Crowning the Alpha Iota Sorority Queen in 1953

The baby boom had a major impact on the lives of women beyond the demands of child rearing, helping create a backlash over women's role in society. There was a strong reaction to the broadening of women's activities that had occurred during the war years. It was not uncommon for married women to be fired outright to free up jobs for returning veterans, and women were generally discouraged from working. Rising wages also made it possible for many women to stay in the home and concentrate on raising their families. The Fifties situation comedy family of Leave it to Beaver or Ozzie and Harriet was a reality for many. Like many things in the decade, however, appearances were deceiving. More, not less, women were working by the end of the Fifties than at the beginning. And women were increasingly accepted in the professions and in the business world.

Perhaps because of this, the images of womanhood that appeared time and time again in the pages of the Albertan emphasised domesticity. Physical beauty and femininity was exalted: according to popular writings, these were qualities important for getting a husband. Beauty queens were much beloved and the pageant was a common event. There were queens for all sorts of occasions. High schools elected queens, the sororities had their queens, the Calgary Stampede had a queen and princesses, no less, and even elementary school students went through the same ritual. The beauty queen, however, was not a pin-up girl. The pageantry was not about sexual desire: it was about putting women on a pedestal and reinforcing gender roles.

Newspapers in the Fifties no longer had a women's page (the Albertan had titled it "Topics of Interest to Women") but under rubrics like "Social and Personal" still ran a section clearly geared to female readers. Subjects were domestic and social and reports of weddings with detailed commentary on the clothes worn and the floral arrangements abounded on this page. To some extent, it reflected a small community's interest but it was also a symptom of the renewed emphasis on traditional gender roles. The marriage of oilman Frank McMahon's daughter, reputed to have cost $100,000, was the ultimate fairy-tale wedding in Fifties Calgary. It was not only a society event but also an affirmation of marriage itself.

A more positive image: Calgary contestant for Banff Winter Carnival Queen, measurements 35-22-36
The Queen of the Richmond Elementary School Rodeo, 1955
The MacDonald-McMahon Wedding party, Palliser Hotel, 1954
Certainly not typical: Violet King, Canada's first black female lawyer, joins the Alberta Bar, 1954