Women's Agency in Upper Canada: Prescott's Board of Police Record, 1834-1850


  • Katherine M. J. McKenna


The Prescott Board of Police was established in 1834 to resolve disputes brought forward by local citizens under the town’s bylaws. The cases recorded in the Minute Book of the Board of Police for Prescott thus constitute an unparalleled source of information on many aspects of Upper Canadian life, recording standards for acceptable community behaviour on such matters as control of livestock, health regulations, road maintenance, keeping the sabbath, licensing alcohol and entertainment, and the type of language permitted in public space. In the early years, since only small fines resulted from charges brought to the Board, it was commonly used by lower-class women for settling personal disputes or avenging insults to their reputation. By 1850 fines had become severe and prosecutions for sexual immorality and drunkenness more common, and the Prescott Board of Police transformed from a forum for lower-class women’s agency into an institution used by the town fathers to enforce a new, middle-class, gendered moral code.