Develop your analysis, learn your history and always keep reading.
Margaret Phillips’ advice to young feminists
In 2016, we self-published 40 Fabulous Feminists & Amazing Activists of Northwestern Ontario, a non-fiction book profiling just some of the brilliant women who made (and continue to make) meaningful impacts on women’s lives and communities in our region.
In honour of Women’s History Month, we’re sharing excerpts (pp. 72-73) from our profile of steadfast feminist Margaret Phillips (1935-2015), co-founder of the former Northern Woman’s Bookstore on Court Street, the last feminist bookstore in Canada. As the Northern Woman Bookstore Collective so perfectly affirmed: “Margaret’s legacy is a feminist flame that can never be extinguished. She remains deep in our hearts and will continue to be our feminist touchstone and strength.”
In the early 1980’s, Margaret was part of the Northern Woman’s Journal Collective, which produced a feminist journal for Northwestern Ontario. The collective discussed the need for a feminist bookstore in the region. Activism had been developing in the region throughout the 1970s but a lack of access to feminist literature remained an issue. Margaret and Joan Baril, among others, would bring back as much feminist literature as possible from visits to the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, and then would pass these books around from woman to woman in the community, until they became dog-eared. After a long conversation with the collective about starting the bookstore, Anna McColl and Margaret took on the project of starting a store together. Over the years, the bookstore graciously hosted many book launches and readings, concerts, talks, book clubs and other events, and had in many ways been a hub for the feminist community. It also introduced a whole new generation of budding activists to feminist literature. Until her passing in 2015, Margaret continued to run the store with the help of a dedicated collective of volunteers.
Margaret first became involved in the feminist community in Thunder Bay in 1972 when she was working as the director of the Social Planning Council. A group of young women working with the Women’s Drop-in Centre asked if she would be interested in helping them organize a women’s conference in Thunder Bay. After six months of planning, the Northern Women’s Conference was held in 1973. The organizing committee hoped for 150 participants, but they ended up with 600! Out of that conference grew a number of feminist initiatives in the community, including the Northern Woman Journal, and the Northwestern Ontario Women’s Centre. […]
Margaret felt that of all the issues facing Northwestern Ontario feminists and other activists today, the most pressing is the racism that is still so prevalent in our communities. She considered the other crucial issues facing feminists to be the same as they were 40 years ago: the need to end violence against women and the need to gain economic security for women.
Asked to give a piece of advice to young feminists, Margaret urged: “develop your analysis, learn your history and always keep reading.” She emphasized the importance of continuing to analyze the broader issues behind social problems such as violence, even while dealing with the practical urgencies of those problems on the ground. As she crucially reminded us: “radical means from the roots and we have to go back to the roots of a problem to really make change.”
Wolframe, PhebeAnn. (2016). Margaret Phillips. In Gilbert, L., Leggatt, J., & O’Reilly, G. (Eds.) 40 fabulous feminists & amazing activists of Northwestern Ontario (pp. 72-73). Northwestern Ontario Women’s Centre.
As the Northern Woman Bookstore Collective so perfectly affirmed:“Margaret’s legacy is a feminist flame that can never be extinguished. She remains deep in our hearts and will continue to be our feminist touchstone and strength.”