Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Wardhaugh, Robert

2nd Supervisor

Fleming, Keith


3rd Supervisor

Halpern, Monda


In 1875, Mary Townsend founded the Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) to reinforce in young girls the qualities of self-control, purity, and their responsibility to become dutiful mothers and wives. By the 1920s, the Society had established itself across the British Empire and promoted imperial unity through emigration, social service, and missionary work. In white, self-governing dominions like Canada, the organization played a pivotal role in shaping young girls through social purity campaigns and educating members about their imperial responsibilities. In the face of rapid social change, the GFS represented a conservative counterattack to shifting definitions of morality, femininity, and womanhood during the interwar period. As an Anglican-affiliate, the organization was linked through a transimperial network of local diocesan branches and members. The spread of a social imperial ideology placed girlhood and motherhood at the centre of maintaining Anglo-Saxon cultural hegemony. An examination of the Girls’ Friendly Society in Canada reveals how nation-building and empire are informed by ideas of gender, race, age, sexuality, religion, and class.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis examines the Girls’ Friendly Society during the 1920s. The organization highlights the relationship between Canada and the British Empire, which was shaped by ideas about gender, race, age, sexuality, religion, and class.