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Rianne Mahon

The Hilda Neatby Prize English Article


Rianne Mahon, The Never-Ending Story: the Strugle for Universal Child Care Policy in the 1970s, Canadian Historical Review 81.4 (Dec. 2000): 582-615.

The Mahon article is a major contribution to our understanding of the history of women’s relation to federal policy making in Canada. Using the feminist demand and the economic necessity for universal child care as the angle of analysis, Mahon probes the intricacies of the federal bureaucracy. There, “state feminists” (federal civil servants with a feminist agenda) attempted to implement the child care recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Stautus of Women (1970) only to run afoul of tradition in the social policy arena. Upheld by both men and women bureaucrats, that tradition meant that ideas about the family, about welfare, about regional equity and about Quebec in Confederation took precedence over the feminist argument for women’s equality with men.
Mahon’s tight analysis, her lucid and convincing argument, make a triple contribution to women’s history. The article reveals how day care became a federal policy issue in the 1970s. It displays the ideological and institutional barriers that feminists in the civil service encountered. And it throws an unusual light upon the relationship between the second wave egalitarian feminism of state feminists and the maternal/welfare concerns of the post-suffrage generations of women professionals.