Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists

Have you heard of this book?

Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The origins of the women’s shelter movement in Canada By Margo Goodhand
Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The origins of the women’s shelter movement in Canada By Margo Goodhand

If you’re looking for a crash course on the history of activism that brought us women’s shelters and transition houses in Canada, then this is the book to read! 

What it’s about: Published in 2017, Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists tells the story behind the creation of five different women’s shelters that popped up the exact same year (1973) in different Canadian provinces without any connection to each other. The book details how each shelter got started, the pushback and the support each shelter received, and how each shelter was run by women who were dedicated to helping others escape violence. 

What I liked about the book: As someone who is still new to learning about the violence against women movement in Canada, this book was a great read. I gained a much better understanding about the culture of misogyny that has served to underpin our understandings (mine included) of women’s rights. For example, Chapter 4 starts by detailing a very brief history of misogyny and violence against women, and shares how many cultures have heartily supported and even legalized wife-beating from 2500 BCE to present day. I also felt inspired by the women featured in the book. One thing that shocked me too: Almost all the women who built up these shelters were between the ages of 20 and 30 years old!!! If you’re older like I am, then it’s time to get involved — we really have no excuse!

A newspaper story that came out after the first shelter in Toronto opened with the headline: "The rising wave of runaway wives".
A newspaper story that came out after the first shelter in Toronto opened.

 Other things I liked about the book:

  • It’s well written, combining personal stories with historical facts, to create a compelling story from start to finish. (I love books written by journalists!)
  • It’s short — 154 pages total — quick to get through amidst busy schedules.
  • It provides a lot of context surrounding the time-period in which the shelters were created.
  • It gives a comprehensive and honest overview of the struggles activists overcame to build these shelters.
  • It regularly reinforces the fact that the women building these shelters were doing so “by the seat of their pants”, which made me feel more confident that I too can make a valuable contribution to ending violence in Canada.
  • It touches thoughtfully on some of the similarities, differences, and even clashes between feminist activism of the 60s-90s and feminist activism today (including the different cultural contexts).

 What I wanted more of: 

  • In the last chapter, there’s mention of the different and innovative approaches that Indigeous women & Indiegenous shelters are developing to heal all family members implicated in violence. I know this book didn’t have space to go into much detail, but I would have loved more information about these different approaches, or a few suggested resources for further reading.
  • I loved the inclusion of personal stories shared by the founders and craved additional stories outlining more tactics these women used to gain awareness and support for their cause.
  • Overall, I want to read the book again. There are so many names and dates offered that the information just doesn’t stick in my brain — so another read through is in order!

 If you have a chance, pick up a copy of this book at your local public library and let me know what YOU think about it!

Nicole Bedford