People who knew Marie Joussaye variously categorized her as a “woman of talent with a capacity for leadership,” a “very kind person and a true Christian,” and a ‘public pest,’ according to Carol Gerson’s biography Only a Working Girl.
Other words that have been used to describe Joussaye are: feminist, suffragette, journalist, activist, racist and criminal.
Joussaye was born in 1864 in Belleville, Ontario; the seventh of eight children. She started working as a servant at age 11.
Joussaye later described herself as: “a working woman who has had to earn her own living since her eleventh year, who has never received even a common school education and whose scant learning was picked up haphazard in the few leisure hours that belong to the common toiler.”
By 1893, Joussaye had moved to Toronto and began making a name for herself as an activist by organizing domestic servants into the Working Women’s Protective Association.
She later described her time in Toronto to a friend: “I had a hard struggle to get along. I wanted to succeed in journalism and had a lot to fight against….
“Young men pushed themselves forward by sheer persistence and a little talent, but what was permitted to them was restricted in my case. Voltaire was quite right, ‘The profession of woman is a hard one’ but in spite of its drawbacks I am glad I am a woman.”
Two years later she published her first book of poetry The Songs that Quinte Sang.
“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,” Joussaye wrote in what is perhaps her most famous poem, Only a Working Girl.
After travelling across the country writing articles for the Toronto Globe, Joussaye made her way to the Yukon.
She arrived in Dawson City in 1902, to gather information on the condition of Klondike miners, which she intended to use for an illustrated talk in England.
There, a young North West Mounted Police officer named David Hetherington Fotheringham caught her eye.
At that time Mounties were not allowed to marry, so Fotheringham quit the force and they were wed in 1903; Joussaye was 39, and David 29.
A month later, Joussaye was involved in a scheme to use another woman’s diamonds to finance a property survey and was sentenced to two months of hard labour.
And then, over the next few years she was involved in a number of disputes with local prospectors and government officials.
Both Joussaye and Fotheringham ended up in jail for a month in 1912, for failing to pay their debts.
Over the next few years, she worked toward getting English-speaking women the vote to offset the “illiterate alien vote which has dominated our elections in the past and is steadily increasing in the future,” she said.
In 1918, Marie published another book of poetry, Selections from Anglo-Saxon Songs.
In 1924, they moved to Mayo where Fotheringham built and operated a small paddlewheeler.
There, Joussaye published a semi-weekly newsletter that was as outspoken and as unpopular as she was.
Joussaye moved to Vancouver in 1929, while Fotheringham stayed in the Yukon to work in the mine at Keno Hill until his death in 1936.
In 1949, Joussaye died of a heart attack in Vancouver.
This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.