Domestic Service: The YWCA and Women's Employment Agencies in Vancouver, 1898-1915


  • Robin John Anderson


Contrary to the negative stereotype created by progressive era reformers and maintained by later commentators, women's employment agencies in Vancouver provided a needed service to women workers before the First World War. More often than not, the agent's interest in profits complemented the domestic and non-domestic worker's needs for security and job flexibility in a local labour market which was in constant flux. These beneficial conditions were less true for the Vancouver chapter of the YWCA which was also in the 'business' of job placement. Rather, the YWCA was committed to the importation, training and distribution of domestic workers for the greater benefit of the city's middle-class employers. Because the women's employment agents did not actively serve the household labour needs of these employers, most were either condemned by YWCA officials and other reform institutions for moral crimes or were ignored entirely.