MARLATT, WENONAH, YWCA general secretary and office holder; b. 18 Jan. 1883 in Portage la Prairie, Man., daughter of Samuel Reid Marlatt, a civil servant, and Elisabeth Whimster; d. unmarried 16 May 1930 in Victoria.
About 1915 Wenonah Marlatt, who was in her early thirties, settled in Victoria. In 1916 she applied for the position of general secretary of the local Young Women’s Christian Association at a salary of $50 per month and was accepted. In her report for April 1917 she hinted at her heavy responsibilities and expressed an interest in working with young women. “Down in the park any evening one may see many many half grown girls . . . and one realizes how their energies might be deviated into safer channels through an effective programme. This teen age girls work appeals to me just now as the greatest necessity of the association.” She added that her job as general secretary “is often baffling in its variety – During the past month, I have been called upon to act as a Matrimonial agent, I have been fearful of having to appear in Court, in a wage question and I wonder I have not more grey hairs when I consider the soaring prices of food.”
On 13 Dec. 1918 Marlatt resigned; although her reason is not recorded in the YWCA’s minutes, she was likely exhausted and may have wished to pursue women’s labour issues more intently. Her expertise in the area of women’s wages and labour concerns was by this time acknowledged. According to the Daily Colonist (Victoria), that same year the newly formed Minimum Wage Board, which included judge Helen Gregory* MacGill and the deputy minister of labour, J. D. McNiven, sought her help in establishing “from $30 to $35 per month as the lowest sum at which a working girl could be expected to procure board and lodging.”
In December 1918 the provincial Department of Labour made plans to open a labour bureau in Victoria. The bureau, one of a province-wide network of employment offices, was a result of a provincial-dominion conference held on 19–23 Nov. 1918; the federal government agreed to pay half of all operating costs of the provincial bureaux. The Victoria office, advertised in local papers as being “at the service of all persons seeking employment and of employers seeking help,” opened in January 1919. It consisted of a male and a female department. The provincial government appointed Marlatt to head the female department on 7 Feb. 1919. The Victoria Daily Times pointed out that “in dealing with labor matters,” she had “proved her organizing ability during the summer of the two last years” when she organized female labourers to pick fruit on the mainland.
In 1921 Marlatt spoke to the newly formed Kumtuks Club, a businesswomen’s group that made the exercise of the franchise a qualification of membership. There she deplored “the inefficiency of the present-day youth when seeking employment without any specific qualification or training,” and urged girls to develop a “wider knowledge of the household arts.” Marlatt also joined the club.
Although many post-war labour problems stemmed from the influx of jobless soldiers, labour bureaux were intended to counter the difficulties of general unemployment. Women’s employment needs were also escalating, as was the demand for female employees. The Department of Labour’s report for 1919 shows 729 female applicants looking for work in Victoria, 957 employers seeking to fill posts, and 558 placements. In 1920 the women’s office reported 2,346 applicants, 2,770 employers with positions to fill, and 1,230 placements. Marlatt was a first-hand witness to the province’s growing labour problems and to the needs of female employees. “A woman of much sympathy and tact,” noted the Victoria Daily Times at her death, “her relations both with applicants seeking employment and would-be employers were of the happiest and won for her widespread esteem.”
After a short illness Marlatt died in St Joseph’s Hospital in Victoria at age 47. The Daily Colonist noted that she left behind a “host of friends among the business and professional women of the city.” Her career and community involvement in Victoria demonstrated her administrative skills and her particular interest in matters of female employment.
BCA, MS-0215, 1–3. NA, RG 31, C1, 1901, Portage-la-Prairie, Man., dist. 8, subdist.L, subdiv.2: 8. Daily Colonist (Victoria), 8 Sept., 19–20, 28 Dec. 1918; 1, 7 Jan., 8 Feb. 1919; 7, 12, 25 Oct. 1921; 17 May 1930. Victoria Daily Times, 7 Feb. 1919; 18, 21 Oct. 1921; 17 May 1930. B.C., Legislative Assembly, Sessional papers, reports of the Dept. of Labour, 1918–20.