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For the week of Monday October 21, 2013

On October 26, 1889, Kathleen Blake Coleman, pen name Kit, published her first column in the Toronto Daily Mail. It was the beginning of a long career in journalism for this woman who became known for her innovative spirit.

Kathleen Blake Coleman (1890)
© The Carbon Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-164916
Kathleen Coleman, born Catherine Ferguson, was born in Ireland in 1856. She immigrated to Canada after the death of her first husband in 1884. When her second marriage failed, she was left with two young children to raise. She started writing to support her family.

Her adaptation of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden captivated Edward Farrer, editor-in-chief of the Toronto Daily Mail. He hired her to write the women’s section entitled Woman’s Kingdom. Kit gradually developed her own unique style. At first her column discussed household tips and feminine ideals, but it soon tackled more complex subjects. Kit innovated by writing acerbic critiques on “men’s topics,” i.e., politics, business, religion and science. Her comments sparked speculation about the author’s gender, and some readers were convinced that a man was masquerading as “Kit”!

Kit, in the centre of this photo of the Canadian Women’s Press Club (1906)
© Archives of Manitoba / W. Gibson / N14828
Kit travelled the world to find new material and her columns were very entertaining. Her greatest success came when she was the first accredited female war correspondent. In 1898, she went to Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Her reporting on the war’s victims and the legacy of the conflict strengthened her reputation.

Since she had worked her entire life and supported her family on her own, Kit was in favour of equal pay for equal work. However, she did not risk associating with feminist movements. It was only in 1904, owing to frustration over discrimination in her workplace, that she used her contacts to secure support for the Canadian Women’s Press Club. Then, in 1910, she started working with the suffragettes.

She died in 1915 in Hamilton, Ontario, leaving behind her third husband, Theobald Coleman, and her children. An audacious role model, an accomplished writer and a woman who fought for her rights, Kathleen Blake Coleman forged a path in a male-dominated profession. She was designated a person of national historic significance in 2011.

To learn about another feminist journalist, see E. Cora Hind or to read about other women writers, see Thinker and Wanderer: Newfoundland’s Margaret Duley and A Poet Laureate in Retrospect : Isabella Valancy Crawford in the archives of This Week in History.

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