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BCTF Advantage
Teacher Magazine Volume 29, Number 2
January/February 2017

A redoubtable woman of wit and will. BCTF’s first woman President Hilda Cryderman

By Marian Dodds, Vancouver author and retired teacher

By all accounts an impressive speaker, Hilda Cryderman was known for being in the BC vanguard in the fight for equal pay for equal work when she became the BCTF's first female president in 1954. An exceptional teacher, administrator, and education activist, Hilda was also an accomplished athlete and a gold medalist contralto who, according to a 1955 profile in the Vancouver Sun, was also “completely feminine and just loved hats.” The way she presided over the 1955 AGM was described as “smooth as silk”.

Miss Cryderman the king pin, happy, poised, capable, confident, with a great sense of humour, presided in one of her perky hats. Her brain was clear to unravel unexpected problems; swift to make decisions; experienced in keeping order. These things made the yearly parley a memorable parliament of teachers. Her year as head of BC teachers has been a period of bountiful harvest. And has increased the stature of women in public life

.-The Vancouver Sun, 1955.

Born to a pioneer family in Vernon in 1904, Hilda's happy childhood was spent captaining sports teams, playing lead roles in musicals, singing solos in church, and working as a youth counsellor. After attending Normal School in Victoria, she began her teaching career at Coldstream Elementary in the Okanagan where she soon became one of the first woman principals in BC.

When Hilda applied to be a principal she reported they wanted a man, for discipline purposes. “The trustees were dubious...they scratched their heads, mumbled in their beards... we really would prefer a man.” Her response: “I can do just as good a job as a man.” Her secret to success? “I bought them a soccer ball and one day I gave it a mighty kick to the end of the field and from that day on I had no problems.” No wonder she was called redoubtable!

Determined to gain equal pay for rural teachers and for women teachers, Hilda became the first woman president of the Okanagan Valley Teachers' Association in 1936. She chaired the negotiating committee that won equal pay for women teachers. She also found time to pioneer the CBC School of the Air broadcasts, meant to advance school music programs.

While working as a principal between 1924-37 Hilda found time to attain a UBC degree in economics and history. In 1939 she moved to Vernon Senior High School, pioneering counselling in BC schools as one of the first girls' counsellors in addition to teaching business law, international studies, and social studies.

In 1942 Hilda was recruited by the BC Department of Labour to organize 100 secondary school students to “save the berry crop” in the Fraser Valley after the Japanese-Canadian farmers were interned. These berries were processed and shipped to Britain for jam for the armed services. From 1943-45 she served the Canadian Legion Educational Services as educational counsellor for the Women's Forces of the Pacific Command. There she focused on aiding service women to extend their education, counselling them into university and vocational courses, to prepare them to advance within the forces, or to successfully return to civilian life.

After the war Hilda resumed her secondary school teaching and continued her involvement in the local association, chairing the Okanagan Valley Teachers' Association arbitration committee, where she had won equal pay for women teachers in the Okanagan Valley in 1946-a Canadian first. In 1953 she chaired the equal pay committee that successfully petitioned to enact the Equal Pay Act in BC using the slogan “Pay for the job.” Active and well respected in her local association and beyond, Hilda explained that she got a phone call from a woman she didn't even know who said “We women think it's time for a woman president. We want to nominate you as Second Vice-President and help you up the ladder to the Presidency.” In 1954 she became the BCTF's first woman president. She paid it forward too, mentoring Mollie Cottingham to lead the BCTF two years later, saying, “You have to be careful to make it possible for another woman to follow you.”

In her president's report published in The B.C. Teacher she highlighted the great surge in professional interests and suggested: “It may well be that the time has come for the Federation to assist and promote in-service training-by the profession for the profession.” During her tenure she also championed Future Teacher Clubs in 80 secondary schools, meant to encourage “quality as well as quantity” in the teaching force. She also thanked her substitute teacher and the Vernon School Board for granting her a half- time leave to be president!

From 1967-75 Hilda worked in Ottawa as Federal Commissioner to the Public Service Staff Relations Board with a mandate to certify units of the public service for bargaining rights. In a 1967 Ottawa Citizen profile she commented, “Women weren't getting opportunities to be principals as they once were,” adding that “This is largely due to equal pay and the fact that better salaries are drawing more men into teaching.”

During International Women's Year in 1975 Hilda travelled extensively across Canada and the United States speaking on women's rights and human rights. The BCTF Ferguson award was given to her in 1971, in 1977 she was awarded the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal, and in 1985 she received the Order of Canada. The BCTF honoured Hilda as a recipient of the Order of Canada. In his report, Executive Director R.M. Buzza wrote: “In her absence, I presented a BCTF pin for Ms. Cryderman to her long-time companion Mrs. Nancy Jermyn.”

At age 75 Hilda was invited to address the 1979 BCTF Status of Women conference. The October 18, 1979, Teacher reported highlights of her speech: “The most important thing for a pioneer in any situation is to make it possible for another woman to follow you.”

She spoke of her time as a counsellor encouraging girls who wanted to drop classes where they were made to feel unwelcome by the male teacher. In one instance Hilda explained how she selected five of the smartest girls in Grade 11 and said: “I have a proposition for you. Now Mr. X doesn't think girls should do physics so I want you to go in there and prove to him. I want you to lick the pants off every boy in that class.” Three weeks later Mr. X told her “My, you have given me some wonderful girls in that class.”

Throughout her life Hilda held leadership positions on numerous boards that reflected her interest in human rights and women's equality and led business and professional women's organizations. She occupied her spare time with public speaking, playing sports (soccer, basketball, and hockey), music festivals, singing in the United Church choir, and performing contralto in operas. Running unsuccessfully for the federal Liberal party three times in the Okanagan-Revelstoke riding, she was reported to have said without rancour, “My flurry into politics (in 1957) was fun. I happened to choose the wrong election.” A woman of strong opinions, she said “Big business takeovers are bad for democracy. It means a concentration of pricing and services that's determined by businessmen, not the government.” She also wasn't afraid to criticize her own party. “Decisions of today seem to be made by the Prime Minster and five of his top deputy ministers. I call it the Family Compact.”

Describing herself as a “tomboy” in a 1979 interview with the Vernon Daily News she attributed this to her “excellent reputation as an athlete.” A confident and capable woman who was a role model and mentor for many, she said: “I had to make a choice between marriage and a career because if you got married you had to resign. It didn't take me five seconds to make that choice.” In an interview later in life where her many accomplishments were being praised she said: “But don't forget, most of all I'm a teacher .”

The redoubtable and multi-talented Hilda Cryderman died in Vernon in 1985. 

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