The Pedestal, Canada’s first feminist periodical, launched in September 1969 as the voice of the Vancouver Women’s Caucus, a women’s liberation group most famous for initiating the abortion caravan that shut down Canada’s Parliament for the first time in the country’s history. Less well-known, but equally significant, is that the Women’s Caucus created the first independent women’s union and then hosted an international peace conference with women from Indo-China.
Women’s Caucus grew out of the heady battles in the late 60s at the newly created Simon Fraser University led by faculty and students seeking democratic control over curriculum and hiring decisions, challenging the institution to serve workers rather than business interests. Though as active as men, the women felt they were “just appendages” to the student movement, expected to do menial organizational work while men made theoretical speeches.
Women activists, mostly students but also two faculty members and some clerical staff, began to meet in July 1968 to discuss how to put an end to their oppression. One of their first campaigns was to make abortion and birth control, then outlawed in Canada, a woman’s right. They risked going to jail by setting up a clinic that provided, in a clandestine manner, information on how and where to access illegal abortions.
By the summer of 1969, Women’s Caucus moved off-campus. Membership had swelled to 250 names on a mailing list. About 80 members attended meetings and were organized into 12 action groups. The Caucus protested discrimination in hiring practices, especially in the federal civil service. The women picketed the post office for advertising during the Christmas rush temporary jobs categorized by gender with higher pay scales for male jobs. A women’s artist coop was formed. Child care forums were held. Women’s liberation groups were formed at UBC and Vancouver Community College.
Like the other action groups in Women’s Caucus, the Pedestal newspaper was a collective where everyone did the work and made the decisions together. Skills were shared. People taught each other how to write, edit, do layout, concoct headlines that fit, produce graphics, and cut-and-paste the rolls of typeset copy. It was a radical and exciting project at a time when women were shut out of the mainstream media and even the “hippie” paper, the Georgia Straight, was hostile to women’s liberation.
In 1969, two four-page issues were produced. The publication dropped “The” in September 1970 and the masthead read simply Pedestal. During the next three years, the Pedestal, ranging from 8 to 16 pages, was published 10 or 11 times a year. The print run was 3,000 copies and cost $100. By July 1971, there were 538 subscribers from across Canada and the US who paid $2 a year. Caucus members sold individual copies for 15 cents at demonstrations and political events. It was always a hand-to-mouth operation that staved off closure several times only when readers responded to desperate appeals for donations.
The papers had to be addressed by hand, stapled, and stamped before mailing. Bundles were taken to the post office to send to women’s groups in Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, and Halifax for a reduced rate. Bundles of 50 or more were delivered to 25 bookstores and grocery stores around Vancouver.
Democratic decision-making in a collective can be tricky to achieve, and the Pedestal faced its share of criticism for failing to give equal space to the range of issues, activities, and political persuasions that members were engaged in. Without any structure, such as an editorial board, it was often difficult to know who was making what decisions, and why.
As Women’s Caucus’s membership grew, it was increasingly difficult for one organization to represent the members’ diverse politics, backgrounds, and experiences. Some women left, and others were asked to leave over myriad issues, including reform vs. revolution, membership in vanguard parties, homosexuality, and relationships with men.
The remaining members increasingly focused on working women, forming the Working Women’s Association to help organize women into what would become the ground-breaking independent women’s union, Service, Office and Retails Workers Union of Canada (SORWUC). In July 1971, Women’s Caucus voted to disband, turning its office over to women organizing a women’s centre.
The Pedestal continued to publish until August 1974 as an independent collective, with many of the same women continuing to do the work of covering the news of the women’s movement. The paper printed more about the arts, particularly poetry, and issues around sexuality. Debates continued over whether the personal was political and whether the political was socialist enough.
The Pedestal was resurrected in an issue dated “1975” as a lesbian-feminist newspaper. After three issues, the last Pedestal was published in October/November 1975.
Submitted by the Vancouver Women’s Caucus History Project, formed to compile the history of the women’s movement in Vancouver in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s by the women who made that history. Thanks to the Barbara Roberts Memorial Award from the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, we were able to cover the costs of digitizing the complete set of Pedestals as well as begin to create a website to tell our story.