Petticoats & Prejudice: Women and Law in Nineteenth-Century Canada, 2nd Edition

Constance Backhouse

February 2015
Canadian Scholar’s Press/Women’s Press
ISBN: 9780889615229


Drawing on historical records of women’s varying experiences as litigants, accused criminals, or witnesses, this book offers critical insight into women’s legal status in nineteenth-century Canada. In an effort to recover the social and political conditions under which women lobbied, rebelled, and in some cases influenced change, Petticoats and Prejudice weaves together forgotten stories of achievement and defeat in the Canadian legal system.

Expanding the concept of “heroism” beyond its traditional limitations, this text gives life to some of Canada’s lost heroines. Euphemia Rabbitt, who resisted an attempted rape, and Clara Brett Martin, who valiantly secured entry into the all-male legal profession, were admired by their contemporaries for their successful pursuits of justice. But Ellen Rogers, a prostitute who believed all women should be legally protected against sexual assault, and Nellie Armstrong, a battered wife and mother who sought child custody, were ostracized for their ideas and demands. Well aware of the limitations placed upon women advocating for reform in a patriarchal legal system, Constance Backhouse recreates vivid and textured snapshots of these and other women’s courageous struggles against gender discrimination and oppression.

Employing social history to illuminate the reproductive, sexual, racial, and occupational inequalities that continue to shape women’s encounters with the law, Petticoats and Prejudice is an essential entry point into the gendered treatment of feminized bodies in Canadian legal institutions.

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About the Author:

Constance Backhouse holds the positions of Distinguished University Professor and University Research Chair at the University of Ottawa. She teaches in the areas of criminal law, human rights, legal history, and women and the law. Her book Carnal Crimes: Sexual Assault Law in Canada, 1900-1975 (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2008) was the recipient of the Canadian Law & Society Association Book Prize, 2009, as well as being short-listed for the Harold Adams Innis Prize, presented each year to the best English-language ASPP-supported book in the social sciences. She is the co-author, along with her sister, the Hon. Justice Nancy L. Backhouse, of The Heiress versus the Establishment: Mrs. Campbell’s Campaign for Legal Justice (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004), which was named by the Literary Review of Canada as one of the five “books most likely to become classics of their kind” for the year 2004. It was also selected by The Beaver magazine as a “Book Club Title” for 2005, and short-listed for the Toronto Book Award in 2005. She is the author of Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada,1900-1950 (Toronto: U of T Press, 1999), which was awarded the 2002 Joseph Brant Award as the “best book in multicultural history published within the past three years” by the Ontario Historical Society. Her book, Petticoats and Prejudice: Women and the Law in Nineteenth-Century Canada (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1991), was awarded the 1992 Willard Hurst Prize in American Legal History by the Law and Society Association.

Click here to visit her Faculty web page.

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