On a May morning in 1939, eighteen-year-old Velma Demerson and her lover were having breakfast when two police officers arrived to take her away. Her crime was loving a Chinese man, a "crime" that was compounded by her pregnancy and subsequent mixed-race child. Sentenced to a home for wayward girls, Demerson was then transferred (along with forty-six other girls) to Torontos Mercer Reformatory for Females. The girls were locked in their cells for twelve hours a day and required to work in the on-site laundry and factory. They also endured suspect medical examinations. When Demerson was finally released after ten months' incarceration weeks of solitary confinement, abusive medical treatments, and the state's apprehension of her child, her marriage to her lover resulted in the loss of her citizenship status. This is the story of how Demerson, and so many other girls, were treated as criminals or mentally defective individuals, even though their worst crime might have been only their choice of lover. Incorrigible is a survivor's narrative.
In a period that saw the rise of psychiatry, legislation against interracial marriage, and a populist movement that believed in eradicating disease and sin by improving the purity of Anglo-Saxon stock, Velma Demerson, like many young women, found herself confronted by powerful social forces. This is a history of some of those who fell through the cracks of the criminal code, told in a powerful first-person voice.
Publisher: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Number of pages: 172
Weight: 236 g
Dimensions: 228 x 152 x 13 mm
"Stories of rebels and outlaws have always been popular subjects for scholarly and popular histories. Those who have had their stories dramatized in plays, television shows, and on film, and even more so those who have published their memoirs, are overwhelmingly men. Here we see the memoir of a defiant woman in a moving account that could only have been a woman's life story. Historians interested in recovering the experiences of people without access to formal avenues of power typically search in vain for the sort of material presented in this book -- an insider's look at the regulation and punishment of working-class women who strayed from the moral scripts of gender and race."--Carolyn Strange, author of Toronto's Girl Problem: The Perils and Pleasures of the City, 1880-1930 and co-author (with Tina Loo) of True Crime, True North: The Golden Age of Canadian Pulp Magazines (2004).
"Velma Demerson's new memoir, Incorrigible, recounts in horrifying detail being imprisoned in 1939 under the Female Refuges Act...It's a straightforward and at times brutally graphic account of her travails."--Andrea Baillie "Saskatoon Star-Phoenix "
"Incorrigible describes in heart-rending detail the events leading up to the author's incarceration, her harrowing experiences while confined, her eventual release, and her relationship with her beloved son, Harry Yip. Demerson's powerful first-person account documents a shameful period in Canadian history, a time when outrageous abuses of power were committed in the name of social progress."--Beryl Hamilton "Canadian Book Review Annual 2006 "
"There are few chapters in Canadian legal history as shameful as the Female Refuges Act. Targeting young women--often already marginalized by class and race''--for supposed immoral'' behaviour, the act ignored many basic principles of evidence and fair trial, leaving women at the mercy of a law profoundly shaped by sexist and racist assumptions. Women were incarcerated in correctional institutions, where they experienced a daily regime of shame and punishment. Velma Demerson's courageous battle to expose this blatant injustice should be commended. By offering her own story, she has done an immeasureable service that will hopefully sharpen public awareness of current injustices."--Joan Sangster, Trent University and author of Girl Trouble: Female Delinquency in English Canada
"There is only one reaction to this sad story-a mixture of outrage, fury and shame.... Incorrigible, I believe, should be mandatory reading in every Women's Studies course in the land."--Clara Thomas "Canadian Woman Studies, Vol. 26 #1 "