This is the second post in this blog series adapted from our book The Field Guide for Trailblazing Women – and it’s about work and knowing what value you add to the world. Go claim it!
Not all women who came west to the new frontier were rural or farm women. In fact, because of the intense and rapid growth of the prairies, thousands of young, single, under 25, European women answered the call for ‘nice girls to come to the West’. They settled in villages, busy rail towns, and the fast rising cities. Women were in huge demand to fill the narrow (but expanding) range of jobs and they were also in demand to become wives and subsequent mothers.
Jobs in the workforce were mostly for domestic services, waitresses, chamber maids, seamstresses, laundry workers, textile and retail workers, telephone operators as well as jobs requiring more education such as teachers, nurses and stenographers. This was during a time when the ultimate roles for women were considered to be wives and mothers. Because it was thought that young women would only temporarily be in the workforce (until they married) – their value was consistently downplayed and their wages were not on-par with men’s. This put them at a distinct disadvantage in numerous ways making it difficult to support themselves, and unfortunately, many women turned to prostitution as a means to survive.
Women were key to building the new West while at the same time they were pressured to live traditional domestic roles. The truth is early prairie women pioneered new attitudes, new habits and new ways of supporting themselves. They were eager willing leaders who brought about new roles for women and established their value in Western society. Running their own businesses based on their skills was one of the ways prairie women lived and thrived.
In the early 1900’s many pioneering women ran small business and enterprises, offering personal goods and services based on their natural talents and abilities. Their business offerings, an extension of their innate skills, were in demand in the growing prairie societies. This was a time in our history when nine out of ten North Americans were self-reliant and worked independently, supporting themselves through the fruits of their own labour.
For decades women have worked to make money to meet their survival needs. Work – where we trade our skills and talents for remuneration, has always been a moving target because the world of work is constantly changing. Yes, we still want to be paid well, however we also want our work to have deeper meaning for us too. This is actually a recent, modern mindset, part of a shift that has been happening for many years, and it is swinging the pendulum back towards enterprising ventures, with women leading the way in business startups.
Over the course of our almost 20 years in business together, we have reinvented ourselves and our business many times. Technology, social media, and our connected world have challenged our thinking about what we can and hope to achieve through the products and services we offer. There is a saying in the world of business now – evolve or die. It’s true! We stay relevant by regularly assessing our talents and knowledge, along with what we are passionate about, and determining how we can create business opportunities that add value to the world.
We’ve learned (through some hard lessons) that what we create has value and it makes a real difference in the lives of our clients. We are stronger and wiser because of our learning experiences. We also know that sustaining and growing our business comes from evaluating what we’ve done well, rather than by judging what didn’t happen or measure up. Because of the pace of business these days we’ve found it exceedingly important to understand what we’ve learned, and then build upon our accumulated experience and wisdom, while continuing to move forward. So yes, we are a work in progress and that is the lay of the land for entrepreneurs. Here’s to workin’ it!
How are you sustaining yourself in your world of work? Drop your ideas into the comments – we would love to hear them!
Live Wholeheartedly. Live Prairie.
– Jan and Erin
Two Prairie Girls