Tuesday is International Women’s Day, celebrated around the world every on March 8. Originally started back in 1909 in New York City to commemorate the strike of the women in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union that occurred the year before, the day has since evolved around the world to honour, respect and celebrate the political and social achievements of women everywhere. And today we would like to give a shout out to one of the all-time greats when it comes to Canadian Women, Kate Aitken. Kate Aitken, born in 1891 in Beeton, Ontario, was a schoolteacher by the time she was 16, then successfully ran a chicken farm with her husband and got into radio broadcasting in the 1930’s somewhat by accident, filling in for an injured worker in a small radio station. By the end of the nineteen forties she was one of the best known broadcasters in Canada, with daily programs on the CBC that attracted millions of listeners.
It is interesting to note that when she first started out she was known as Mrs Henry Aitken, but as her radio programs became known to more and more people, she was known and introduced to her audience by her very own name, Kate Aitken. This was a big deal back then!
Kate Aitken started out small, setting up a “Country Kitchen” at the CNE in the twenties, selling her own canned and baked goods and giving talks about home canning and preserving, which led her to working for the Ontario Department of Agriculture, speaking to rural women and families about farming practices, home economics, and developing and sharing recipes. By the time she retired from broadcasting she had an estimated one and a half million Canadians listening to her programs every day. As her fame spread so did her portfolio; in her heyday she travelled the world, and interviewed luminaries and world leaders both famous and infamous, including then Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, U.S. President F.D.R., Eleanor Roosevelt, King George VI and even Mussolini and Hitler.
By the 1950’s and sixties Aitken had a column with the Globe and Mail, dispensing information about food, home economics, etiquette, entertaining and recipes, and still managed to write almost fifty cookbooks, many of which are still in press today, like the classic Kate Aitken’s Canadian Cookbook. She also wrote a charming autobiography called Never a Day so Bright, which chronicles her family’s adventures as she grew up in small town Ontario in the early twentieth century, reminiscences that remind one of the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder. In fact, it isn’t much of a stretch to suggest that Kate Aitken bridged the social and political gap between the author of Little House on The Prairie and Martha Stewart, ushering in the new century with unbridled enthusiasm and a can-do attitude that awakened Canadian women to a whole new world of opportunity. One in which they could be identified by their own name, for starters.