Books: Daughters In The City

By September 18, 2013Books

Submitted. The city has long been a magnet for immigrants, including women seeking domestic work. Beginning in the early 1930’s, young Mennonite women began to arrive at Vancouver’s CPR station. Mostly adolescents, they spoke little English, and had only recently arrived in Canada as refugees from Russia, escaping Stalin’s regime of terror.

What drove these young women to leave their families? To seek employment in a place that their conservative faith—and many Canadians—regarded as “evil”?

“There was only one motive for the parents,” says author Ruth Derksen Siemens, “to pay their travel debt to the CPR or to those who had sponsored them. Most parents did not want to send their daughters to the city.

“Many of the women I interviewed also did not want to go. However, … some of them were drawn to the independence and alternate choices the city offered them.”

The author, whose mother, aunts and cousins worked as maids in Vancouver, says she grew up hearing stories about that time in their lives. She also heard about the Mädchenheim (maidens’ home), a residence that served as an employment agency and weekly gathering place for the young women.

Agatha Jantzen Dyck (left) and Betty Jantzen Martens at their place of employment on East Boulevard in Vancouver, 1939.

Agatha Jantzen Dyck (left) and Betty Jantzen Martens at their place of employment on East Boulevard in Vancouver, 1939.

Through first-person stories, a wealth of photographs, and a well-researched text, Daughters in the City preserves the little-known history of both the Bethel Home, established in 1931, and the later Mary Martha Home. It explains why Mennonites were in demand as domestic workers, celebrates the legacy of these urban “pioneers,” and tells of social changes that led to the closure of both homes in the early 1960s.

About the Author.
Ruth Derksen Siemens is a first-generation Canadian of Russian Mennonite descent who was born in Vancouver and also lived in a traditional Mennonite community in the Fraser Valley. Ruth is an instructor of writing and rhetoric at the University of British Columbia. She has published the book Remember Us: Letters from Stain’s Gulag (1930-37) and co-produced the documentary Through the Red Gate.

About the Book
Daughters in the City: Mennonite Maids in Vancouver, 1931–61
Fernwood Press
11½ x 8¾ inches paperback • 104 pages
ISBN 978-0-9917117-0-3
$24.95 CDN (shipping costs additional)
Illustrated, with endnotes, bibliography, name index
Available at

Daughters in the City will be launched at various locations in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley this fall (2013). For particulars, visit Interested members of the public are invited to attend.

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