Lifestyle ColumnistsNeil McKenty
A pioneer in changing the reality for women
by Kristine Berey
When retired McGill professor Sheila Goldbloom attended the YWCA Foundation’s Women of Distinction Gala as a nominee last May, it was a kind of coming full circle. Unknown to the organizers of the event, 50 years ago, Goldbloom got her start in Montreal at the Women’s Y. “At 23, I directed the Young Adult department at the YWCA,” she recalled.
At the gala, she delighted in observing so many young women, “all very accomplished in their various métiers. And this to me seemed to be a really important message to give to Quebec. How in the last 30 years, major changes have happened [in women’s roles].”
Goldbloom recalls that, at the time she first arrived to Montreal from the US with her new husband Dr. Victor Goldbloom, middle-class women were not expected to pursue careers. Failing to land a job at Morgan’s, now The Bay, because they wouldn’t hire married women, she applied for a receptionist’s position at the YWCA. Instead, she was given the job of directing the Young Adult Department for $1800 a year. So began a life of dual fulfillment, that of helping and learning.
At the time, the YMCA and the YWCA were very separate organizations in terms of their mission, Goldbloom said. “The YMCA was much more focused on leadership development of men, while the YWCA was always conscious of social problems, the marginal young woman who came from a rural area to the city, the working woman who was all by herself. They had courses in typing and [other job skills].”
One of her earliest assignments was to animate a club of young black women, The More The Merrier club (TMTM), most of whom were older than she.
Some were parents. “They were outstanding young women,” Goldbloom recalled. “I learned a lot from them about Montreal. I learned about their daily life, their experiences. They were confronting racism and poverty, very clearly.”
Upon reading about a new program in The New York Times for mothers and their pre-school children, she started the first such program in Montreal, the Lady’s Day Out. “I learned that all children like peanut butter and cream cheese & jelly sandwiches,” Goldbloom quipped. Actually, while the children engaged in various pre-school and play activities, the mothers had lunch, discussions, and listened to invited speakers on subjects that mattered to them.
After the birth of her children, Goldbloom continued as a volunteer, sitting on boards of various community organizations, often working for the welfare of children and young people. But 10 years later, she decided to return to school. “I needed some nourishment,” she said. She completed her Master’s in Social Work at McGill University, and soon afterwards was invited to teach there. She has continued her volunteer work all along, and says she considers herself fortunate for being taught by teachers who were also working in the field. “I benefited greatly from having teachers who were practitioners.”
Goldbloom feels that, within the profession, there is a tension between publishing research and practical intervention that is yet to be resolved: “Universities push for all faculties to have PhDs and I think that applied professions, like social work, speech therapy, occupation therapy, and some streams of psychology require practice. You need to be turning out beginning practitioners and giving them access to continuing to grow and specialize. They need to do research, and to read research they have to understand something about social policy, but [social work] isn’t primarily an education in social policy. It’s an education that requires people skills.”
Now retired, Goldbloom continues, as she has for the last 20 years, to cook for Meals-On-Wheels, every other week in the morning. “You have to stay involved to gain satisfaction. You receive as much as you give and you see the results in front of you. In social work it takes a lot more time.
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