In Upper Canada, women colonists considered themselves to be very significant and in large part according to their social class, which recognized their expectations, values, lifestyles, and beliefs. Successes or failures done by their father or husbands were considered also the women’s successes and failures.
The majority of the women in colonial society were married. Women didn’t generally own land or work outside their homes (e.g. physical labour); unmarried women and widows required financial support from relatives for food, clothing, shelter, etc.
The term “divorce” was foreign and unknown during colonial times, so selecting the correct partner was of great significance. It’s difficult to understand today how a good marriage gave woman a status in various ways. Intelligent and resourceful married women, such as Catherine Parr Traill, Marry Ann Shadd, Anna Jameson, and Mary
Marry O’Brien were busy with their husbands’ activities.
The importance of selecting the correct spouse was so high to families, that many social events included matchmaking. Romantic love was idealistic, but was considered of less important compared to friendship and duty. In the upper classes, the match between a man and a women had to be arranged with an “equal” or better. A man had the option of “marrying down,” but a woman was not allowed to do so because a wife receives the status of her husband.
No one in colonial Canada had time to “nothing;” there was too much work to be done. Even Mary O’Brien, an upper-class women, had many friends and in the government and spent time visiting them. Not only that, but she also helped run the farm, as can be seen by her diary recording:
It was very busy again til twelve o’clock, first in directing my old Yorkshire man how to cut up a fat pig which was slaughtered last night and then in assisting the old Irishwomen to salt and pack away the same. I value myself on being able to put more in a barrel then anyone else except Southby, though this part fo the business is usually province of a man.
Here is another quote by Mary O’Brien, demonstrating how busy colonial Canada was:
I had just finished the first stage of my cooking and was about to shift my character from cook to gentlewomen…
-Mary O’Brien, a colonist in York, Upper Canada