Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Baer reviews Glasbeek, Feminized Justice: The Toronto Women's Court, 1913-34

Feminized Justice: The Toronto Women's Court, 1913-34 by Amanda Glasbeek is reviewed at the Law and Politics Book Review by Judith A. Baer, Department of Political Science, Texas A&M University, College Station. Beer writes:
The Toronto Women’s Police Court was the product of a familiar combination of progressivism and feminism. The Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries included many prominent “social feminists” of the type studied by historian J. Stanley Lemons in THE WOMAN CITIZEN. They perceived no tension between their commitment to equal rights for women and either their acceptance of traditional gender roles or their conviction that protection of the weak from exploitation by the strong was an essential function of government. Reformers’ extensive observations of the workplace and the courts (though not the farm or the home) convinced progressive feminists (or feminist progressives?) that women and children were victims of such mistreatment. The U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous declaration in MULLER V. OREGON that “As minors, though not to the same extent, [woman] has been looked upon by the courts as needing especial care that her rights be preserved” expressed, therefore, more an ideal than a reality. But the ruling gave force to this ideal by sustaining special labor legislation for women. The establishment of separate criminal courts for women, counterparts of the emerging juvenile courts, was a similar experiment in “maternal justice” (p.15.) The “mothers” were the women who staffed the courts; the “daughters,” the offenders and victims who came before it. Maternal feminism emphasized improvement and rehabilitation, but, as the court’s history showed, mothers can also be punitive and judgmental.

The Toronto court was the brainchild of the Toronto Local Council of Women (TLCW). Margaret Patterson, the physician and former missionary who became the court’s second presiding judge, had much in common with the American reformers who advocated special labor legislation. Patterson and her TLCW colleagues monitored the City’s police courts with “a steely determination to assess the criminal justice system from a woman’s point of view” (p. 1). Their discoveries were similar to what American activists like Florence Kelley and the Goldmark sisters found in the workplace: women were ill-treated by those with power over them. Not only did Toronto’s police courts provide admission-free entertainment for “foot-loose men” who wandered in off the street, but they also offered the unscrupulous a supply of potential victims for exploitation; TLCW members concluded that “for women, the criminal justice system was criminogenic…Something had to be done” (p.2). These activists did what their counterparts in most large American cities (but only one other Canadian city, Edmonton, Alberta) did during the Progressive Era: they [*281] persuaded the government to create a separate court for women.
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