A new exhibit at the University of Alberta is exploring the role women on the edge of society played in the early days of life on the Prairies.
The exhibit “Pioneer Ladies” examines the roles of women who worked as prostitutes, madams and even pornographers. Using clothing and quilts from the early 1900’s and the women’s stories and mug shots.
“Woman on the margins often get left out, but we learn so much about Canadian history, particularly the parts people don’t talk about when we look at women on the margins,” said Laurie Bertram.
Bertram said in the early days of life on the Prairies madams were a part of society and while there were often calls for their arrest and punishment, police often tolerated and even supported their efforts.
“Often you see madams demanding the respect and getting the support of local police and regional police,” she said. “You also see business interests demanding that there be this kind of informal “red-light” system.”
Bertram has been touring the country with the exhibit and tries to add a local character. Here in Edmonton she focused on the story of “Big Nelly Webb.
She was acquitted of shooting a Mountie who pushed his way into her home. Bertram said even the Edmonton Bulletin came to Webb’s defence.
She said she doesn’t want to glamourize the sex trade, but at the same time points out that widespread violence was not as much a part of it as it is today.
- The exhibit runs from Sept. 13 to Nov. 4 at the Human Ecology building at the University of Alberta
- The building is located at the corner of 89 Avenue and 116 Street
- Admission to the exhibit is free