Daughters in the City
Ruth Derksen Siemens
Wanted: a hard-working, clean-living (white) girl who won’t steal the jewelry. Found: Mennonite immigrant girls eager to help parents pay off crushing travel debts. Ruth Derksen Siemens’s soft-cover coffee-table book introduces the women as young as 14 who worked 15-hour days in the foreign-to-them homes of wealthy Vancouver families. It records the role of the Maedchenheimen Bethel (MB) and Mary Martha (GC) where these hard-working women “formed a bond of sisterhood that is unparalleled.” Filled with colourful memories from personal interviews (“sheets” does not mean linens to these German-speaking girls); profiles of women such as beloved matron Tina Lehn; and photographs of the maids, their house and their families; the short book explores three decades of immigrant Mennonite life through the experience of women – at that time a voiceless part of Mennonite church life. Some questions go unanswered or unasked in the account, for the author’s intent is to honour the women and their experience of “a sense of importance and usefulness,” not break the silence to expose secrets or decode euphemism.