Research Notes/Notes de Recherche

Applying a Gender Lens to Vocabularies of Identity in French- and English-Language Newspapers in New Brunswick and Acadie, 1880–1900

Nicole Boudreau
University of Maine
Chantal Richard
University of New Brunswick
Nicole Boudreau est professeure de français et doyenne par intérim du Secteur des arts et des sciences et des études professionnelles à l’Université du Maine à Fort Kent. Ses champs de recherche comprennent la littérature acadienne et les études de genre. Elle travaille présentement à la rédaction d’un recueil d’essais dont la parution est prévue en 2021 (Nimbus Publishing).
Chantal Richard est professeure au Département de français de l’Université du Nouveau-Brunswick. S’intéressant principalement à l’histoire, à la littérature et à l’identité acadiennes, elle a publié trois livres et 25 articles et été conservatrice responsable d’une exposition interactive sur les Acadiens de Pointe Sainte-Anne, présentée au Musée de la région de Fredericton.
Nicole Boudreau is a professor of French and interim dean of Arts & Sciences and Professional Studies at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Her research interests include Acadian literature and gender studies, and she is currently writing a collection of essays to be released in 2021 (Nimbus Publishing).
Chantal Richard is a professor in the Department of French at the University of New Brunswick. Focusing on Acadian history, literature, and identity, she has published three books and 25 articles and curated an interactive exhibit on the Acadians of Pointe Sainte-Anne at the Fredericton Region Museum.

1 Combining quantitative and qualitative approaches, Vocabularies of Identity / Vocabulaires identitaires1 is an interuniversity and multidisciplinary project that includes a database of articles compiled from New Brunswick and Acadie newspapers between 1880 and 1900. During this period, newspapers were important vehicles for communication and the construction of collective identities for both linguistic communities. “Collective identity” is defined in this project as a set of common values, a common sense of the past, and common goals for the future shared by a group of individuals. That identity is shaped and disseminated by using a specific lexicon, with the purpose of ensuring cohesion within the group and of reinforcing individual commitment to this collective identity. We know that today, more than ever, words are important; therefore, we will examine this lexicon closely to understand the associative and connotative meanings of the vocabulary used to define the identity of Acadians and the descendants of Loyalists. The advantage of using text analysis software such as the program Hyperbase2 for measuring word frequencies, co-occurrences, word associations, and semantic clusters is that it yields patterns of language that may not be readily visible to the reader when faced with large quantities of text, such as the content of this database.

2 New Brunswick in particular provides a unique window on the coalescing of these identities, starting in the 1880s and continuing well into the 20th century. At this time, the descendants of Loyalists in New Brunswick (and those who identified with Loyalists) as well as Acadians (most, though not all of them, descendants of French settlers living in the Maritimes before 1755) were marking important anniversaries. The ancestors of both groups had experienced a large-scale upheaval in the second half of the 18th century and, by the 1880s, their descendants were in a position either to celebrate their accomplishments – as was the case for the descendants of Loyalists – or to begin organizing themselves to choose national symbols – as was the case for those of Acadian descent. While these two social groups had distinct histories, leading to each having a very different place in New Brunswick society at the end of the 19th century, a comparison of the two, living on the same territory at the same time, provides a valuable and original perspective on their similarities, and perhaps more importantly, their differences. Since both groups were publishing newspapers in New Brunswick in particular at this time, the printed press provides a unique window into the efforts made to promote specific values and ideologies within their respective newspapers. That said, we recognize that these may not be representative of all points of view within each group.

Method for this study

3 One of the perspectives that is often underrepresented is that of women within nationalist movements in the late 19th century. Beginning in the 1960s feminist scholars noted that women were absent from most research analysis, even in areas where we might expect to find them such as family studies, history, and medicine.3 And asking the question “Where are the women?” almost always yields interesting and valuable results in any research project. In 1985 the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada published Margrit Eichler’s On the Treatment of the Sexes in Research to assist scholars in applying a gender lens to their work.4 Since then, there is no excuse for not including gender along with other categories of social analysis such as class, ethnicity, and region to ensure better research and policy outcomes.

4 Applying a gender lens to our project has yielded fascinating results. While men were at the forefront of efforts to reimagine Acadian and Loyalist identities in New Brunswick and Acadie more broadly in the late 19th century – indeed, it can be argued that the articulation of these identities was part of a renewed effort to sustain patriarchy in both the public and private spheres – women were also actively involved in identity formation, and not always behind the scenes.5 Moreover, what interests us in this research note is the extent to which gender values were embedded in both English and French vocabularies used to reshape identities during this transformative period.

5 The corpus for our study consists of 1,515 articles extracted from the Vocabularies of Identity / Vocabulaires identitaires database ( This database currently holds 558 English-language and 957 French-language articles published in New Brunswick and Acadie newspapers between 1880 and 1900 that focus on Loyalists or Acadians. The quantitative data was then produced by searching for keywords that designate women and men in social and gender roles. Specifically, in the English-language articles, we searched for the words woman/women, girl/s, wife/wives, mother/s, lady/ladies as well as their counterparts man/men, husband/s, boy/s, father/s, gentleman/ gentlemen. The search words in the French-language articles were Mère/mères, Fille/filles, Femme/femmes, Épouse/épouse, Institutrice/institutrices and the male counterparts Père/pères, garçon/garçons, fils, homme/hommes, Époux/ mari, instituteur/instituteurs. While the generic “teacher” in English did not allow for a gendered search, the addition of the gendered “instituteur” and especially “institutrice” in the French-language texts merits examination as we will demonstrate in the quantitative analysis below.

6 The French-language newspapers include Le Courrier des provinces maritimes, L’Évangéline, the Moniteur acadien, and L’Impartial, while the English-language papers include the Daily Telegraph, the Moncton Daily Times, the Moncton Transcript, the Saint John Daily Sun, the York Gleaner, the Saint John Star, the Saint John New Freeman, the Saint John Globe, the Daily Evening News, and the Chignecto Post, as well as the Loyalists’ Centennial Souvenir Book (1887). It is worth noting that while the number of Englishlanguage newspapers in existence is far greater, the French-language papers were much more focused on Acadian identity than English-language papers were focused on Loyalist identity, which accounts for the disproportionate number of French-language articles included in the database.6 We would also like to note that L’Évangéline was published in Nova Scotia until 1905 and L’Impartial was published in Prince Edward Island. We nonetheless made the decision to include them in this study since there were no other significant French-language newspapers published in Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island at this time or well into the 20th century (which is beyond the period examined by our study). Moreover, these two newspapers are far too important to exclude. L’Impartial was truly the voice of Acadians living on the island and had a particular interest in education in French, and L’Évangéline remains the longest-lived French-language publication in the Maritimes.7

Qualitative findings

7 This research note focuses on what the Vocabularies of Identity / Vocabulaires identitaires database reveals about the vocabularies of Acadian and Loyalist identities but, before proceeding, we will briefly summarize what we found when we asked the simple question “Where are the women?”

Acadian and Loyalist families/genealogies

8 Pedigree mattered to identity-seeking New Brunswickers. As a result, family stories figure prominently in newspaper articles – in accounts, for example, of Acadian life both before and after the Deportation and in accounts of the Loyalist migration (such as the story of Jean Laramondelle and his daughter Marie from the Fort Beausejour area8 or Benedict Arnold and his wife Peggy Shippen9). Issues involving which families are profiled and the values they represent warrant further examination, but these are beyond the scope of the present study. One contemporary commentator even went so far as to link the two diasporic tragedies, suggesting that the “barbarous Winslows”10 who were implicated in the Acadian Deportation at Grand Pré then experienced their own diaspora a generation later during the American Revolution.

Reports on the work of civil society organizations

9 The late 19th century was a high point in the women’s club movement in New Brunswick. Anglophone women, in particular, were acknowledged as willing workers, sometimes as donors and fundraisers and, more often, as members of the audience for public events. They occasionally wrote letters to the editor. J.W. Lawrence, president of the Loyalist Society, which was based in Saint John, even published an account focused specifically on “The Ladies of New Brunswick and the Centennial Celebrations, 1883.” In a talk given the previous year, Lawrence had noted that “Loyalty was not alone with the fathers and sons of the Revolution; there were mothers and maidens, with husbands and brothers, faithful to the Crown.” His focus was on the Loyalist elite, including “Mrs. Inglis, the wife of the last rector of New York, the first Bishop of the Church of England in the colonies,” and “Mrs. Robinson, whose husband was appointed to a seat in the first Council of New Brunswick, and whose two sons, Beverly and John, subsequently were members, with her sister Mrs. Morris.”11

Histories of Loyalists and Acadians

10 In drawing upon the past to establish identity, women often became the focus of historical narratives that were popular in New Brunswick newspapers at this time. These women included, for example, the heroic story of Françoise-Marie Jacquelin, wife of Charles de la Tour, who died after leading an unsuccessful attempt to defend her husband’s fort at the mouth of the St John River in 1645,12 and the reflections by Marguerite Landry d’Entremont in Pubnico after the Deportation.13 In 1882 J.W. Lawrence commented on the progress made in Loyalist women’s domestic life since their arrival a century before, giving us a unique insight on what was defined as progress in this period:

In those days there were no bridal presents, wedding breakfast, or bridal tours, the latter largely the creation of the steamboat and railroad. The young housekeeper of olden times had no cooking stoves, self feeders, gas meter, water faucits, lucifer matches, sewing machines, no Harpers’ Bazaar, Godey’s Ladies Book, illustrated papers . . ., [or] Mechanics’ Institute, with its lectures (“Who giveth this Woman?” Art decoration, etc., etc.,) reading room, library and museum, Skating Rink, School of Cookery. The only variation from the daily work was the quilting parties, with and occasional gathering in the Old Coffee House, some going in their Sedan chair.14

Beyond the prescriptive roles determined by the patriarchy, gendered social roles are also evident within the literary works of this time – many of which were published in various forms in the newspapers.

The role of fiction

11 Many newspapers published poetry, short stories, and serialized novels where women figure prominently in the cautionary tales and romances that appealed especially to a female readership (for example, those of Charles G.D. Roberts).15 Longfellow’s Évangéline16 is the best example, of course, and is the name given to a prominent Acadian newspaper. Another example is Jacques et Marie: Souvenir d’un peuple dispersé by Napoléon Bourassa, which was published in 28 installments in L’Évangéline from May 1888 to April 1889. No Maritime female poets and novelists have been found in our database, but newspapers published stories by two prominent female authors from the United States. Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885, pen name H.H.), born Helen Fiske, was an American poet and writer who became an activist on behalf of improved treatment of Indigenous Americans by the United States government. Her work was published in the Chignecto Post in June 1886. Lizzy W. Champney (Elizabeth Williams Champney, 1850-1922) was a graduate of the Vassar class of 1869 who gained fame for her “Three Vassar Girls” novels. Her work was published in the Saint John Daily Sun in March 1881.

The British monarchy

12 In English-language newspapers, we find numerous references to Queen Victoria and her daughter Princess Louise, wife of the Marquess of Lorne, Governor General of Canada (1878-1883). But the notion of loyalty to the British Empire figures in the emerging identities of both linguistic groups. Note this statement in the inaugural issue of L’Évangéline, defining the newspaper’s mission:

The first aim then of this journal, which to-day salutes both its English and French confrères for the first time, is to weld together into one harmonious whole, by enabling each better to understand and appreciate the other, our two constituent elements of English and French-speaking peoples. This paper will ever strive, through the medium of its columns, to still further increase and strengthen the bonds, which unite the descendants of the old French Colonists to the great Empire, under whose Flag we all live. Confident in the strength and thoroughness of their loyalty to English Institutions and England’s Ruler, our Acadian people wish to march along the road to progress, hand in hand with their Saxon and Irish brethren, ever striving for still greater advancement – intellectual and moral.We shall ever strive to put our shoulder to the wheel of the chariot of National Progress and Enterprise, that the object of our lives may be realized – the fusion of the Acadian Race into one harmonious whole – having of course the same Holy Catholic Religion, but also, having only one tongue in the Church, the School and the fireside and that one – “la belle langue Française!”17

Indeed, religion was very important for both Protestants and Roman Catholics for framing identities. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned frequently in francophone papers as a source of inspiration; women’s role in supporting church improvement projects (especially Anglican) is underscored in anglophone newspapers.

Gender issues

13 What is commonly referred to at this time as the “women’s movement” was getting underway during this period, but it is rarely addressed in the newspapers we examined except obliquely. Take, for example, this report in the Chignecto Post:

It must not be supposed that “General Muster” day was not a respectable gathering of the people. It had the patronage of all classes and creeds. Especially were the most exemplary women approvers, and honored the occasion with their presence. I say women – for in these days of showy lady cooks, and lady waiting maids &c., one involuntarily falls back upon the time-honored, lovable name of women, that name by which most of our mothers loved best to be called.The stiff steel-cased ladies of these times may look better to some eyes, than the lithe, supple, free-stepping women that Omnipotence thought were finished when they came from his hands, but it must be an acquired taste. Our good queen Victoria thinks so.18

The Marichette phenomenon

14 A major exception to the generalization that gender issues are ignored is the example of Marichette, author of 13 letters on Acadian issues and women’s rights published in L’Évangéline between 1895 and 1898. The character of Marichette stands out as exceptional against the background of the printed press of this era and as such, is deserving of her own sub-category. Between 1895 and 1898, a schoolteacher named Emilie C. LeBlanc wrote 13 letters to the editor of the newspaper L’Évangéline under the pen name “Marichette.”19 These letters are noteworthy in both content and form. In terms of content, Marichette is an outspoken early feminist who writes to campaign for women’s rights at a time when they did not have many. Significantly, Marichette chose to draft her missives in the Acadian French spoken in Clare, Nova Scotia (where she lived), though as a teacher she would have been very proficient in the standard French favoured by the Acadian elite. This choice suggests she wanted to be the voice of the people – specifically, Acadian women who did not always have access to education at this time.

15 In her letter published 14 February 1895, for instance, Marichette advocates for women’s voting rights, which she jokingly refers to as “le souffrage” rather than “le suffrage” – a play on the word “souffrir” (to suffer). She goes on to expresses her contempt for her husband Pite, and for men in general, whom she considers to be drunks whose votes are easily bought with whiskey.20 In her letter published 18 March 1897, she argues that God gave women more sense than men: “Quanc qu’il a fait la femme il a trouvé Adam, le boss de tous les hommes, endormi un beau jour, le ventre au soleil, trop paresseux pour travailler dans son jardin, on y a arraché la cervelle et pris le meilleur stuff de dedans et on a fait la femme qui a sauvé les hoummes du naufrage.”21 She also points out the many struggles and inequities faced by the working women of her time, explaining that in order to publish her letters in the newspaper she must hold “l’Evangéline d’une main, le dictionnaire de l’autre et le bébé sur les genoux.”22

16 Marichette’s views on language were as just as avant-garde as her feminist discourse. In a letter published 3 February 1898, reacting to criticism of her choice to write in the local vernacular, she defends “note belle langue que j’parlons dampi que j’sont sortis des bois,” pointing out that France is “full of Marichettes” and even suggesting that if the editor refuses to publish her letters she will start her own newspaper staffed exclusively by women: “J’startrons une gazette icite, à Chéticamp, parmi les creatures, et pas un houmme pourra entrer, et je busterons le Moniteur et l’Evangéline.”23 Marichette was very much ahead of her time in her arguments for the legitimization of Acadian French, an issue that is still debated today.

17 Marichette, despite her radical views on Acadian French, does agree with the Acadian elite that the French language is an important component of Acadian identity and must be maintained to ward off cultural assimilation and Americanization of Acadian young people, many of whom are moving to the US to work in factories. To this end, 82 years before Québec’s Loi 101, she proposed a language bill: “Y aurait ti pas moyen de faire passer un bill pour defendre d’enseigner l’anglais à nos enfants avant d’apprendre notre langue et prier en français?”24 Language and religion go hand in hand in Acadian nation-building, and Marichette fears that the loss of French will entail the loss of religion and will send Acadians to hell “comme les Américains.”25

18 Marichette was criticized for her radical views. In an editorial in the Moniteur acadien, titled “Le genre ‘Marichette’,” the editorialist denounced the publication of correspondence written in the style of Marichette and accused Marichette of “denigrating our language” and of writing in a “detestable” prose26; the editorial also asserted that her contribution was minor while, somewhat ironically, giving her own “genre”: “Mais serait-il [Le Moniteur] aussi aggressif si l’ennemi était négligeable?”27 She was also called a “shrew” by an Old Town (Maine) reader identified as G.M.,28 and a resident of Salmon River (Nova Scotia) called her “an old fool” for her interest in politics and her defense of women’s suffrage.29 The author behind the letters of Marichette, Emilie LeBlanc, also described various accounts of harassment she had suffered because of her writing: a man swore at her for reporting on a bull race,30 people abused and insulted her daily,31 and every night a crowd of young men hurled insults at her through her window, calling her an old witch, to the extent that she considered moving.32

19 How is it that Emilie LeBlanc – aka Marichette – had the courage and the opportunity to publish these radical views in L’Évangéline? For one, LeBlanc was educated: she had gone to school in Memramcook (l’école des Soeurs de Memramcook) and also studied pedagogy at the Provincial Normal School in Fredericton. She had excellent French skills, as evidenced by the playful yet precise language of her letters. Further, it is thought that Emilie LeBlanc was involved romantically with Valentin Landry, the editor of L’Évangélin,33 which would have been another factor contributing to her agency in expressing her progressive opinions. The persona of Marichette and her reputation persist even today where, in Acadian circles, to be called “une Marichette” is to be qualified as outspoken and rebellious.

Quantitative analysis: gender and language

20 Although it is more obvious in the French language given the presence of grammatical gender in nouns and adjectives, gender is deeply embedded in both French and English. Gender identities are reflected in the feminine/ masculine adjectives and nouns: brave men, long-suffering women, motherland/fatherland. Note, for example, this wonderfully mixed gender message from England’s Great Day Observed by the Local St. George Society:

ITS PRINCIPLES ARE EVER THE SAME. One of the objects of our society is to arouse and perpetuate within our breasts, a warm affection for our father land. The mother of nations has sent forth, as she still sends forth, her sons to the four corners of the wide world! But, by an Englishman, wherever he may go, and while life lasts, the little Isle encircled by the silver sea is distinguished by the sacred name of Home.34

This manages to evoke maternal affection and paternal duty all at once.

Word frequencies and word associations in English-language papers

21 To examine more closely the lexicon associated with men and women, we turned to word frequencies and then word associations in the articles in both languages. The most frequent words designating women in the English- and French-language articles are represented in the two tables and two figures below.

22 The most common word designating women in the English-language newspapers is “mother/mothers” (179 occurrences, which also include “mother land,” “mother tongue,” etc.), followed closely by the keywords “woman/ women” (163), “ladies/lady” (170), and “wives/wife” (149) while “girl/girls” is less present in the database – certainly in comparison with “boy/boys,” which occur more than twice as often. In comparison, “man” and “men” occurred 1,545 times or nearly ten times more frequently than “woman/women.” “Father/fathers,” similarly, are two-and-a-half times more frequent than “mother/mothers,” and while the Loyalist “lady/ladies” are very present in this corpus, they are beat out by “gentleman/gentlemen” (which occur 1.4 times more often). “Husband/ husbands, on the other hand,” are nowhere near as frequent as “wife/wives,” which occur three times more often than their male counterparts. This suggests the speakers and journalists were specifically interested in defining the roles of married women, whereas very little attention was given to the role of married men.

Table 1 – A Comparison of Gendered Words in English-language Papers35
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23 The comparison of key words associated with “man/men” and “woman/ women” in the English-language newspapers reveal that while men tended to be associated with religion (keywords “Catholic,” “protestant,” “religion,” “God,” and “religious”) and ethnic or political identity (“Irish,” “party,” “orange,” “leaders,” and “native”), the singular “woman” tends to be defined in terms of wife and mother as represented by associated words such as “man,” “unmarried,” “breast,” “stoves,” “kiss,” “cooking,” or “child” as in the following excerpt: “It is interesting from the fact that it contains some of the blue-laws of Connecticut, one of which is no woman shall kiss her child on the Sabbath day.”36

24 However, when used in the plural – “women” – the discourse shifts to warfare, as “children,” “men,” and “killing” top the list of co-occurring words followed by references to specific “battles,” place-names, and an insistence on the brutality of war (“bitterly,” “thousands,” “defended,” “surrounding,” “perish,” “souls,” “burning,” “war,” “artillery,” etc.) as in this example from the Daily Telegraph: “The winter was one of the great severity; many died, especially women and children”37 and another from the Saint John New Freeman: “The settlement at St. Anne’s was ruthlessly destroyed by a party of New England Rangers under Lieutenant Moses Hazen. Their conduct was disapproved by General Amherst, who strongly reprobated the killing of women and helpless children.”38 Thus women serve as a symbol of virtue under attack, which allowed the discourse to focus on the bravery of those who defend them and who faced a cruel and heartless enemy.

25 Education emerges as a theme for both “men/man” and “woman” (though not for the plural form). Not surprisingly, we found it even more prominent in the comparison of “girl/girls” and “boy/boys.” Words common to boys and girls include “school,” “pupil,” and “recitation.” The words most frequently associated with “girl/girls” tend to be diminutive as in “young” and “little”; abstract concepts or emotions such as “happiness,” “dreams,” “kind,” and “thought” (noun and verb); related to appearances as in “flowers,” “pink,” “hats,” “admired,” and “features” (in expressions such as “attractive features,” “pleasing features,” and “best features”); in terms of special occasions such as “holiday” and “occasion”; and traditional roles as homemakers such as “household,” “wife,” and “modern” as in the following excerpt from the Chignecto Post:

The busy, jolly, innocent girls of the times would be all aglee, the holiday bonnets, and hats, and frocks, and ribbons must be put in holiday trim, their earnest prayers for a pleasant day were never forgotten; their cheerful happy faces beaming with anticipation served the swains for pleasurable emotions until the approach of another general muster day.39

26 The words most frequently associated with boys include “education,” “practical,” “work,” “training,” “compositions,” “Tennyson,” “schooling,” “teachers,” “lawyers,” “intellectual,” “college,” “mind,” “write,” “offices,” “working,” “useful,” “gentlemen,” “service,” “knowledge,” and “facts.” They also tend to include words indicative of absolute values (as opposed to abstract concepts), such as “trust,” “ideal,” “beyond,” “highest,” “sacrifice,” “always,” “true,” and “higher.” The main difference in the references to girls and to boys is the reinforcement of traditional gender roles in which girls are meant to grow up to be attractive homemakers and boys become serious, career-oriented young men. The dichotomy between abstract, affective values and concrete, absolute – one might even say heroic – ones is perhaps more insidious.

Figure 1 – Words Frequently Associated with “mother/s.”
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27 We also explored the levels of meaning for “mother/s,” which provided multilayered semantic clusters as shown in Figure 1 above; this is a factorial analysis of the words most frequently associated with “mother/s” as represented by the software program Hyperbase.40 The lines represent the relationships between the core words (“mother” and “mothers”) and the words that most frequently occur within the same paragraph. Red lines indicate the strongest relationship (most frequent association), blue lines show the relationships these associated words have amongst themselves, and black lines show tertiary relationships to these semantic clusters; the online version of this research note is in colour. The strength of the association is shown in the thickness of the lines.

28 Beyond the role of mothers in immediate family relationships, which are represented in words like “husbands,” “fathers,” “wives,” “daughter,” “sons,” “children,” “parents,” and their affective counterparts “love,” “loyal,” “dear,” “faithful,” and “home,” we find the terminology of nation-building. Associating national and cultural identity with maternal attachment is common in many cultures. In this logic, “mother” is associated very strongly with “country,” “tongue,” “colonies,” “land,” “England,” “language,” “root,” “nations,” “crown,” “imperial,” “federation,” and even terminology referring to Loyalist history such as “revolutionary” (war), “lost,” “sides,” “annexation,” and “revolution” as in the following example from the Daily Telegraph:

Conscious of our own national sins and failings we dare not claim that England’s blessings today are merely the reward of her desserts; yet may we offer up the beautiful prayer, long may our mother land be preserved from national infidelity, and hold fast on the God of our fathers and on that divine word which proclaims, “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”41

This language of the country as mother is not innocent, as it has strong affective connotations. While the presence of the “Loyalist Ladies” was very much in the public sphere in the printed press of this time period in New Brunswick and Acadie more broadly, their role remained a supportive one as the frequently associated words “assist” and “assistance” suggest.

Word frequencies and word associations in French-language papers

29 In the French-language articles, the keywords shown in the following table yielded the most results.

Table 2 – A Comparison of Gendered Words in French-language Papers42
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30 A similar trend is noticeable in the French-language articles, in which the keyword “mère/mères” is the most frequent designation for the female gender while “fille/filles” (daughter or girl, since this word contains both meanings) follows and is only slightly more frequent than “femme/femmes.” Since the French allows for a search of the feminine for teacher – “institutrice/ institutrice” – this yielded significant results at 134 occurrences. In comparison, the keyword “homme/hommes” occurred four times more often than “femme/ femmes.” “Père/pères” was only slightly more frequent than “mère/mères,” but “fille/filles” occurs nearly four times more often than “garcon/garçons.” However, this is likely explained by the fact that “fils” can also be an equivalent to “fille/filles” since it designates sons and is found slightly more often than the latter in our database. “Époux/mari” and “épouse/épouses” are roughly equivalent, at 53 and 45 occurrences each. However, it should be pointed out that “femme” is often used in place of “épouse” and therefore the number might be quite a bit higher.

31 A comparison of “femme/femmes” and “homme/hommes” in the French-language newspapers clearly shows the demarcation of gender roles in Acadian society at this time. The key words “femme/femmes” tend to attract words that suggest her most important role according to authors of these articles are related to family and home life, which included the demands of animal husbandry. These include, for example, “enfants,” “filles,” “baptisée,” “née,” “garçons,” “fille,” “maison,” “mères,” “maris,” “vaches,” “bêtes,” “fermière,” “mère,” “garcon,” “jeunes,” “enfant,” “famille,” “fils,” “noces,” “ménage,” “épouse,” “petits,” “marriage,” “né,” “familles,” “père,” “soeurs,” “vie,” “foyer,” “amour,” and “maisons.” Consider the following example from the Moniteur acadien: “Les femmes de l’Ile n’ont pas peur de traire les vaches.”43

32 There is also significant emphasis on women’s roles as general caretakers of the sick and the vulnerable as the following associated words suggest: “vieillards,” “soins,” “bras,” “genoux,” “sein,” “âgée,” “vieille,” “vieux,” “sauvages,” “visiteurs,” “parents,” “âge,” and “sauvage”44 as in this excerpt from L’Évangéline: “Marie tenait toujours le vieillard embrassé, quand tout à coup elle sentit qu’il pesait de tout son poids sur elle.”45

33 Beyond the day-to-day roles as the core of the family unit, women can be used on a more affective level to evoke collective memory as victims of the cruel events surrounding the Deportation of Acadians. Much like the women and children found in the English-language papers, women are often used in this way to accentuate the violence of the attacks, and by extension, the heroism of the men who defended them bravely. The following list of words is frequently associated with women in this type of discourse: “pauvre,” “vaisseaux,” “morte,” “navires,” “larmes,” “captifs,” “chagrin,” “brave,” “transportés,” “morts,” “soldats,” “malheureux,” “gloire,” “rivage,” “scènes,” “victims,” “1755,” “douleur,” “exil,” “misère,” “déportation,” and “armes.” These associations are illustrated in the following example from L’Évangéline: “Loin de chercher à adoucir le sort des déportés en réunissant les familles sur le même vaisseau, il donna des ordres pour embarquer et expédier les hommes d’abord, les femmes et les enfants ensuite.”46

34 Words associated with “homme/s,” by contrast, are related to education, liberal professions, or represent values or qualities considered important in Acadian society as the following list suggests: “instruits,” “profession,” “science,” “éclairés,” “créateur,” “intelligence,” “trempe,” “esprit,” “honnête,” “éminents,” “génie,” “vertu,” “coeur,” “respectable,” “amour,” “richesse,” “médecins,” “talent,” “honneur,” “distingués,” “professions,” “commerce,” “rang,” “avocats,” “orgueil,” “toujours,” “sage,” “grands,” “expérience,” “dévoués,” “capables,” “talents,” “utile,” “principes,” “digne,” “travail,” “députés,” “noble,” “moral,” “volonté,” “aspirations,” “caractère,” “confiance,” “devoirs,” “prêtres,” “poste,” “affaires,” “éducation,” “qualités,” “position,” “valeur,” “âme,” and “aime.” This is evident in the following example from L’Impartial: “Certainement, notre province soeur possède des hommes dont les capacités et la renommée sont amplement capables de nous inspirer la plus entière confiance.”47

35 In these French-language newspapers, men are also represented as defenders of the moral, religious, and political rights of Acadians in society as the following associated words suggest: “publics,” “social,” “citoyen,” “nation,” “préjugés,” “droits,” “justice,” “patrie,” “juste,” “lutte,” “condition,” “besoins,” “représentants,” “action,” “politiques,” “rôle,” “citoyens,” “nations,” “peuples,” “monde,” “patriote,” “patriotisme,” “patriotes,” and “politique.” Consider the following example from L’Évangéline: “Chaque homme qui a du coeur aime son pays et doit fournir à sa patrie, quand sa patrie le demande, les preuves de son attachement.”48

36 Interestingly, we did not find many occurrences of the word “garcon/s” (75), compared to the number of occurrences of “fille/s” (289). This appears to be due to the tendency to call young males “jeune homme” but young females “jeune fille,” which is a bit redundant since the word “fille” already designates a young woman. The common expression “jeunes gens” – 89 occurrences – also refers exclusively to boys.

37 Given that Acadian women are primarily represented in their roles as caretakers and homemakers, we explored the words most frequently associated with “mère/s” in the French-language papers. Figure 2 shows the relations that emerge from these semantic clusters. We observe three main clusters from this word-association graph: family, the affective connotations around language (the mother tongue), and education (both linguistic and religious). Under family, we find a very broad role in society, extending beyond the children, as suggested by the words “enfants,” “enfant,” “soeurs,” “frères,” “père,” “pères,” and “parents.” Under language we find “langue,” “langues,” “appris,” “apprise,” “genoux” (as in “langue apprise sur les genoux de la mère”), “langage,” “doux,” “naturel,” “instuire,” “belle,” “anglaises,” “France,” and “maternelle” (as in “langue maternelle”). And religious education is associated with words such as the following: “église,” “devoirs,” “spirituelle,” “dieu,” “Chrétien,” “catholiques,” “sainte,” and “sacerdoce.” The keyword “mère,” however, can also have a more symbolic value, as in the patron saint of Acadians, the Virgin Mary (“patronne,” “maris” for Ave Maris Stella, the national hymn of Acadians) as well as “patrie” (for “mère-patrie”49) as in the following example: “Une révolution, qui devait être trop durement réprimée en 1769, couvait déjà dans le coeur des colons français, inconsolables d’avoir été séparés, sans leur consentement, de la mère-patrie.”50

38 Many words also suggest an affective relationship with “mother/s,” as in “amour,” “affection,” “malheurs,” “reconnaissance,” “soumis,” “chère,” “coeurs,” “digne,” and “aimer” as in the following example from the Moniteur acadien: “Quelle est l’âme qui nous a initiés à la vie? C’est l’âme de notre mère, c’est-à-dire l’âme qui nous a aimés d’un amour unique par sa pureté, sa tendresse et son abnégation.”51

Figure 2 – Words Frequently Associated with “mère/s.”
Thumbnail of Figure 2Display large image of Figure 2


39 At first glance, gender roles among francophones and anglophones in New Brunswick at the end of the 19th century appear to be clearly demarcated. It is worth pointing out, however, that nation-building was generally represented as a man’s job at this time, and that the newspapers were very largely a male sphere – written by, and mostly for, men. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that the gender roles expressed within them were also defined by men.

40 In terms of their direct social influence, both Acadian women and women affiliated with Loyalists provided the social glue that kept the fabric of these traditional social groups together. Perhaps it is because Acadians were the more politically and economically fragile of the two groups that they relied heavily on the role of mothers as homemakers and general caretakers for everyone from the children to the sick and vulnerable and even the farm animals. Acadian women were also valuable transmitters of social values such as language and religion; when these are connected to mothers and expressed using a maternal lexicon, the idea of rejecting them is distasteful. The women involved in the Loyalist movements, by contrast, take part in public meetings and have a say in erecting a memorial monument to the Loyalists in Saint John, even though their role is largely a supporting though important one that includes fund-raising and organizing public events. Moreover, while the English-language newspapers printed very extensive lists of women’s names, therefore placing importance on these individuals in society, there are very few names of individual women in French-language newspapers, and they are almost exclusively fictional female characters such as Évangéline or Marie – the latter from the serialized novel Jacques et Marie by Napoléon Bourassa printed in two of the French-language papers. A very notable and fascinating exception is Marichette. While there must have been others like her in the public sphere of newspapers, she was very much an exception.

41 The quantitative analysis of word-associations in both French- and Englishlanguage newspapers has shown that an abstraction of women is also common to texts in both languages. French-language papers extend their focus on mothers to a very affective relationship to their motherland and their mother tongue while, rather unexpectedly, the English-language papers connect the term “mother” to political, colonial, and military forces. Victimized women and children were also used by both groups to elicit an emotional response to the brutality of the enemy while emphasizing the bravery of the men who defended them. Since the motherland of the descendants of Loyalists is, in fact, Great Britain, they were empowered in this deterministic discourse. Acadians, who are a conquered people, cannot represent themselves as a virile force, and therefore adopt feminine symbols (a female patron saint, national holiday, and national hymn). Their discourse is also far more affective than that found in English-language papers.

42 The English-language newspapers tend to use more words to designate the male gender than the female, with the exception of the words “wife/wives” – which are three times more frequent than “husband” – thus confirming the social role of women as spouses. Interestingly, the French equivalents are used about evenly as “épouse” and “époux” occur roughly the same number of times in the French-language newspapers and “institutrice” (the feminine for teacher) is by far more frequent than “instituteur” – reinforcing the idea of women as having key roles in education.

43 While the printed media at the end of the 19th century is largely an institution created by, and for, educated men, the articles in the Vocabularies of Identity database show that within French-language and English-language New Brunswick newspapers women are present in a wide variety of ways. From their traditional roles in the home as nurturers and preservers of identity to less traditional roles as decision-makers in the elaboration of social events, and even in some rare cases as challengers of the status quo, women are present in a myriad of ways for those who know where to look.

1 This database and research are funded by an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2013-2017). The full database can be consulted at and gathers articles published in New Brunswick and significant Acadie newspapers that contain key words indicating Acadian or Loyalist content. The list of these key words is available on the database website. We also thank Dr. Margaret Conrad for her insights on this research note.
2 Hyperbase was created by Etienne Brunet at l’Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis and is available at Further reading on computer-assisted text analysis and the uses of this software program can be found at
3 See Wendy Robbins, Meg Luxton, Margrit Eichler, and Francine Descarries, eds., Minds of Our Own: Inventing Feminist Scholarship and Women’s Studies in Canada, 1966-76 (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2008).
4 See also Margrit Eichler, Non-Sexist Research Methods: A Practical Guide (London: Routledge, 1988).
5 The context of women’s public and private lives in New Brunswick is analyzed in Gail Campbell, “I wish to keep a record”: Nineteenth-Century New Brunswick Women Diarists and Their World (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017). See also essays in Maurice Basque et al., dir., L’Acadie au féminin : un regard multidisciplinaire sur les Acadiennes et les Canadiennes (Moncton: Chaire d’études acadiennes, Université du Moncton, 2000) as well as Couturier et LeBlanc, dir. Économie et société en Acadie, 1850-1950 (Moncton : Éditions d’Acadie, 1996).
6 For an exploratory look at how Loyalists viewed Acadians, see as well as The boundaries of New Brunswick does not map precisely with the boundaries of Acadie.
7 L’Évangéline was founded in Digby in 1887, moved to Weymouth in 1889 and to Moncton in 1905; L’Impartial was founded in Tignish, Prince Edward Island, in 1893.
8 “The Story of Acadia,” Saint John Daily Sun, 20 May 1881.
9 “Benedict Arnold,” Daily Telegraph (Saint John), 15 April 1892.
10 “A Visitor’s View of Us: Extracts from a Flying Visit to the Maritime Provinces,” Saint John Daily Sun, 11 November 1889.
11 “THE LOYALISTS. Facts Bearing on the Approaching Centennial. Letters of J.W. Lawrence, Esq. No. 5,” Daily Telegraph, 15 May 1882.
12 “A Corner of Acadia,” Saint John Daily Sun, 29 November 1883.
13 “A Corner of Acadie,” L’Évangéline (Weymouth), 16 June 1895. Despite the similar titles in this and the previous footnote, the articles feature entirely distinct content.
14 “The Loyalists: Facts Bearing on the Approaching Centennial,” Daily Telegraph, 15 May 1882.
15 See, for example, Charles G.D. Roberts, “The Bewitchment of Lieut. Hanworthy,” Moncton Transcript, 23 March 1899 and “Echoes From Old Acadia II: At the St Croix Mouth,” Chignecto Post, 24 December 1885.
16 For more on this Acadian heroine and how she inspired many other similar female protagonists, see Robert Viau, Les visages d’Évangéline (Saint-Lambert, QC: MNH, 1998).
17 L’Évangéline (Digby), 23 November 1887.
18 “Fifty Years Ago,” Chignecto Post (Sackville), 15 September 1887.
19 For more on Marichette, see Pierre Gérin and Pierre M. Gérin, Marichette, Lettres acadiennes, 1895-1898 (Sherbrooke, QC: Éditions Naaman, 1982).
20 “Correspondance,” L’Évangéline, 14 February 1895.
21 “Correspondance,” L’Évangéline, 18 March 1897.
22 “Correspondance,” L’Évangéline, 14 February 1895.
23 “Correspondance,” L’Évangéline, 3 February 1898.
24 “Correspondance,” L’Évangéline, 2 May 1895.
25 “Correspondance,” L’Évangéline, 26 August 1897.
26 Le Moniteur acadien (Shédiac), 24 August 1897.
27 Gérin and Gérin, Marichette, 21.
28 “Correspondance,” Le Moniteur acadien, 14 March 1895.
29 “Correspondance,” Le Moniteur acadien, 21 February 1895.
30 “Correspondance,” L’Évangéline, 2 May 1895.
31 “Correspondance,” L’Évangéline, 28 February 1895.
32 “Correspondance,” L’Évangéline, 27 August 1896.
33 Gérin and Gérin, Marichette, 39, 37.
34 “England’s Great Day as Observed by the Local St. George’s Society,” Daily Telegraph, 25 April 1892.
35 “Father/s” was disambiguated to exclude the religious title. This category also includes “forefathers” (71), “grandfather” (34), “grandfathers” (9), “fatherland” (7), “fatherless” (1), and “fatherhood” (1).
36 “THE LOYALISTS. The Meeting at the Institute Last Evening. Resolutions Passed for the Erection of a Memorial Hall. Addresses of Various Speakers,” Daily Telegraph, 19 May 1882.
37 “The Loyalists: Facts Bearing on the Approaching Centennial,” Daily Telegraph, 5 May 1882.
38 “Acadian Fredericton,” Saint John New Freeman, 3 August 1901.
39 “Fifty Years Ago,” Chignecto Post, 15 September 1887.
40 Hyperbase, created by Étienne Brunet of the Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, is a software program designed for an in-depth statistical analysis of large volumes of text. Originally designed to analyse large bodies of literary works, Hyperbase examines strings of characters (words or parts of words) within their contexts to detect patterns in word associations and visualize these using points on a graph.
41 “England’s Great Day as Observed by the Local St. George’s Society,” Daily Telegraph, 25 April 1892.
42 The terms “pere” and “pères” were disambiguated to remove religious titles or references to God; we found 627 occurrences of “père/pères” in the religious sense.
43 “Le Congrès des Instituteurs Acadiens de l’Ile St-Jean,” Moniteur acadien, 2 September 1909.
44 The context of “sauvage/s” is a reference to Indigenous people/s.
45 “Jacques et Marie: Souvenir d’un peuple dispersé,” L’Évangéline, 17 April 1889.
46 “L’Acadie : Reconstruction d’un chapitre perdu de l’histoire,” L’Évangéline, 15 August 1895.
47 “Un Collège français à l’Ile du Prince-Edouard,” L’Impartial (Tignish), 6 April 1905.
48 “Correspondance: le vrai patriotisme,” L’Évangéline, 5 January 1893.
49 Note that patrie is derived from the Latin pater, meaning father, so the French expression for motherland (“mère-patrie”) includes a reference to both mother and father.
50 “Les Acadiens de la Louisiane,” Moniteur acadien, 5 August 1909.
51 “L’Assomption au Madawaska,” Moniteur acadien, 22 September 1881.