Photograph of Red Cross Homemaker

Date / Period
Object Type
Canadian Red Cross
Community Health

During much of the twentieth century, Canadians expected that under normal circumstances men and women would play different roles in the family: men worked outside the home, and women took care of children and domestic tasks inside the home. In light of this expectation, the Visiting Housekeepers (later Homemakers) program was created to provide caring domestic assistance in Canadian homes when a woman was ill. This photograph shows Red Cross Homemaker Mrs. Renate Pedley serving pie and milk to the children of her client Mrs. Hall, on May 30, 1973.

Men’s lack of participation in household work meant that families could easily be thrown into chaos when a wife/mother was seriously ill or injured and unable to attend to her household and children. Although neighbours or family members usually helped out, this was not always possible, especially over long periods of time. In 1925 the Toronto branch of the Canadian Red Cross pioneered its Visiting Housekeepers program specifically to address this issue.

The program spread across Ontario, and then to other provinces. Women employed as Visiting Housekeepers/Homemakers paid regular visits to homes (often identified by public health organizations) where the wife/mother was ill or injured, and temporarily stepped into her shoes. They might prepare meals, do light housekeeping, tend to a convalescing wife/mother, or provide childcare, as required.

By the time of this 1973 photo, the Red Cross provided Homemakers in 50 areas, serving 12,417 families and directly caring for 13,895 children. The previous year, the Red Cross annual report identified “the growing trend towards caring for more patients in their homes” and “the rising costs of health care services” as reasons for the continued (and increasing) demand for the program. It subsequently expanded to assist both men and women with a wide variety of infirmities, and by the last decades of the twentieth century, particularly the elderly.

In the early twenty-first century the service evolved further in name and format, but retained its core goal of assisting clients with the basic challenges of daily life at home. Canada’s ageing population and growing pressures on hospitals and nursing homes make this need no less important today than it was in the 1920s or 1970s.

Photograph of Red Cross Homemaker

Red Cross Homemaker
Red Cross Homemaker Mrs. Renate Pedley serving pie and milk to the children of her client Mrs. Hall, on May 30, 1973.
Visiting Homemaker

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