Bates, Elizabeth Maud (Egan), social worker and policewoman; b. 17 June 1859 (the date is reported inconsistently) near Windsor, N.S., daughter of Thomas Alexander Bates and either Ellen ——— or Mary Jane Hatch, whom he married in 1860; m. 1 Oct. 1884 James F. Egan in Halifax; d. there 4 Sept. 1937.
Elizabeth Bates, or Bessie as she was known, was fostered by a middle-class Anglican family in Halifax and engaged in domestic service at a young age. She became a charter member of Halifax’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1881, and between 1892 and 1901, after her marriage to James Egan, she was employed as matron of its shelter and adjoining meeting- and coffee-rooms. During the 1890s Egan also undertook youth, missionary, and temperance work through St Paul’s Church and conducted district visits for the purpose of relieving the poor of the parish, a job she also did for the WCTU. Her contributions to the city’s protection and rescue services resulted in her appointment in 1900 as honorary inspector of children by the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty (legally named the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) [see John Naylor*], which investigated all forms of cruelty towards humans and animals, and served as Halifax’s child welfare agency before the establishment of the Children’s Aid Society in 1920. In her private quarters, adjacent to the WCTU office, she earned extra income by working as a boarding-house keeper. Here she also accommodated “various waif and neglected children.” Eager to undertake still more charitable work, she revived in 1902 her church’s Girls’ Friendly Society, whose members made clothing for the poor, welcomed female immigrants, and found employment for destitute women. Egan would oversee the activities of the GFS for more than 25 years.
In 1904, by which time she had separated from her husband, her talents as a social worker were recognized when she was given paid responsibilities in three venerable male-run philanthropic societies. Egan became one of two investigating officers for the SPC. She also worked as Bible-woman for the Nova Scotia Bible Society; she carried out her evangelical duties in the waterside immigration building and in the tenements, jails, and health and welfare institutions of the city. Finally, as an agent of the Halifax Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, the city’s major Protestant organization for outdoor relief, she visited the homes of the disadvantaged to look into cases of neglect. Although an employee of private organizations, Egan was also an instrument of the state, enforcing the Children’s Protection Act (1906) in the interest of the province’s minors. She removed children from unsuitable homes, placed them in foster care or institutions, and appeared regularly in court as a witness for the prosecutor, who was usually Robert Harper Murray acting for the SPC.
Despite her many professional responsibilities Egan found time to participate in a host of voluntary activities, including the multifold causes of Halifax’s Local Council of Women, which she joined in 1905. She served on no fewer than 15 of its standing and ad hoc committees between 1905 and 1914. A working-class woman who needed to support herself, Egan was nevertheless active in benevolent organizations and shared interests with many of her social superiors: she was head of several committees of St Paul’s Church and the LCW, whose members included Eliza Ritchie and Edith Jessie Archibald; one of the 24 original incorporators of the Children’s Hospital in 1910; and an executive member of the Halifax branch of the Nova Scotia Bible Society in the 1920s. She participated in the recruitment of domestic servants, the organization of respectable pastimes for factory girls, the identification of feeble-minded women and children, the deportation of would-be immigrants considered destitute or defective, and the dissemination of scriptures that some Roman Catholics believed to be Protestant propaganda against their church. But Egan’s voice could also be heard championing the rights of the community’s friendless and underprivileged. Immigrants in transit, pupils in the city’s most wretched school, and residents of the notoriously neglected suburb of Africville all aroused Egan’s energy and concern. Unbigoted in her approach to aid, she cooperated closely in her rescue activities with the Catholic nuns who ran reformatories, orphanages, and refuges. In the nature–nurture debate, Egan was firmly on the side of the latter, stressing the important role of the environment in explaining delinquent behaviour. For correction she favoured humane forms of justice, such as the suspended sentence.
During World War I the reliability of Egan’s employment diminished along with her remuneration. Interrupted immigration reduced her work for the Bible society, and the AICP changed its focus to schoolchildren’s programs. This development left her more dependent on the SPC rescue and protection work, which was itself becoming less secure. The modernization of social-service activities brought well-paid, trained professionals into the field, and Egan worried that their qualifications were more highly regarded than her practical experience. In 1916 she tendered her resignation. Although the society persuaded Egan not to resign (she would stay on until at least 1920), she was able to see the writing on the wall with regard to her future prospects.
By 1917 police work, which did not require training courses and paper credentials, had become attractive. Long anxious to secure separate correctional facilities and services for women, local council members such as Mary Ellen Macnab [Braden] and Agnes Dennis [Miller*] suggested Egan’s name when there was first discussion of introducing a policewoman into the city’s force; Egan also had the support of Halifax’s board of control. But she rejected the offer that came in 1916, and instead the position of female parole officer went on an experimental basis to Ella M. Paint, who also belonged to the LCW. When the tactful Egan replaced the aggressive Paint the next year, she, unlike her predecessor, was appointed a regular member of the Halifax police force. For the next 17 years she walked the beat in uniform, often with her long-time friend May Virtue, a Salvation Army nurse who was appointed to the force in 1918. Egan easily made the transition from social work to police work. As an SPC agent she had, she believed, exercised provincewide the same powers as the police wielded locally, and she had worked closely with the Halifax force since the 1890s. Unlike policewomen in other Canadian cities, Egan had the authority to arrest men as well as women. Her sterling reputation helped extend her influence from the vice squad to the justice system itself. In 1924, briefly, there was a closed women’s courtroom to protect female prisoners from the public gaze, and she frequently helped obtain lenient sentences in cases involving vagrancy, prostitution, and marital conflict.
Throughout her career Egan received abundant praise. Charles Coleman Blackadar, speaking at an annual meeting of the SPC, described her as “one woman in five thousand”; others commended her as “a blessing to the community” and an exemplar “of splendid and outstanding service.” However, these accolades did not afford her equal treatment in the workplace. Even experienced policewomen were paid less than new male officers. Furthermore, by 1929, when she was about to turn 70, city councillors were suggesting the need for a younger replacement. Despite frequent bouts of illness, Egan held on to her post until early 1934 and retired officially at the end of March. Having been unable to contribute to the superannuation fund because of her sex, Egan was denied a pension; her own modest resources had been depleted by donations to the poor. Egan made a formal request for an annual allowance and, supported by friends in influential positions, succeeded in winning monthly payments of $50. When she died of a stroke three years later, she was buried in the family plot belonging to a long-time WCTU friend.
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Cite This Article
Judith Fingard, “BATES, ELIZABETH MAUD (Egan),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 31, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bates_elizabeth_maud_16E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Judith Fingard|
|Title of Article:||BATES, ELIZABETH MAUD (Egan)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2015|
|Year of revision:||2015|
|Access Date:||March 31, 2023|