Women in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada (DCB/DBC)
More than 500 biographies of women have now been published by the Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada (DCB/DBC). These texts chronicle the lives of individuals whose paths varied widely, and together they constitute an essential body of research on the history of Canadian women.
Since 1966, the year when the first volume of the DCB/DBC was published, each new volume has contained a selection of biographies of deceased individuals, men and women, who stand out in a distinctive way. The final choice of subjects is the culmination of a lengthy process shaped by a methodology whose requirements have had, and continue to have, consequences for the presence of women in the dictionary. For example, the selection criteria for subjects – particularly their sphere of activity – put women at a disadvantage because of their tenuous position in public life, a situation that lasted until at least the middle of the 20th century. The greatest barrier to including women’s stories is the DCB/DBC’s mandate, which is to present original, scholarly studies based, not on a synthesis of existing texts, but on the analysis of reliable primary sources. This aspect of the DCB/DBC has greatly contributed to the project’s reputation for excellence. However, it has also meant that, because of the absence or scarcity of sources, biographies of women that the editorial teams and contributors would have liked to include in the DCB/DBC could not be written.
Such problems, which are inherent to research on the history of women, have fewer and fewer consequences for the DCB/DBC, since each volume attempts to reflect both Canadian society during the period it covers and historiography at the time it was published. Thus, women, who represent 6 per cent of the total number of biographies in volume I (1000–1700), constitute 15 per cent of the subjects of volume XV (1921–30). It is too soon to know what the case will be for subsequent volumes; still, the noticeably upward curve that began with volume XIII will certainly continue. In addition, the discovery of new sources allows us to enrich some of our published biographies and consider adding biographies to volumes already published. As well, it is to be noted that between approximately 15 per cent (volumes II, III, IX, and X) and 30 per cent (volume XV) of the authors of biographies of volumes I to XV are women.
The lives of the women presented in the DCB/DBC reveal a multitude of experiences, actions, and initiatives, and we invite you to become acquainted with their stories through our thematic ensembles. The first of these is devoted to the struggle for women’s suffrage in Canada.