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Jennison, Mary Irick

Abstract and Keywords

Mary Irick Jennison (1892–1970) was a Canadian social worker, writer, teacher, and social justice and peace activist.

Keywords: Canadian social worker, peace and justice, social activist, writer

Mary Irick Jennison was born on January 19, 1892, in Acadia Mines, Nova Scotia. In the 1920s and early 1930s she worked as a teacher in Toronto and for a time taught at the Edgewood School for Girls. While she was teaching, Jennison also studied to become a social worker. She attended the University of Toronto, Department of Social Services, where she excelled both as an academic and a leader. She was awarded an alumnae scholarship for her studies at the university and was class president in 1927. In 1928 Mary Jennison received her social service diploma alongside her colleague Bessie Touzel.

From 1929 to 1936 Jennison was assistant secretary to the Federation for Community Services in Toronto and was known as “one of the most active social workers in that city.” Shortly after graduation she was appointed assistant secretary to the Social Service Council of Canada; she also became actively involved in advancing professional social work through her work with the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW). When Jennison became a member of the CASW in 1929, the Association was still in its formative years.

Jennison continued to play a central role in the CASW throughout her social work career. In 1932 she became the first convenor of publicity for the CASW and was responsible for initiating its journal, The Social Worker, which made its first appearance in October 1932. In 1934 she resigned her position as journal editor and convenor of publicity and became more involved in writing. She was a regular contributor to The Social Worker, writing about issues of the day as well as documenting the early history of social work in Canada. In collaboration with Freda Held and Lillian Henderson, Mary Jennison was author of A Brief History of the Ontario Welfare Council, 1908–59 (no date), and many years later she authored a document on the Canadian settlement movement. In the summer of 1936 Jennison furthered her social work education through a summer program at King’s College in London.

In 1937, Mary Jennison moved from Toronto to Montreal to become head of the first Central Volunteer Bureau in Canada. While she was in Montreal she continued to be an active and central figure in the CASW, serving as vice president of the Montreal Branch in 1938. During her time in Montreal she was also active in broader political issues such as assisting with the rehabilitation and resettlement of war veterans who served with the Mackenzie-Papineau Batallion during the Spanish Civil War, and she was active in the Committee of Allied Victories in Quebec.

Jennison moved from Montreal to Hamilton, Ontario in 1943 to assume the position of director of the Dale Community Centre. She continued her involvement with the professional association and became president of the Hamilton Branch of the CASW. The Dale Community Centre served a working-class community in Hamilton, and both “the Dale” and Mary Jennison were popular among Hamilton’s working class. The Dale was renowned for its work with the unemployed and with children and youth. Jennison’s support for the unemployed and for striking workers, however, led to a concern by more conservative elements in the community about her politics; consequently, in 1947 the Community Chest that funded the Dale ended its funding. Rumors began to spread about Jennison’s politics, and she became one of several victims of red-baiting in Cold War Canada. Caught up by the rumors of Jennison’s left political leanings, the Board of Directors of the Dale decided to fire her despite the fact that 400 parents and children signed petitions supporting her.

Mary Jennison never worked as a social worker again. In 1948 she threw herself into peace work and became the executive secretary of the Canadian Peace Congress, where, alongside James Endicott, she led the Ban the Bomb campaign in Canada. She continued to be a person of interest to the RCMP, which monitored her activities for the rest of her life.

Mary Jennison moved from Toronto back to Nova Scotia in the mid-1960s after suffering a debilitating stroke in 1957. Despite serious disabilities, she continued to pursue writing until her death on May 31, 1970. She is buried in the Jennison family cemetery in Windsor, Nova Scotia.