Dorothea Deans: “Women’s Editor”

Group of Women at Bognor Hall. Date Unknown. Courtesy of The Grey Roots Archival Collection

We digress in this blog to shine a light on the woman who wrote the biography of  Christopher Alexander Fleming of Owen Sound, Ontario.  C.A. was a much loved and distinguished educator, auditor, and publisher in Grey and Bruce Counties.  After he died in April 1945, the Fleming family engaged Dorothea Deans to memorialize C.A.’s life and character. Dorothea, the women’s editor for the Sun Times in Owen Sound for over 20 years, was a perfect choice: She wrote well – her prose was warm, clear, and concise;  she had known C.A. thorough her work; and she had lived in that port city most of her life.

Family members would have provided Dorothea C.A.’s writings and correspondence, along with papers he and his cousin Roy Fleming had collected on family history. She must have interviewed many family members and business colleagues, and she could research many of his accomplishments in the newspapers.  In the first paragraph of the foreword, she laid out the scope of the work and nature of her subject carefully and reverentially.

This sketch of the life of Christopher Alexander Fleming is in no way an attempt at an interpretation of a man and his period. He is too close in time for that and too dear to family and friends to need translation. Rather, it is a record of facts about his hereditary background, his youth, and his long, productive years, gathered together like the photographs of an album, the acts of a play, the blueprints of a building. Somewhere, within the facts and the intangible things they imply, love and beauty, work and sacrifice, truth and aspiration, is the immortal personality. [1]

Dorothea was born in Munising, Michigan, 30 October 1903. Her parents, Halbert Glendinning Deans and Jean (Wyllie), had been born in Ontario to Scottish Immigrants.  When they married in Sault Ste Marie, Mi, in 1898, Jean was working as a domestic and Halbert as a clerk. For about five years, they lived in the village of Munising, on the south shore of Lake Superior, where their first daughter, Lillian, was born in 1899. Jean was from Owen Sound,  and Munising had several citizens from that town. William Wyllie, Jean’s older brother, lived with his family on the same street as Jean and was the local butcher. Halbert worked for McDougall Mercantile Co, a department store established by Donald  McDougall, formerly of Owen Sound. [2] After Halbert died in 1904, Jean returned to Owen Sound with the two girls.  In the past, she had worked as the bookkeeper in the Wyllie Brothers’ butcher business.  Now, to support her family, she took in boarders at her house at 549 8th Street East.

Dorothea’s friend Marion Fields, who also worked briefly for the Sun Times, thought that Dorothea started as the editor of the page “Mostly For Women” in 1923.[3] Marion was three years younger and also hoped to write a column, but, as she noted in her memoir, “Dorothea was doing an excellent job, and there wasn’t room for another female writer.”[4] Thanks to Dorothea’s match-making  introduction, Marion later married Dorothea’s cousin Victor Fleming, a farmer in Derby Township and son of C.A.’s cousin, Mary (Fleming) Wyllie.

Women in the 1920s were still rare in newspaper offices.  It wasn’t until 1917 that women in Ontario could vote. But, while there was resistance to having female reporters, advertisers recognized that women had spending power and read newspapers.  Quickly newspaper publishers added a women’s page with recipes, notions, news of social events, poetry and other items deemed to be of interest to women.  Howard, C.A.’s son and publisher, introduced the Daily Sun Times in 1922. It must have been quite the coup for Dorothea to take charge of the woman’s page the following year. In Vernon’s City Directories, Dorothea described herself as either “society editor” (1928) or “society editress.” (1932)

In 1923 Dorothea was twenty years old. Two years before, according to the 1921 Canada Census, she was a student living at home with her mother. Certainly, she attended the Owen Sound Collegiate and Vocational Institute.[5] It is probable that, like many other young people in Owen Sound, she also studied at the Northern Business College, a commercial school that C.A. had founded in Owen Sound. She might have become involved in the school’s Literary Society and, in her courses come to know  C.A., who would have recognized her talents.   

Paul White, a historian in Owen Sound, was quoted as admiring of Dorothea’s columns – “Her column was incredibly informative about what was going on in the Owen Sound area. She was really ahead of herself with her writing because it was still a man’s world.” [6]

Eighteen of her sketches were collected in Petals in Passing, a paper-bound book published in 1929 by Fleming Publishing. A reviewer in the Globe and Mail observed that “each sketch was written in the midst of a day filled with the routine of a daily paper, but each shows her constant awareness to the needs of her fellowmen and to the moods and beauty of nature.” [7]

Dorothea was said to be an active member of the Canadian Women’s Press Club that had been formed in 1904. Starting in 1910, they held their meetings every three years – and very likely, Dorothea attended a few during her twenty-year career.  Membership in the 1920s was about 300 – another indication that this was still a difficult field for women.[8]

After her mother died in February 1945 and before 1951, Dorothea left Owen Sound to live in Hazel Park near Detroit. Her sister Lillian had moved to Detroit before 1940 with her two children.  In 1953 Dorothea may have been working as a journalist at the Metropolitan YMCA  – according to the Royal Oak, Michigan City Directory. We know from a small snippet in Modern Mexico 1948 that her journalism took her to Mexico because she wrote “Not by Bread Alone – Dolls of Puebla” – “Two vignettes of Mexican life as told by a North American who loves the Southland.” [9]

Beyond that, there are very few traces of Dorothea – a couple of letters to editors in Detroit newspapers – one a humorous piece about how cats watch television.

Dorothea died on 28 March 1998. It was likely her friend Marion who brought her death to the attention of the Owen Sound Sun Times.


REFERENCES

1. Deans, Dorothea. C.A. Fleming: A Biography. Owen Sound, 1953, p.7

2. Sawyer, Alvah L. A History Of The Northern Peninsula Of Michigan  And Its People Its Mining, Lumber, and Agricultural Industries. (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1911) –  entry for Donald W. McDougall. (https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/micounty/BAC9274.0003.001)

3. Former women’s editor dies at 94: [final edition]. (1998, Apr 27). Sun Times

4. Wyllie, Marion Fields, My Nine Lives (Owen Sound: The Ginger Press, 2006) p.84

5. There is a note in her obituary that Dorothea attended Ryerson School. If she did it would not have been until 1948 at the earliest when the Ryerson Institute of Technology was created, or 1950 when a rudimentary School of Journalism was formed. Her name does not appear in Might’s City of Toronto Directories 1948 to 1951.

6. Former women’s editor dies at 94: [final edition]. (1998, Apr 27). Sun Times

7. News of women’s organizations. (1929, Dec 16). The Globe (1844-1936) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/docview/1354781157?accountid=14369

8. James, Donna and Moira Dann. “Canadian Women’s Press Club”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 01 March 2016, Historica Canada. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-womens-press-club. Accessed 07 October 2020.

9. Modern Mexico Vols 21-22  Google Books – https://books.google.ca/books?id=_9YcAQAAMAAJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s