent recording of a talk on “People in the International News” and described, yet again, her hopes that “Women's Session may be resumed here, and I can return to the microphone.” She highlighted her provocations to the commission during its recent visit:
Mr Moses [ABC General Manager] said that WA is the only State without a Women's Session, and something should be done about it on his return [to Sydney]. Since he was here, the Advisory Board has put in a recommendation, and Mrs Ivy Kent (who is a member) told me personally that she had my talks in mind when she said that women listeners should be hearing what is being done by women elsewhere.31
Despite Moses's personal support of Greenwood, she was not chosen as host of the reinstated sessions; Catherine King was appointed instead.32 King already had broadcasting experience as the instigator of successful daytime children's programming on the local ABC after kindergartens were closed down in Western Australia under threat of Japanese air raids during early 1942.33 An unsigned letter in Greenwood's archives to the manager of The Broadcaster, a weekly radio journal published by the West Australian, on behalf of the Women's Service Guilds endorsed King as the host of the new program, finishing with a pitch for Greenwood to return:
At the time, we … wrote deploring the cessation of the talks by Mrs Irene Greenwood, on Fridays [sic] “Women in the International News”; and we hope now that a live women's session is envisaged we may soon have Mrs Greenwood back on the air again, and benefit from the wide store of knowledge she possesses of women in International affairs.34
On September 7, 1944, Charlton wrote to Greenwood, reiterating approval of “our choice of Mrs Catherine King to take control of the Women's Sessions in this State” and requesting “four talks at fortnightly intervals, on the subject of ‘Women in the International News’ on ABC Women's Session … to start on September 20th.” Greenwood wrote back agreeing to do talks on alternate Wednesdays (fig. 2). This arrangement continued through the mid-1940s; on August 27, 1946, Greenwood conducted interviews with Indian women delegates at the feminist-organization-led Australian Women's Charter Conference in Sydney for broadcast on the program, and in September 1946 she prepared a script for a talk giving further news of international political participation in the conference, reporting on the visit of “Mlle Jeanne Chaton, [French] Resistance Leader visiting Australia for the New Education Fellowship Conference” as well as Dr. Maria Zebrowska, “first official representative of the new Polish Government to come to Australia, Professor of Psychology at Warsaw University and eminent children's psychologist.”35
Pressure to exclude international content, however, continued under King. Without naming Greenwood or any other broadcaster, when later asked about skirmishes with management in a 1982 talk-back session as part of the ABC Perth's fiftieth-anniversary programming, King highlighted struggles over such talks:
They finally defeated me over [talks on] international affairs. … They felt it was not the place … in women's programs. They thought [the women] could listen to Notes in the News at six minutes past one. But my feeling was that one wanted to look at every aspect and I had different speakers and so on. And I was on the point of resigning over that if they were going to do this to me, but my father [Professor Walter Murdoch], who was always a mediator with me … said that there were ways around it, instead of having straight talks called “International Affairs,” I could just do interviews with people who were authorities in international affairs, which of course, was quite wise.36
King's own interest in radio as a forum for discussing international issues and politics paralleled her involvement with the International Association of Radio Women (IARW), which she helped pioneer in 1950.37 A visit to the IARW's second meeting in Amsterdam featured on her program in 1952, and a script that King attached in a letter to IARW cofounder Lilian van der Goot is discussed by media historians Kristin Skoog and Alec Badenoch in their work on the IARW as a transnational feminist network. Skoog and Badenoch describe how King's report on the 1952 conference “made it sound almost like a meeting to which [her listeners] all had been invited, and she ended by asking listeners to write in with what controversial topics they would like discussed in future.”38
In 1948, however, Greenwood had left the ABC and started her own program, Woman to Woman, on the Whitford's 6AM-PM commercial network, broadcasting five days a week on one metropolitan station (Perth) and three regional stations (Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, and Northam) until 1954. The scope of the program, away from the far more bureaucratic—and nationalist—ABC, was both local and international, enabling “listeners to inhabit several spheres simultaneously.”39 The gaps in Greenwood's appearances on the ABC recounted here, and the ensuing absences of international content in women's programming, are inextricably linked with tensions within the ABC as a key institution of the public sphere during the 1930s and 1940s. The potential during this period for radio as a medium to facilitate transnational connections, and for the ABC in particular to open up a worldview that went beyond dominant understandings of gendered media content, were constrained by nascent Cold War politics on an international scale on the one hand and national impulses to insist on women as passive recipients of instructional programming on the other.
The next section of this article explores the role of two key figures within CBC women's programming as a counterpoint to the case of the ABC and Greenwood. I focus particularly on the CBC's phenomenally successful and incredibly prolific talks for women under the auspices of its Women's Interests Department, headed by Elizabeth Long. During 1950, for example, 2,700 talks were produced by the department annually, a figure that represents more than fifty individual talks per week, or more than seven per day.40 This support for women's programming existed because CBC's programming was in part privately funded through both sponsorship and advertising within a government-owned network with a public service remit where, unlike at the ABC, no advertising was (nor still is) allowed. This hybrid public and market-based model gave relatively high status to women's programming through the figure of the woman consuming responsibly in the national interest, while attracting long-term program sponsorship from the food, and to some extent fashion, industries.
The volume and variety of talks for women on the CBC during the same period stands in stark contrast with the ABC, where women's talks were confined to one session per day, and also tightly gendered as the Women's Session. The CBC's unique address to women as both consumers and citizens, and its tactical uptake by its women's editorial department to garner resources and create a diverse editorial agenda, allowed its women's programming to go from strength to strength during the postwar years and, as I argue, eventually transcend its relegation to the domestic. The case of CBC women's programming shows that traditional understandings of the separation of spheres was not always clearly delineated in the case of radio. The very performance of domesticity within these radio programs, and the energy and invention of the women who produced them, opened up an ambiguous imaginary space for listener engagement that was multivalent and open-ended, rather than clearly public or private.
CBC, INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, AND LEFTOVERS: ELIZABETH LONG AND KATE AITKEN
In the background of these programs and guiding their development was the formidable figure of Elizabeth Long, director of women's interests at the CBC for eighteen years, from 1938 until 1956 (fig. 3).41 The body of work produced under her directorship was incredibly diverse, but the programs give a sense of the innovative approaches she encouraged (fig. 4). During her extended reign over “her own little empire” of women's talks, Long made profound challenges to established formats of both commercial and public service women's programming.42
Like Greenwood, Long drew on her connections nationally and internationally as a member of the International Council of Women, and in 1947 she was elected as convener of the council's Radio and Television Committee, through which she aimed “to create better international understanding through person to person broadcasts, with regular women's programs including news and views of women of other countries.”43 While not explicitly acknowledging that Long had gained this role, the CBC Times around this time described her as having a “firm belief that women can help build peace through international understanding,” and quoted her as saying: “All women have something in common … and I think that through women speaking to other women, by means of radio, we can show that boundary lines and oceans are no barrier to understanding.”44
One of Long's recruits for the new 1948–49 season was announced by the CBC Times under the title of “Your Women's Editor—Kate Aitken of the Standard,” heralding the CBC's links with print media aimed at women, here in the persona of the former woman's editor of the Montreal Standard. Aitken's thrice-weekly program was to feature a regular segment “launched by” her sponsor, Ogilvie Flour Mills, “Kate Aitken Home Service Department.” A second item involved “a weekly award of $100 for the ‘Outstanding Community Project of the Week,’” which was to be presented “in recognition of the worthy community work being carried on in hundreds of Canadian centres which aim to provide better cultural, recreational and educational facilities for citizens,” as well as Aitken's regular coverage of “fashions, current events and arts.”45
Aitken's broadcast on the last day of 1948 listed notable women of the year and set the pattern for a consumerist address linking the unnamed woman at home with the public sphere, primarily through consumption practices but also in a slightly surreal political configuration (sound clip 1).46 Sponsored by Ogilvie, Aitken's talks simultaneously combined different and at times conflicting scales—domestic, local, regional, national, international—situating the listener as connected to a mediated world of celebrities and commodities in a news-type format.
The broadcast begins with Aitken appearing to have a casual chat with her male cohost, Mr. MacCurdy, whom she calls “Mac” during the talk. After an awkward introduction, she gives a roll call of “the outstanding women of the year.” This list of women in national and international news ranges from the “mother of the year, Princess Elizabeth,” who had produced “the baby of the year,” to the “woman athlete of the year” to Madam Chiang Kai-Shek, “the—well—sad woman of the year” (presumably in reference to the ongoing Chinese civil war and the imminent exile of her husband's nationalist government to Taiwan). It also included Mrs. R. J. Marshall, president of the National Council of Women and also “head and founder, and really—the ‘sparkplug’ of the Consumer Association.” During this listing of names, Mac asks her to name the “world's best-dressed woman,” to which Aitken responds:
Now look, for my money—here she is Mac, her name is Smith or Jones, or Brown. She has a husband, a nice dad, she's crazy about him! She has three children, she gets, ohh, about $25 per week to spend on groceries, and milk and butter and food. She wears a clean housedress in the morning, sometimes she's so busy she just puts on another clean housedress for supper, then covers it up with a frilly white apron—white as snow. She doesn't wear a mink coat, she doesn't wear glamour clothes, but she's smart and neat, she keeps powder on her nose, she has her hair cut short and curled: she's Mrs. Canada. And for my betting she's Canada's best-dressed woman.
Mac segues from here straight to the program sponsor's advertising copy:
I'll bet a girl like that knows her way around. She knows it's smart to use Ogilvie's ready-mix cakes—a woman like that could walk into any grocery store and point up at the shelf and say “I'll take that there, Ogilvie's Gold and Chocolate Cake.”
In this script “Mrs. Canada” is positioned as “Canada's best-dressed woman” because she makes do with what she has (“$25 per week to spend on groceries” and “a clean housedress” and “a frilly white apron”) rather than requiring “glamour clothes.” The thrifty, proud, and decidedly Anglo-Saxon female citizen is depicted as requiring only cake mix to complete her self-contained world of family, but at the same time the framing of this sponsored punch line, however implausibly, ties the site of the domestic to the swirl of world events and public figures via the shop counter.
This excessive spatiality was repeated throughout Aitken's programming, which initiated a genre of news and current affairs grounded in the routines of everyday life. In September 1949 Aitken was advertised by the CBC as returning to the air “with more news of interest to the woman who runs a home”:
Discussing her program plans for this season, Mrs Aitken said she would divide her broadcast time between news about world events which directly affect the housewife, human interest stories, personality sketches of people in the news, fashion trends, and information about housekeeping.47
A broadcast by Aitken on New Year's Day 1953 exemplifies how this programming philosophy would manifest in ever more bizarre juxtapositions (sound clip 2).48 Rather than generating a politics of home, these early 1950s broadcasts created a disjuncture between the flow of public time in the “course of world events” during the Cold War and, more critically, a challenge to women to feel that they were agents in these events. The broadcast again lists “the housewife” at the end of a list of public figures, mostly presidents and prime ministers of countries with relationships with Canada. While interpellated as “important” and “included” in “setting the course of world events,” ultimately the chief role of women in this sequence seems to be to successfully create interesting dishes from the remains of the family Christmas celebration.
The talk starts with “a particularly happy good morning to the gentleman who we have in our midst,” to which a male voice replies with a non sequitur, perhaps as a result of Aitken going off script: “Yes, I certainly do.” Aitken continues: “They're not often in on the morning broadcast when it hits the air, so how are ya, boys?—We were all wondering about the progress of the year that's coming in—now we know this, that the people that set the course of our world's events, well, we could possibly count them on the fingers of two hands.” Mac's voice breaks in and says: “Well, Mrs. A, this morning let's name them”:
Well, ladies first, young Queen Elizabeth, definitely—
And Malan [prime minister and the architect of apartheid], of South Africa.
Eisenhower, of the United States.
And the research boys, scattered as they are over every large nation, it's to them we look both collectively and individually.
There's General Mao, of China.
And Nehru, of India.
And Canada's Lester B. Pearson.
And Churchill, of course, and another smart Britisher, called Butler, he's the lad that's going to handle the money!
And Perón, in the South American continent.
And for goodness sakes, let's include that person whom we vaguely describe as the housewife. Some of us call her mother, some of us call her mum, or even disrespectfully, from the head of the house, sometimes she gets this: “the old girl.”
Or “the missus.”
[laughs] The missus! or “meet the wife”! Yes! I expect one of her good resolutions today is, “I'm going to make the food on the table more attractive.”—Well, if it is, this broadcast is right in there with you pitching and punching!
Aitken then gives a recipe for using up leftover fruitcake, which involves combining steamed stale cake with red and green Jell-O: “You know what it is—it's a ‘stop and go’ dessert, you stop just long enough and then you go until the last crumb is eaten, it's good luck!” Just as thrifty and resourceful as “Mrs. Canada” of the 1948 broadcast, the anonymous “housewife” of this later broadcast stands in contrast to the heroic modern scientists, the “research boys” to whom Canadians are imagined to “look both collectively and individually.” The housewife here is spatially contained to the kitchen, while the other figures mentioned in the broadcast have access to the world stage.
Aitken's program connected women's interests internationally within an imperial framework. In 1954 she returned to CBC Trans-Canada, with a daily program Monday through Friday titled Your Good Neighbor. For the program Aitken planned
on travelling over 75,000 miles by airplane during the coming months and will visit British Columbia, Newfoundland, Jerusalem, the Soviet Union (where she will make a factual report on how 285 million people, live, eat, shop and educate their children), Western Europe and South America … report[ing] on her travels and talk about people, places, food, fashion, grooming and many other items of interest to Canadian women.49
The scale of one of her trips during 1954 is recorded on Aitken's Canadian Overseas Telecommunication Corporation Press “Cable Transmission Card,” which listed her itinerary as “UK-India-Pakistan-Burma-Ceylon-Malaya-Australia.” Because these countries were linked by historical ties as part of the former British Empire, its possession would allow “the bearer to send telegrams to CFRB 37 Bloor West Toronto without charge ‘via Imperial Cables’ or ‘via Imperial Wireless’ of all classes—including ‘Urgent Press.’”50 Aitken used the scale of the national and international, here materialized in postwar information exchanges, to create visibility and legitimacy for women's domestic labor. The radical potential of this configuration was limited by a gendering of domesticity that, while it “stretched” separated spheres of public and private, did not work toward reconfiguring the relations between them.51
It would be up to other women broadcasters at the CBC to experiment with these possibilities by challenging the very nature of women's programming as separate from the flow of public events. At the time of her formal retirement in 1953, while still an adviser to the CBC, Long endorsed and helped bring to fruition the introduction of Trans-Canada Matinee, the network's first daytime magazine show, and a program that would later take an overtly liberal-feminist approach in its 1968 coverage of Canada's Royal Commission on the Status of Women.52 In a 1976 program to mark “The First Forty” years of CBC as a broadcaster, Helen James, Long's successor as director of women's interests and initiator of Trans-Canada Matinee, described Long as recognizing “that life was circumscribed by being at home” and that Trans-Canada Matinee was “a first for both subject matter and language” for the ways it refused to “protect women” from debate and discussion of difficult issues.53
The groundbreaking work of the women discussed above indicates that the medium of radio provided a way of networking homes through the figure of the personality broadcaster, as well as a set of metaphors for understanding the new transparency of domestic space in consumer culture. The daytime radio imaginaries described here constructed and intertwined public and private in ways that signified a new kind of gendered space, yet promised that this space would not be contained by any single formation of institution and audience. Speaking to the listener as “the best-dressed woman” as well as a “world housekeeper” on the CBC, for example, gives an impression of endless possibilities, yet these possibilities were constrained for the very women who spoke about them at the time. While the very meaning and viability of the domestic sphere as a classed, racialized, and gendered space was changing, the themes and topics that these women included in their programs were defined by programming policies beyond their control.
The ABC and the CBC had very different takes on the connections between the personal and the political, yet there were continuities between them. Both attempted to depoliticize women's culture and maintain a strict separation between public and private. But as the case of the CBC women's programs and their unique recognition of a female audience shows, daytime programming could be diverse and complex in its address to women. The ABC's attitude was most baldly stated in November 1943, when Basil Kirke, ABC's manager for NSW, forwarded a report on the national Women's Session (which was not rebroadcast in Perth due to time differences) to the federal director and controller of Talks. He had asked Miss Margaret Fraser, one of the ABC presentation officers, to give him “some ideas about the manner in which the Women's Session should, in future, be conducted.”54 Fraser's report asked what “women really want, and not what they should have.” From “observations and talks” undertaken “with women of varying stations and abilities,” Fraser ascertained that what they wanted during such a daytime session was:
Light gay music.
A warm personality conducting the session, who, in time, becomes their microphone friend. …
Chatty hints for use around the home, without a suspicion of preaching or teaching.
A funny story or incident is found to be a relief.
any form of solid education, news review, music primarily for the music lover, forum (meaning “After the War - Then What?” type of broadcast) or wholly cultural talks are wasted time in this session. The busy housewife has only half an ear on the radio, because she is thinking of a dozen things in her daily round. She wants to be mildly entertained without using her brain to any appreciable extent.
While the main Woman's Session on ABC Perth may have paid only lip service to this policy during the 1940s, as King's later experience shows, Greenwood's agenda during the 1930s also went beyond stereotypical notions of gendered programming. Greenwood in particular used radio to explore new kinds of intimate geographies in a vision that drew on the medium's potential to transgress national boundaries.
This article has argued that the work of Long, Greenwood, and others mentioned here profoundly challenged the separation of spheres through an alternative imaginary that sought to extend women's agency beyond and against maternalism. This imaginary was realized through a progressive alignment between gender issues and international solidarities. In the day-to-day work that they undertook for the programs, the broadcasters discussed here stretched and pushed at the boundaries of ideologies of gender, reflecting wider tensions and ruptures in the location of everyday life itself as international interconnections intensified spatially and temporally during the war period. While the nascent feminist arguments that women at the ABC and CBC attempted to make during the 1930s and 1940s challenged the “separation of spheres” within an international frame, the “women's interests” label was also a constraint that had to be negotiated carefully to gain access to the airwaves. Ultimately, this label was fundamentally unmoored by the radically different imaginary of the connection between home and world—as women's interests were de-essentialized—that emerged in response to such gendered programming during the 1960s and 1970s.