Linda Silver Dranoff

Title text


Linda Silver Dranoff

Linda Silver Dranoff, CM, LSM is a lawyer, writer and activist. She served individual clients as a family-law lawyer in private practice, appearing at every level of court. She wrote about the law in her books and Chatelaine columns, providing Canadians with access to accurate and understandable legal information. As a committed activist, she successfully pressed for social justice and law reform on a wide range of issues affecting women and the community, such as family law reform. She has been honoured by the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Governor-General, the Toronto YWCA, the Canadian and Ontario Bar Associations and the Women’s Law Association, among others. She was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2012.


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Hart House 1957
  • Excerpt from the memoirs of Linda Silver Dranoff on the efforts made in 1957 to open
    Hart House Debates to women


“It was in my first year of university that I learned that Senator John F. Kennedy, then being touted as the possible next president of the United States, was coming to Toronto on November 14, 1957 as a guest debater in a Hart House debate on the topic ‘Has the United States failed in its responsibilities as a world leader?’ He was scheduled to cross swords with the campus’s preeminent speaker and debater, Stephen Lewis (who would later go on to become leader of Ontario’s NDP from 1970-78 and Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988, among other posts held.) Everyone wanted to attend this event.  But women were excluded.  This was long before the concept of feminism had any currency.


“Hart House was a facility for athletics, theatre, music, debates and other student activities, and had been given to the University of Toronto in 1919 by Vincent Massey through the Massey Foundation in memory of his grandfather Hart Massey, son of the founder of Massey-Ferguson farm equipment and heir to its fortune. However, there was a condition on the gift—that the facility must be for men only. This had been modified slightly over the years so that, for instance, one of the monthly Hart House debates each year was opened to women.  It was the Hart House ‘warden’ (executive director) in conjunction with the Hart House Debates Committee who chose which debate would accept females in the audience, and the Kennedy-Lewis Debate was not to be the one.


“A group of six of us, including Margaret Brewin and Judy Graner, decided to protest women’s exclusion from this debate. We arranged for a meeting with Warden Joseph McCully to ask him to admit women to this particular debate. I remember being part of the group to meet with him.  He looked bemused at our great intensity; his expression appeared to me to say ‘There, there dear children, what are you making such a fuss about?’  We tried to persuade the warden so very politely, but to no avail. I suppose we thought that all we needed to do was sound rational and he would concede, but he refused.  We accepted his rebuff with lady-like grace, and were ushered out of his inner sanctum at Hart House and then out of the building.


“That was not however, the end of our efforts. We decided to protest by picketing Hart House before, during and after the debate. By then, there were about 20 of us. It was raining and we chanted, holding signs and umbrellas, and marched back and forth in front of Hart House under the open window of the Debates Room where the debate was taking place. What we said I don’t remember, but we could be heard in the Debates Room—we knew that. Beyond that though, we made no headway and any fantasy that we may have had that our protest would find us ushered into the building, did not become reality.  A reporter for the Toronto Telegram turned up to witness this unusual protest demonstration; the story was in The Tely the next day, with a picture of our little protest group.  The Tely reported that our placards labelled the ban on our attendance as ‘Unfair’ and demanded ‘Equal Rights for Women.’ I did not remember that we went that far until I found the Tely article, and found it confirmed in the Toronto Star article as well. But I am very proud of this, my first memory of my activism on behalf of women’s rights.  In 1957, nobody I knew or had heard of was working for equal rights for women.  It wasn’t on the agenda anywhere as far as I knew.  The seeds of the ‘second wave’ of feminism didn’t get planted until the mid-1960s. So our little group of student protesters made a major statement by our action.


“The reality of our lives was evoked at the same time by the words expressed by John F. Kennedy at the debate itself. His shocking opinion of the chanting female protesters was reported in the Toronto Telegram the day after the debate.  He was directly quoted as follows:


‘The drive toward female superiority in my land to the south has gone so far that it is a pleasure to come here where males are not afraid to say what they think of the opposite sex.’


“The Toronto Star also quoted him as saying: ‘I personally rather approve of keeping women out of these places.’ The Varsity added, ‘It is a pleasure to be in a country where the women cannot mix in everywhere.’


“Considering that American women had not by then succeeded in going much further than achieving the right to vote, the remarks show JFK’s attitude toward women, those very voters who found him so attractive in 1960, that they helped land him the presidency of the United States.


“I wrote a letter to the editor of The Varsity, which was not printed until the day following the debate.  It attempted to persuade the student readers that it was ‘time for a change’ and exhorted women to ‘get together and FIGHT!!!’”


Continued Efforts in 1958

“That was not to be the end of it for me. The next year, on November 19, 1958, Hart House selected a debate on the relatively uninteresting subject ‘Now is the Time’ to be the one that academic year to be open to women. I attended with another woman, and arrived to find that we were required to sit in a separate roped-off women’s section. Ken Wyman chaired the debate, and warned us at the outset, ‘women are present on sufferance only.’ After the debaters finished, and the time came for questions/comments from the audience, I stood nervously to make a comment. The chair refused to recognize me.  I stayed on my feet, my heart pounding, but not wanting to be defeated.  He told me to sit down. I continued standing; it felt like forever but I think it must have been about ten minutes before the chair finally recognized me, and I had my say. I had stood up for the right of women to be heard.


“The story was covered in The Varsity the next day, with the headline ‘Upstart Co-Ed Upsets Light-Hearted Debate.’ The lead paragraph read, ‘A University of Toronto co-ed last night threw the staid Hart House debates room into confusion when she insisted she be recognized by the chair during a Toronto-McMaster debate.’


“Hart House remained closed with both the building and its debates unavailable to us. It was partly the times; few men thought this was unfair, and few women seemed to have any interest in the debates. The prevailing culture also permitted the Massey will to be considered valid, with discrimination against women to be countenanced.  It was the late 1950s and women were expected to stay in their designated place and not object.  Tradition was the salient factor, not fairness.”


Copyright Linda Silver Dranoff

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