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ANCTIL, JEANNE (baptized Marie-Jeanne-Antoinette), teacher of household science and principal of the Écoles Ménagères Provinciales; b. 27 Dec. 1875 in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière), Que., daughter of Barthelemi Anctil, a farmer, and Zélie Pelletier; d. unmarried 4 Dec. 1926 in Montreal.
In the province of Quebec the movement to promote the teaching of household science began in 1882 with the establishment of a school of domestic science in Roberval [see Malvina Gagné*]. Over 20 years would pass before similar initiatives materialized. Between 1905 and 1907 two schools would open in rural areas (in Saint-Pascal, near Kamouraska, and at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue), and one in Montreal – the only secular institution among them.
The Montreal school came about in the following way. In 1902 a handful of French-speaking middle-class women founded the women’s section of the Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, with the aim at first of assisting the men (their husbands, for the most part) in their efforts to solve the society’s financial problems. On 7 Nov. 1904 they were invited to a meeting – being held by Joseph-Xavier Perrault* – for a quite different purpose: to set up a school of household science in Montreal. The founding committee was chaired by Caroline Béïque [Dessaulles*], who would also be the school’s president until 1936. Robertine Barry* (known as Françoise), Marie de Beaujeu, Joséphine Dandurand [Marchand], Marie Gérin-Lajoie [Lacoste*], and Marguerite Thibaudeau [Lamothe*] were among the other members of the committee, as were a group of men, including Raoul Dandurand*, Gaspard De Serres, Sir William Hales Hingston*, and Emmanuel-Persillier Lachapelle*, who dealt with financial matters. The project, which sought to offer public classes in home economics and train teachers for this purpose, was intended to meet a new need that had arisen because young women were now working outside the home. It was part of the movement to professionalize domestic work and of the growing movement to promote public health.
Since no French-language pedagogical training in household science was available at the time, it proved difficult to recruit teachers. The founders of the Montreal school immediately chose Jeanne Anctil and Marie de Beaujeu, and sent them to Europe for training in order to broaden their knowledge in this field. Marie de Beaujeu would come back to Canada in April 1905 after studying for five months. On her return to Montreal she would give lectures in schools and write a few articles for Le Journal de Françoise, a publication edited by Robertine Barry in order to publicize the institution that would soon open. Jeanne Anctil, a young woman of 28 who had attended the convent in Coaticook from 1886 to 1893, studied in Paris for a year and then went to Fribourg, Switzerland, where she was joined by a new student, Antoinette Gérin-Lajoie. In 1906 the two women returned to Canada, armed with diplomas from the Fribourg school of household science, where they had taken a course qualifying them for the position of principal of such an establishment. In June of that year the Montreal institution obtained its charter and its corporate name, the Écoles Ménagères Provinciales, a title that, although plural, referred to only one school.
The official opening of the Montreal school of household science would take place on 9 Jan. 1907, with Lomer Gouin, the premier of Quebec, as honorary chairman. Classes had begun, however, in December 1906 in premises for the Circuit Court of the District of Montreal on Rue Saint-Jacques that were on loan from the provincial government. The members of the Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal and their friends provided most of the funding. There were also donations from various sources, as well as a grant of $1,000 from the provincial Department of Agriculture. Although it was a private school, it would continue to receive subsidies from this department until 1929. These financial contributions were evidently not sufficient to cover the operating costs, however, since Antoinette Gérin-Lajoie taught for two years without salary.
Jeanne Anctil and Antoinette Gérin-Lajoie were the school’s co-principals. At first they shared the task of teaching the 36 students taking day courses and the 23 enrolled in evening classes. On 1 March 1907 a three-month teacher-training course was added. Thereafter Antoinette Gérin-Lajoie took charge of the public courses, which were designed for women of diverse backgrounds. Schoolgirls, for example, took classes on Saturday, working women attended evening classes, and women whose intention was to become housewives or domestic servants studied during the day. Jeanne Anctil was in charge of the teacher-training course, which was open to students who already had a teaching certificate. Advanced students, patronesses, and invited lecturers assisted the co-principals in carrying out their duties.
Also in 1907, on the initiative of Marie Gérin-Lajoie and Caroline Béïque, the women’s section of the Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal became the Fédération Nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste. Although this organization took its inspiration from feminist thinking on social issues and the demand for equal rights, it was also influenced by clerical and nationalist ideology. In subsequent years it would lean more towards the stream of the European Christian feminist movement. It brought together 22 associations involved in three fields: charitable causes, social initiatives, and educational endeavours, including the Montreal school of household science. Although the federation’s members campaigned in favour of higher education for girls, their work, at least as far as the teaching of home economics was concerned, was shaped by the concept of complementary roles, with women being defined first and foremost as wives and mothers. At the federation’s first congress, held in May 1907, Jeanne Anctil gave a lecture on the importance of teaching household science and reported that 128 students were then attending the school.
The premises of the Circuit Court were soon too small, and in September of that year the school moved to 22 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, which would be its home for the next three years. The curriculum was based on that of the Fribourg school. The students in the teacher-training course were given instruction in bookkeeping, housekeeping, the making and maintenance of clothing, the selection and preparation of food, hygiene, and the care of young children and the sick. “All that with sentiments of devotion to duty and of Christian self-sacrifice,” Caroline Béïque had noted in Le Journal de Françoise on 20 Jan. 1906. The courses for the general public dealt more or less with the same subjects, but pedagogy and theoretical topics were reserved for future educators. The teacher-training course was of ten months’ duration at that time. One could register as either a day or a residential student, for a monthly fee of $5.00 or $15.00 respectively, according to an advertisement in Le Journal de Françoise on 5 Oct. 1907. The same notice announced that the fees for public classes were between 10 and 50 cents for a two- or three-hour lesson. Enrolment in these courses, which were given mainly in French, but sometimes in English, would continue to increase until 1914–15, when it reached 906. From 1910 pedagogical training was also offered to qualified religious and lay teachers during the holidays. Since this was too short a period to provide adequate training, the experiment would come to an end in 1916. In 1917 Jeanne Anctil would note in the Montreal periodical La Bonne Parole – the organ of the Fédération Nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, to which she contributed occasionally – that training household science teachers “has been more difficult to achieve” than teaching the general public. The students were also offered special lectures on various topics. For instance, Benjamin Sulte came and spoke to them on the history of Canada, Abbé Henri Gauthier on the role of women in society, and Robertine Barry on “the feminine soul.” By 1910 the premises were again too crowded, and the Montreal school of household science signed a nine-year lease for space in the newly constructed building of the Montreal Technical School, where it would in the end remain for some 15 years.
During World War I the school cooperated with various private and public agencies and thus reached a new clientele. From 1915 to 1917, for example, Jeanne Anctil gave weekly lectures in rural areas, while teachers trained in Saint-Pascal were hired by the Department of Agriculture to teach evening courses in 11 Montreal parishes that were affiliated with the Fédération Nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste. These itinerant activities attracted thousands of women. The staff of the Montreal household science school also shared their knowledge at many schools in the city and in a number of places throughout the province (including Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, and the Lac-Saint-Jean region). In 1917–18, at the request of the management of the Laurentides Pulp Company in Grand-Mère and Riordon Paper Mills in Hawkesbury, Ont., a bilingual teacher from the school organized courses in cooking, sewing, and hygiene, at the companies’ expense, for their female employees. Changes in the school’s board of directors over the years reflected its evolution. In 1917–18, for example, the woman who chaired the women’s committee and the man who chaired the men’s, the chaplain, and the representatives of the Montreal Technical School were joined on the board by female teachers and members of five Montreal school commissions.
In her capacity as co-principal, Jeanne Anctil performed numerous duties in return for an annual salary that, in 1919, reached $1,400. In addition to teaching students in various settings, giving lectures, bringing out the occasional publication, and participating in conventions, including one on the teaching of household science that was held in Atlantic City, N.J., in March 1921, she had to cope with many unforeseeable situations, such as the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918–19, when the school had to close for five weeks. In 1918 the Department of Agriculture gave the school a grant of $3,000 and a special sum of $1,000 (to help provide housing for the teachers). It also received $2,000 from the city of Montreal. On 9 August Jeanne Anctil wrote a letter to De Serres, president of the Montreal Technical School and a member of the household science school board, telling him about the financial problems of the teacher-training course and expressing her weariness and dissatisfaction with the government, which refused to include home economics in the curriculum of the technical schools. “Our dear Premier seems to have ideas that are by no means favourable towards us. Yet in our country, as in every other country, it is the women who make society and . . . it is very important to give them fair and accurate ideas about everything. Secular instruction in household science meets these needs.” At the meeting of the Fédération Nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste in April 1921, Jeanne Anctil pointed out that, despite the problems encountered by her school, the teaching of household science had made significant progress in the province of Quebec. She suggested, however, that the Council of Public Instruction and the Department of Agriculture take a series of measures to encourage this kind of teaching. At the time of her death a few years later, following a brief illness, she was working to set up a program of studies in “maternal pedagogy.” Antoinette Gérin-Lajoie would continue to run the school until 1936. It would be affiliated with the Université de Montréal the following year.
Jeanne Anctil was one of the first French Canadian women to receive a European education in the discipline of domestic economy. Under her direction, the teaching of household science not only took root in Montreal, an urban centre where this kind of education had not previously been seen as needed, but spread to other parts of the province. Although it perpetuated the traditional role of women, the Montreal household science school gave young women a chance to get professional training in a secular environment. Through Jeanne Anctil’s determination, various levels of government offered their cooperation and support to sustain the institution.
Jeanne Anctil is the author of “Conférence sur l’enseignement ménager . . . ,” in Premier congrès de la Fédération nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste (section des dames de l’Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste), tenu les 26, 27, 28, 29 et 30 mai à Montréal (Montréal, 1907), 130–37; Livret d’enseignement ménager: méthodologie spéciale à l’usage des normaliennes; résumé du cours donné à l’école ménagère de Fribourg (Suisse) (Québec, 1915); 350 recettes de cuisine ([Montréal?], 1912; réimpr., Montréal, 1915); “Comment former les maîtresses de l’enseignement ménager,” La Bonne Parole (Montréal), 5 (1917), nos.2–3: 16–17; and “Rapports du congrès: les écoles ménagères provinciales, formation des maîtresses d’enseignement ménager et de leurs relations avec les commissions scolaires,” La Bonne Parole, 10 (1922), no.6: 6–8.
ANQ-BSLGIM, CE104-S12, 29 déc. 1875. Arch. de l’Univ. de Montréal, E 81 (fonds École ménagère provinciale), B, 1B, 4, 5, 10; 3B, 1; C, 5C, 1; 6C, 1. Le Devoir, 6 déc. 1926. La Presse, 6 déc. 1926. Marie de Beaujeu, “L’utilité des écoles ménagères,” Le Journal de Françoise (Montréal), 5 (1906–7): 166–68. Mme F.-L. Béïque [C.-A. Dessaulles], “Lettre de Mme la présidente de l’Association de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste,” Le Journal de Françoise, 4 (1905–6): 314–15; Quatre-vingts ans de souvenirs (Montréal, 1939). “In memoriam,” La Bonne Parole, 14 (1926), no.12: 8. Marie Lavigne et al., “La Fédération nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste et les revendications féministes au début du 20e siècle,” in Travailleuses et féministes: les femmes dans la société québécoise, sous la dir. de Marie Lavigne et Yolande Pinard (Montréal, 1983), 199–216. Hélène Pelletier-Baillargeon, Marie Gérin-Lajoie: de mère en fille, la cause des femmes (Montréal, 1985). “Prospectus des écoles ménagères provinciales,” Le Journal de Françoise, 6 (1907–8): 206. [Sœur Sainte-Marie-Vitaline], L’œuvre d’un grand éducateur: le chanoine Alphonse Beaudet (2v., Montréal, 1947). Nicole Thivierge, Histoire de l’enseignement ménager-familial au Québec, 1882–1970 (Québec, 1982).