Claiming their Ground – Three Pioneering Alberta Women in their Professions

October is Women’s History Month in Canada, when we celebrate the achievements of women throughout our past and use their stories to inspire Canadians today. The twentieth century saw women entering occupations previously the exclusive domain of men. A variety of circumstances combined to allow these advances, including the rise of public education, social activism culminating in universal suffrage, legal challenges that established women as “persons” and the upheaval created by two world wars. These changes are not sufficient to explain the careers of the three women described in this blog; it took determination, persistence, courage and intelligence for them to succeed and carve a place for themselves as professional women in these fields that were predominantly, if not exclusively, the preserve of men.

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Diane Loranger, geologist, ca. 1946-1947. (Glenbow Archives, IP-14A-1470)

Diane Loranger, Ph.D. (1920-2004)

Diane Loranger was a geologist and paleobotanist whose career started in the 1940s with Imperial Oil in Calgary.

Born in Edmonton and raised in north-western Ontario, Diane Loranger led a long, eventful and adventurous life. Her father dubbed her “Madam Curious” when she was a child, a moniker that remained appropriate even when she was grown. After graduating from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology, she landed a job as a field geologist with Imperial Oil. This was despite the doubts expressed by some of the science faculty members at the U of M, who opined that petroleum geology was not a “woman’s field.”  Though she did not fit the stereotype of an oilfield professional, Loranger progressed quickly to a supervisory position in the company’s sub-surface laboratory. She was smart, ambitious, athletic, and could fly her own plane – a combination of skills and qualities that fueled her career. By 1961 she earned a doctorate from the University of London, and for many years operated as a paleontological consultant in Alberta and across the globe.

Diane Loranger remained active in retirement, particularly as a volunteer supporting women’s shelters. She died in Calgary at age 83.

Eda Owen (1879-1957)

Known locally as the “Weather Lady”, Eda Owen had a long and distinguished career, working for the government of Canada from 1915 to 1943 as a Federal Meteorological Agent in Edmonton. Her duties included recording data from the weather station located in, on and around her home. In addition, she was responsible for gathering information from more than 140 weather stations throughout northern Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories and forwarding it all to headquarters in eastern Canada. This was a position of great responsibility, and it was exceptional that it was held by a woman.

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Eda Owen on her roof-top, taking an anemometer reading, 1929 (Glenbow Archives, ND-3-4520f)

Born in the United Kingdom, Eda came to Canada in 1908 with her husband, Herbert Owen, a retired sea captain. It was Herbert who was appointed meteorologist in 1913, but when he went off to fight in the First World War in 1915, Eda took on his duties. It was assumed that when Herbert returned, Eda’s tenure would come to an end. Unfortunately, Herbert was captured and subsequently died in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1917. Having already demonstrated that she could fulfill the required duties, and with men still away at war, Eda carried on in her husband’s position. In general, women – especially married women – could not hold employment, but widows were given special status, and this allowed Eda to finally be confirmed in her position as meteorologist in 1921. For the next 22 years, Eda carried out her duties, retiring in 1943 at the age of 64. Hers had been an extraordinary, if originally unintended career. Eda Owen died in Calgary at age 77. In 1994, her home and meteorological station was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource.

E. Marjorie Hill (1895-1985)

Esther Marjorie Hill was the first woman to be registered as an architect, not only in Alberta, but in all of Canada, when she was admitted to the Alberta Association of Architects in January 1925.

Marjorie Hill, ca. mid-1920s (University of Toronto, 2002-17-6MS)

Marjorie Hill, ca. mid-1920s (University of Toronto, 2002-17-6MS)

Born in Guelph, Ontario, E. Marjorie Hill moved to Alberta as a teenager with her family. She attended the University of Alberta, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1916. That same year, she registered in the architecture program of the U of A, but when it was cancelled in 1918, she transferred to the University of Toronto. The Globe and Mail newspaper noted her graduation in June 1920: “The Canadian woman has invaded one more profession and Miss Esther Marjorie Hill is blazing the trail.” The paper was not quite correct, as Alice Malhiot had previously graduated with an architecture degree from the University of Alberta in 1914. However, Hill was the first U of T architecture graduate, and did eventually become a national trailblazer when she managed – against significant resistance – to become a registered member of the profession in Alberta.

After a long career that included working for other architects and being self-employed as an artist, craftsperson and architect, Marjorie Hill died at age 89 in Victoria, B.C.

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator

 

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