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Topic: The Women of Aspenland
Article: Geraldine (Broadribb) Bailey
Date Posted: November 27/2007
Main District: Wetaskiwin
Decades: 1920's to 2000's
Geraldine was born on October 11, 1922 at Innisfail, Alberta. Her mother's parents were Metis from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. Her father was an Alberta Provincial Policeman, Sgt. Frederick Broadribb. He was an inspiration and a major force in her young life. Motivated by his support and encouragement, she would endeavor to see injustices made right and to help those who needed a voice. Geraldine was the middle child and her older sister, Lillian passed away in 2006 at the age of 95. Her younger brother Douglas, now in his eighties, farms with his family in northern Alberta.
Because Geraldine often accompanied her father in his duties, she witnessed injuries perpetrated on women and children. Some of her childhood recollections were seeing the effects of women being abused with no protection from the law. In her travels she learned of grim cases of abuse and neglect. Though some of these cases were prosecuted, none resulted in convictions. Even at her young age, Geraldine sensed how defenseless some people were. Her early memories established the desire in later life to improve the status and plight of the oppressed, usually women and children. Throughout her adult life she has been their champion.
At the age of 5, in 1927 Geraldine was present with her dad, during the dedication of the Peace Cairn near Wetaskiwin. In the picture of the Cairn being dedicated Geraldine is the little girl standing front row right with the Samson Chief's hand on her shoulder. She recounts the story that the chief is really holding her back from running to her father's rescue.
After graduating from High School in Vegreville, where her father's police service had taken the family, Geraldine joined the armed forces at the age of 19. During the Second World War, she served in Canada and overseas with the Women's Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force. She was sent overseas on the HMS Mauritania and spent a year and a half in England living in a Nisson hut. Although she enjoyed the three years she spent in the Air Force, Geraldine saw firsthand that the experiences of female service personnel were not always positive. Because of these experiences she was among the first to draw attention to the problem of sexual harassment within the armed forces.
In May 1944, while serving in England, Geraldine met and married Ian Robbie, a Canadian serviceman. She was widowed in August of the same year when her husband was killed. Because she was expecting a baby, she received a discharge from the Air Force. She returned to her parents' home in Edmonton. Her daughter Bonnie was born in April, 1945. Through the help of her supportive and loving parents, Geraldine was able to cope with being a single parent.
As a Veteran, Geraldine co-founded one of the first Royal Canadian Legion women's branches, Branch 215 in Edmonton. As Welfare Officer for the Branch she counseled and assisted many female veterans. She was instrumental in finding homes for ex-servicemen's children and in helping unmarried pregnant service personnel find homes and jobs. In that era, a single, pregnant veteran was hidden away, disgraced and faced with a lack of community support and few options. Geraldine's vision and willingness to work for change, made a real difference.
Under an agreement with the Canadian Government, Veterans of the Second World War were entitled to free post-secondary education. Before enlisting, Geraldine had decided to pursue a career as a doctor. Disallowed from entering medicine because she was female, Geraldine opted to enroll in Home Economics at the University of Alberta in 1946.
In 1947, she married Charles Bailey, an ex-serviceman who had served overseas in Britain and Normandy. Charles graduated from University with a teaching degree in 1949. The Bailey family moved back to Wetaskiwin the same year and remained there for the next 5 years. During this time, the family increased by two, with their son Chuck born in 1950 and daughter Amanda born in 1951. Besides being a busy wife and mother of three young children, she was president of the Wetaskiwin Skating Club and managed to obtain a professional instructor, the first one to ever come to Wetaskiwin. The club was organized to give girls a chance for recreation.
Geraldine became a volunteer water safety instructor for the Canadian Red Cross Association. Beginning in 1951 she organized and ran Red Cross Swimming Programs and did so for many years. She encouraged young women to enter the then male-dominated field of life guarding and pool supervision. She was instrumental in setting up year-round programs for the physically disabled, the mentally ill, and the elderly. The summer camp programs she organized touched the lives of many people, among them the disadvantaged and handicapped. In addition, she was a Red Cross canvasser for many years.
Upon leaving Wetaskiwin in 1954, the family returned to Edmonton where Geraldine continued going to school when time permitted. In 1959 she obtained her teaching certificate from the University of Alberta. By 1961 she had graduated with a degree in Home Economics. After that she taught Home Economics and Special Education. She started a Special Education Curriculum and taught Special Ed at the High School level. This was work that she found very challenging and most interesting. Soon after, Geraldine was employed as a guidance counselor with the Department of Indian Affairs. She supervised the evening study periods of female students at the Residential School in St. Albert and became an advocate for the native students. Her hard work led to immense changes being made at the school.
In later years when her children were young, Geraldine's family experienced lean times. In order to stay within the family budget, she found it necessary to make over her and Charles' military uniforms into clothing for the children. With her background in Home Economics, she was skilled with a needle and managed to sew up some sturdy garments for the cold winter months.
The 60's were busy, productive years for Geraldine. From 1961 to 1965 she organized volunteers for the Canadian Mental Health Association in Edmonton. She joined with others in successfully lobbying the government to have the wards at Oliver Mental Hospital open to visitors. Geraldine devoted special attention to the "women's only" ward and encouraged patients to take part in activities such as swimming, dancing and attending summer camps. Until that time, these privileges had been unavailable to mental patients.
As head of a Curriculum Committee to develop pre-employment programs for young girls, she taught relevant home skills and prepared her students for the work force. As a teacher of teenage girls, Geraldine discerned that their learning difficulties were largely due to environment and life circumstances. She made it her mission to develop a curriculum to provide them with basic skills, vocational training and self-esteem. Geraldine was a fore-runner in researching the relationship between self-esteem and achievement. From 1969 to 1971 she attended the University of Alberta's education faculty as a graduate student. Her field of study offered valuable guidance to women undergoing major life changes. Although busy with her studies, she found time to be volunteer faculty consultant for female student teachers. Her particular focus was on helping women students from the Third World adjust to a new culture.
As a teacher with the public system she has been active and effective in providing accurate, pertinent and realistic instruction to young people, especially girls, in life skills, sexuality and career choices. During this time, she introduced several changes: she was the first to include boys in the program; and she began teaching family planning classes. Later, working as a Home Economics instructor, Geraldine pioneered the admittance of boys into Home Economics classes. In a pilot project, native and disadvantaged students were taught to develop home and survival skills. Boys were taught fathering and life skills. However, it was the noon hour discussions with her students that convinced Geraldine to seek more training in answering questions about sexuality. This prompted her to enter into family studies and in 1974 she earned a Master's of Education Degree in Family Studies.
In the 1970's she joined the newly formed Alberta Status of Women Action Committee. In 1988 she was honoured by the organization when she was made a life member. In the past she has been a regional representative for ASWAC and worked with other women's groups such as the Women's Institute of Alberta, on a wide array of issues. For example, she arranged public hearings to bring to light the plight of impoverished women and their children. She has been instrumental in coordinating rallies and lobbying campaigns on social issues like the right to reproductive choice for women and human rights for lesbians and gay men. Geraldine was a pioneer in identifying the need to encourage older women to become involved in women's issues. As part of ASWAC she has been involving rural women in feminist issues. Her efforts resulted in the founding of the Vintage Feminists, a social action group for the older woman. Throughout this period Geraldine was active in Federal elections on behalf of women's issues, in particular abortions and free choice.
Following the drowning deaths of several children in Pigeon Lake in 1973, Geraldine saw the need to teach children how to swim in a lake as opposed to a swimming pool. Geraldine herself had learned to be comfortable in the water at an early age when her father taught her to swim in Pigeon Lake. Having been a swimmer most of her life, she co-founded a program through the Canadian Red Cross that offered swimming instruction and water safety in a lake environment. The success of the program was tremendous with about 30 kids a year receiving training. The program continued for many years and drastically reduced the number of drowning deaths in the Lake.
The year 1975 saw the family again returning to live in the Wetaskiwin area. Charles began building the home of their dreams west of Wetaskiwin. Any thoughts of an early retirement were quickly banished when she began working for the Wetoka Health Unit in 1976 as a Family Life educator. She pioneered family life and sexuality education in Alberta having recognized the need many years before. With the provincial government, she developed programs to instruct students in a variety of grades about family life and sexuality. Additionally, she conducted evening seminars for community women's groups. Seminars and workshops for staff from schools, hospitals, nursing homes and health units throughout Alberta benefited from Geraldine's caring and commitment. Her willingness to travel to outlying areas, often in the dark of night, despite the criticism of community groups, church leaders and individuals at large -- these are all testament to Geraldine's determination and dedication to creating positive changes in the community.
Ever willing to direct her seemingly endless energy to filling a need, in 1981 Geraldine began volunteering to teach English, nutrition and family planning to women in Third World countries. It was at this time that she and husband Charles had begun to spend their winters in Asia. Since then she has been deeply involved in raising funds and working with several provincial and federal organizations (including Change for Children in Edmonton and CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency). With their help, she has organized several health projects for women in the Philippines. Gabriella, the National Coalition of Philippine Women, has made Geraldine an associate member of its Commission on Women's Health and Reproductive Rights. In 1988 she raised $5,000 and obtained another $15,000 in matching grants to fund a health clinic in the slums of Manila. As part of the program, volunteer doctors trained individuals from the community to be health workers capable of teaching hygiene, family planning and nutrition to area women and their families. She has networked extensively in third world countries, raising consciousness in Hong Kong, India as well as the Phillipines to help women out of slave mentality and to provide empowerment through knowledge. Geraldine is an Honourary member of the Asian Women's Human Rights Council.
Geraldine notes that "Canadians are extremely generous but you have to ask, you have to point out the need. We always carry the maximum, whether we're going to Brazil, Nicaragua or the Philippines, of clothing, toys and sewing machines and material". At one point she had 5 sewing machines delivered to her home from people in Wetaskiwin. The sewing machines were used for a project in Cuba. Another donation was 500 pounds of material for sewing. Geraldine and Charles took the fabric to Brazil for a project.
In 1989, Geraldine raised another $20,000 to fund a maternity centre in a rural area outside Manila, where she also held family planning classes. Much of the money raised by Geraldine is used to teach people how to help themselves and others through education and information.
Because of her high level of responsibility and leadership toward advancing the status of women, in 1990, Geraldine was honoured with the prestigious Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Person's Case. The Person's Award recognizes outstanding contributions toward improving the status of women in Canada. Geraldine was able to identify needs for change and find exceptional solutions. She is a leader of great stature in the Women's Movement.
Today, Geraldine and her husband Charles, continue to spend their winters in Asia. A swimmer for most of her life, Geraldine still teaches the sport in Malaysia during the winter. Committed, compassionate, determined ------------these are some of the attributes that make up this strong and incredibly caring lady. Her contribution to the community of Wetaskiwin and area, as well as the tremendous volunteer work she has done in Third World countries clearly show that she is a dynamic, passionate individual who has improved conditions no matter where she is in the world.
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