CAMERON, Agnes Deans (1863-1912)




Author Tags: 1900-1950, Essentials 2010, Women

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

The first celebrated author who was born in B.C., male or female, was Agnes Deans Cameron, born in Victoria in 1863. Her funeral cortege in 1912 was the largest the city of Victoria had ever witnessed. Upon her death, the Daily Colonist of Victoria declared, “It is possible that when the history of British Columbia comes to be written the name of Agnes Deans Cameron will be inscribed therein as the most remarkable woman citizen of the province.” Cameron was most widely known for her journalism and her crusading social spirit, but she wrote one significant book about her adventures, The New North: Being Some Account of a Woman’s Journey through Canada to the Arctic (1910).

With an unwavering belief in equal rights and female suffrage, Cameron became British Columbia’s first female high school teacher in 1890 and its first female principal in 1894. She and her niece were also the first white women to reach the Arctic overland in 1908.

Cameron was also one of British Columbia’s first female journalists, publishing extensively in Canadian and American magazines such as Pacific Monthly, The Canadian Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, Educational Journal of Western Canada and The Coast. She wrote and published fiction as early as 1903 and became a perceptive observer of Inuit and Chipewyan culture and women. She travelled extensively in later years promoting immigration to western Canada and addressing audiences at Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrew’s University and the Royal Geographical Society. However, precious few know her name now.

The number of books that relate to the rise of feminism within B.C., or celebrate women’s extraordinary achievements, is vast and they merit consideration as a genre of their own. For example, the prairie reformer and author Nellie McClung is seldom recognized as a British Columbian, but she lived in Victoria from 1935 until her death in 1951.

[For some other authors pertaining to women’s issues and lives in British Columbia, see abcbookworld for Aberdeen, Lady; Acker, Alison; Adams, Amanda; Aguirre, Carmen; Allan, Elaine; Allison, Susan; Amberston, Celu; Andersen, Doris; Andersen, Marnie; Angus, Julie; Armstrong, Luanne; Arnott, Joanne; Artz, Sibylle; Backhouse, Frances; Baker, Marie Annharte; Barkley, Frances; Barman, Jean; Barnsley, Jan; Barnwell, Leslie; Baxter, Sheila; Beck, Lily Adams; Billy, Mary; Birchwater, Sage; Blackman, Margaret; Blackwood, Margaret; Blair, Hilary; Blanchet, M. Wylie; Boissery, Beverley; Bourgeois-Doyle, Richard I.; Boyd, Susan; Bramham, Daphne; Bridge, Kathryn; Brown, Audrey Alexandra; Brown, Jennifer; Callison, Daisy Elizabeth; Cameron, Anne; Cameron, June Carey, Betty; Carpenter, Cecilia Svinth; Carr, Emily; Cash, Gwen; Chase, Gillean; Chong, Denise; Chunn, Dorothy; Clarkes, Lincoln; Cobb, Myrna; Cohen, Marjorie Griffin; Coleman, Anne; Collis, Septima M.; Converse, Cathy; Cracroft, Sophia; Crosby, Emma; Crossland, Jackie; Crowie, Jasana; Cruikshank, Julie; Culhane, Dara; Currie, Dawn; Czajkowski, Chris; Daniel, Barbara; Daniluk, Judith; Davidson, Florence; Day, Shelagh; Dean, Misao; Delany, Sheila; Diamond, Sara; Dossa, Parin; Douglas, Amelia; Douglas, Gilean; Dowse, Sara; Dragu, Margaret; Duder, Cameron; Dufferin, Lady; Duffus, Maureen; Duncan, (Sandy) Frances; Dutton, Donald; Edwards, Anne; Edwards, Isabel; Elliott, Marie Anne; Faith, Karlene; Ferguson, Marjorie; Fertig, Mona; Finlay, K.A.; Flood, Cynthia; Flynn, Bethine; Forbes, Elizabeth; Forsberg, Tor; Foubister, Linda; Fraser, Clara; Fraser, Marian; Gerson, Carole; Gibson, Valerie; Gilbert, Lara; Glick-Reiman, Beth; Goldsmith, Penny; Gough, Lyn; Gould, Jan; Graydon, Shari; Greene, Trevor; Greenslade, Frances; Grey, Jan; Grey, Winifred; Griffin, Betty; Guiled, Brenda; Hall, Jane; Halliday, Linda; Hankivsky, Olena; Hardwick, Joan; Harrison, Eunice; Hastings, Margaret Lang; Henshaw, Julia; Hessing, Melody; Hodgson, Barbara; Hollingsworth, Margaret; Holmes, Tori; Holt, Simma; Howard, Cori; Howard, Irene; Howarth, Jean; Hudson, Elizabeth; Hume, Stephen; Ingram, Susan; Jackel, Susan; Jensen, Vickie; Jewett, Pauline; Johnson, Peter; Jones, Beverley; Jones, Jo Fraser; Jordan, Rosa; Joussaye, Marie; Kawatski, Deanna; Kemper, Margaret; Kennedy, Louise; Kerr, Luella; Kingscote, Barbara; Kivi, K. Linda; Klassen, Ingrid; Knickerbocker, Nancy; Krawczyk, Betty; Kwa, Lydia; Lacombe, Danny; Lakeman, Lee; Lam, Fiona; Landale, Zoe; Latham, Barbara; Laur, Darren; Lee, Nancy; Lefevre, Lily Alice; LeGates, Marlene; Levy, Paul; Lewis, Norah L.; Lewis, S.P.; Lockharte, Susan; Long, Wendy; Lowman, John; Lowther, Pat; Lugrin, Nora de Bertrand; Luke, Pearl; MacGill, Elsie Gregory; Mackay, Isabel Ecclestone; MacLaren, Sherrill; MacPhee, Rosalind; Maes, Yvonne; Maguire, Diane; Manji, Irshad; Marlatt, Daphne; McClean, Sylvie; McKowan, Evah; McLaughlin, Karen; McLennan, Emily Augusta; McMaster, Lindsey; Meraw, Ann Mundigel; Minkus, Kim; Mitchell, Margaret; Moir, Rita; Moore, Mandy; Morra, Linda; Morrow, Marina; Morton, W.L.; Murphy, Claire Rudolph; Murphy, Emily Gowan; Neering, Rosemary; Nichols, Marjorie; Nickerson, Betty; Norcross, Elizabeth Blanche; Norton, Wayne; Ormsby, Margaret Anchoretta; Page, Lafern; Palmer, Debbie; Parr, Joy; Penrose, Evelyn; Perrin, Dave; Perry, Adele; Phillips, Elizabeth; Potvin, Liza; Preece, Alison; Press, K.I.; Price, Lisa A.; Radha, Swami Sivananda; Raglon, Rebecca; Ravenhill, Alice; Reeve, Phyllis; Rink, Deborah; Roberts, Anita; Robideau, Henri; Robinson, Cass; Roger, Gertrude Minor; Roy, Carole; Rutherdale, Myra; Sager, Ed; Samant, Ganesh; Sarsfield, Mairuth Hodge; Schellenberg, Betty A.; Schwartz, Ellen; Scoones, Anny; Scott, Jean; Simpson, Elizabeth; Skinner, Constance Lindsay; Smith, Cyndi; Smith, Jessie Ann; Smith-Ayala, Emilie; Snowber, Celeste; Stanwell-Fletcher, Theodora; Stewart, Lee; Stewart, Mary Lynn; Stonehouse, Cathy; Stonier-Newman, Lynne; Storrs, Monica; Strong-Boag, Veronica; Sykes, Ella; Taylor, Dianne; Taylor, Georgina; Thobani, Sunera; Thompson, Dawn; Thomson, Ann; Townsend, Lorna; Trebett, Margaret; Trudeau, Margaret; Tuele, Nicholas; van Deusen, Kira; Van Kirk, Sylvia; Van Luven, Lynne; Vernon, Lorraine; Vertinsky, Patricia; Vries Maggie de; Warland, Betsy; Whelan, Dianne; White, Evelyn; Wilks, Claire Weissman; Williams, Carol; Wilson, Robert; Woodley, Barbara; Wright, Sunny; Young, Clair.]

FULL ENTRY:

The first famous born-in-B.C. author, male or female, was Agnes Deans Cameron, born in Victoria in 1863. Her funeral cortege in 1912 was the largest the city of Victoria had ever witnessed.

Agnes Deans Cameron was the author of only one book, The New North: Being Some Account of a Woman's Journey Through Canada to the Arctic (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1910) but when she died the Daily Colonist of Victoria declared, "It is possible that when the history of British Columbia comes to be written the name of Agnes Deans Cameron will be inscribed therein as the most remarkable woman citizen of the province."

[A bibliographic note: Her book is almost always accorded an initial publishing year of 1910 but it could well have been 1909. Most versions of the book bear a prominent stamp that says "New York and London / D. Appleton and Company / 1910" but on the following page, in very smaller print, are the words "copyright / 1909 / By Appleton and Company." In even smaller print are the words, "Published November, 1909." The preface is credited as August, 1909. It is possible this book was reprinted in
1910 and rather than making new plates for the copyright page, they just stamped the cover with the 1910 date.]

With an unwavering belief in equal rights and female suffrage, Cameron became British Columbia's first female high school teacher in 1890 and its first female principal in 1894, but she and her niece were also the first white women to reach the Arctic overland in 1908. She was also one of British Columbia's first female journalists, publishing extensively in Canadian and American magazines such as Pacific Monthly, The Canadian Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, Educational Journal of Western Canada and The Coast. She wrote and published fiction as early as 1903 and became a perceptive observer of Inuit and Chipewyan culture and women. She travelled extensively in later years promoting immigration to western Canada and addressing audiences at Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrew's University and the Royal Geographical Society.

Her mother Jessie Anderson was born in Dalkeith, Scotland where she was a schoolteacher before immigrating with her brother to California during the gold rush. She married Duncan Cameron, a Scot, in California where they had four children before arriving in Victoria in 1860. Two more daughters were born on Vancouver Island, the youngest being Agnes Deans in 1863. Her brother William became a Victoria alderman and a member of the Legislature. She chose teaching as a profession and never married. It is possible she was influenced as a girl by a visit to Victoria by the leading American suffragette Susan B. Anthony in 1874. Cameron earned her first teaching certificate at age 13 and first taught at Angela College in Victoria at age 16. She taught in Comox and at the sawmill settlement of Granville before returning to Victoria after the death of her father in 1884. There she became principal of South Park School. She became newsworthy in 1890, at 26, while teaching at Victoria Boys' School, for strapping a disobedient student named Herbert Burkholder. The parents objected to this disciplinary treatment and the controversy reached the press. "I whipped him severely," she wrote, "just as severely as I could. But the father goes further and insists that I struck the boy on the head--this is a mistake. Cameron was fully exonerated. In 1901 she was newsworthy again when she wrote and spoke about sex discrimination in salaries. This time the Victoria school trustees dismissed her on technicality for daring to threaten their authority. She was later reinstated. She was in hot water again in 1905 when she was accused of allowing her students to use rulers for their drawing tests. Her dismissal this time brought forth a public outcry. A Royal Commission Inquiry was held for two months. It issued a 33-page report that upheld the firing. This prompted Cameron to get elected as a Victoria School Trustee in 1906, placing herself in the uncomfortable position of working with the people who had fired her. The Royal Commission process ultimately encouraged the government to suspend Cameron's first-class teaching certificate for three years effective June 1, 1906. That year Cameron's mother died and she made plans to leave Victoria. She continued to fight for her reputation as a teacher, however, appearing on stage with the famous British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst when spoke in Victoria in 1911.

Unable to work as a teacher, Cameron increasingly turned to journalism. She attended the third annual Canadian Press Association convention in Winnipeg in 1906 where she was asked to speak. This led to a position with the Immigration Association, based in Chicago. She resigned from the School Board of Victoria and moved to Chicago to work as a writer, chiefly writing about the Canadian West. She became vice-president of the Canadian Women's Press Club and began saving for her long hoped-for journey up the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Circle in 1908, at age 44, in the company of her niece, Jessie Cameron Brown. With photographic equipment and a typewriter, they made a six-month journey from Chicago to the Arctic via the Athabasca River, Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River. The Hudson's Bay Company outfitted them with their food and supplies from Winnipeg. In her travelogue Cameron accepted polygamy among the Inuit but regretted the general status of women. "Sad is the lot of the Indian woman of the North," she wrote. "Fated always to play a secondary part in the family drama, it is hard to see what of pleasure life holds for her. The birth of a baby girl is not attended with joy or thankfulness. From the beginning the little one is pushed into the background. The boy babies, even the dogs, have the choicer bed at night, and to them are given the best pieces of meat."

Cameron returned from the Arctic with a heightened awareness of the need to assert the equality of aboriginal peoples. She returned to Chicago and later toured Britain with Jessie Brown and another niece, Gladys Cameron, giving presentations about her journey at the end of 1909. With a four-month contract from the London Daily Mail to write a daily column about Canada and the prospect of being hired by the government of Canada to lecture throughout Britain to encourage immigration, Cameron's writing career was in its ascendancy. Her book was published in 1910. Spurred by success, she planned to write a novel about mining camps to be based upon research in Stewart, B.C. In a scenario that was to become classically Canadian, Cameron discovered she was welcomed as a celebrity in Victoria now that larger metropolitan centres had recognized her spirit and accomplishments. Victoria City Council called her "a most worthy citizen". A reception was held in her honour because she was "better known for her work as author and lecturer than any other man or woman in Canada today." In May of 1912 she was stricken with appendicitis, then contracted pneumonia following surgery. She died at age 48 on May 13, 1912, in Victoria. Her body was taken to Seattle for cremation.

BOOKS:

The New North: Being Some Account of a Woman's Journey Through Canada to the Arctic (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1910 -- or possibly 1909)

[BCBW 2010]