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Voices of Activism — Marie Joussaye Fotheringham
•  Posted on  September 1, 2023  

Banner for Voices of Activism Marie Joussaye Fotheringham

Canada’s First Woman Labour Poet

Marie Joussaye Fotheringham (1864-1949) was born in Belleville, Ontario. During the 1890s she became involved in Toronto’s labour movement as a poet and later as President of the Working Girls’ Union. This activism played a key role in her organization of female domestic servants — the most common form of paid employment for Canadian women before 1900 — into the Working Women’s Protective Association. One of her campaigns was for Sunday streetcars!

Fotheringham is also considered to be Canada’s first female working-class poet. In her book The Songs That Quinte Sang, you can find her most famous piece, Only A Working Girl. The poem compares the working class to royalty in the eye of God and calls for women to be proud of the work they are doing. Below is the first stanza of her poem.

Cover of book Songs That Quinte SangOnly A Working Girl

I know I am only a working girl,
   And I am not ashamed to say
I belong to the ranks of those who toil
   For a living, day by day.

With willing feet I press along
   In the paths that I must tread,
Proud that I have the strength and skill
   To earn my daily bread.

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