#WomenInCulture: The Foundations of our Community

Museum Week is a global online campaign celebrating the impact of museums and cultural institutions. The campaign kicks off today with #WomenInCulture day, where we acknowledge the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements and profound contributions of women in our community. It is also a time for us to celebrate the many women who have left a positive impact on our society, igniting a spark that empowers others to break the traditional female mold.

Celebrating #WomenInCulture isn’t just about praising the most famous and well-known women, but it is also a way for us to bring attention to the anonymous and ordinary women left out or forgotten by traditional histories. Their contributions and efforts have helped us come a long way and we’re happy to share some examples of these contributions to our community.

Women and the Second World War

Female employees at Monarch Knitting Co. knitting men’s socks for the military, 1943. STCM S1943.36.4.2

Canadian women played important roles during the Second World War, both at home and in uniform. They were called to take up many different services towards the war effort. Countless women in St. Catharines responded to the call to work in textile plants, providing the country a great service by making clothing and essential needs for both the military overseas and civilians. Notably, the women in our community also worked on farms, took on clerical jobs, and even worked in factories to ensure the City maintained strong economic production throughout the war. Many women continued their role in the workforce well after the war was over.

The Lightning Fastener Company

Toni DeNapoli works at her station at the Lightning Fasetner Company, assembling zippers, 1962. STCM S1962.50.9.3.
Donna Hraukowski performs her job as a top-stopper at the Lightning Fastener Company, 1962. STCM S1962.50.9.2.                                       

Zippers, or lightning fasteners as they were originally known, became popular accessories on clothing during the 1930s. The modern-day zipper was invented by a Swedish man named Gideon Sundback. Though he was in the United States when he came up with his invention, Sundback chose to establish his Lightning Fastener factory here in St. Catharines, at 50 Niagara Street. It was the first purpose-built factory in Canada used to manufacture this product. The work involved in manufacturing zippers was a tedious task, and the jobs were filled by none other than the hardworking women of our community. Their time and patience provided many textiles with this fashionable and practical piece still seen on many clothing and accessory items today.

Isabella Frampton Hawken

Isabella (right) is pictured with her grandmother, no date. STCM 8526-N.

A visionary of her time, Isabella Frampton Hawken (1876-1948) came to St. Catharines with her family as a young girl when her father, Alfred Frampton, gained employment with the Packard Electric Company. Along with her siblings, Isabella also took employment at Packard Electric, and at the young age of 22-years-old, became the fore-lady of the lamp department. This position was highly unusual and impressive for a woman at the time.

Creativity struck when Isabella and her husband, James P. Hawken, were managing the Dominion Electric Company, originally located at 5 Queenston Street. Isabella invented the process of rewiring burnt-out light bulbs. Isabella is noted for having taken out patents on this process. However, due to laws of the day, it is her husband James Hawken who is credited and his name was on both the patents and the company documents.  The company served customers located all over North America and Isabella is remembered as a successful innovator.

Today, women like Isabella, Donna, Toni, and others, are leaders and role models in the workplace and beyond. We celebrate these and other women who help to improve diversity and equality for all in our community. There are many more examples of women leaders in the community whose achievements and contributions helped to build a better St. Catharines. You can find more of their stories on the Museum’s blog.

Lauren Curtas is a Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre.

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