For International Women’s Day: A Famous Canadian

Written from the train, 1928

The Binkleys’ Stanford friends sometimes broke up the monotony of days-long trips from one coast to the other by seeking alternate routes. A steamer through the Panama Canal was an option, but easier and cheaper was the Canadian rail system. It at least let you look at different prairies and different mountains.

In 1928 their friend Natalye Colfeldt, an economics professor, took this route when returning to Stanford for the summer. Near the end of the trip, as she passed through the British Columbia mountains, she wrote to Bob and Frances from the train, on “Canadian Pacific Railroads / En Route” letterhead. She describes a conversation with an unnamed woman: feminist, lecturer, member of the Alberta legislature, mother, supporter of birth control.

June 17, 1928

Dear Frances & Bob,

Here I am on the way – though a long one – to California. It is a beautiful route, and, even as a confirmed Californiac I am forced to admit that the mountains I saw today surpassed the Sierras. But I would would rather live with the Sierra mountains than with these, impressive though these are to look upon.

It is dark at last, and I am finishing this letter after looking out at a lake thirty-five miles long, around which our train has slowly progressed.

I have met only one interesting person on the train – a woman very much interested in politics, especially from the feminist point of view. She has five children – one a son who was in the World War – has written books, lectured, and been in the Alberta legislature for four terms. She was on the train only a few hours yesterday, but we had dinner together and talked until late about Canadian politics, reciprocity, woman suffrage, and world peace. When I discovered that she believed birth control to be the fundamental reform to bring about world peace, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. So I told her how my students never failed to bring in the population problem, no matter what else they failed to discuss!

My other fellow travelers have been far from congenial, for the most part. I wonder why the noisiest Americans go to other countries? I have hard it said that they go to Europe, and find they come to Canada, too. Beer drinking, gum chewing, and conspicuous hilarity seem to characterize them. To-day the worst ones got off at Banff and Lake Louise.

I hope you enjoy that well earned vacation in Maine. Do write when you can. I’ll send Stanford news, if there is any, and hope to see you in the fall. …

As ever,

The Californiac

It is left as an exercise for the reader to work out who it must have been; it’s not difficult.