Ladies' Reading Room

(From the Women's History Walking Tour Booklet)

The Ladies' Reading Room, opened in 1910, was crucial to the development of the women's suffrage movement in Newfoundland. Within its walls a generation of influential St. John's women were politicized.

Site of the Ladies' Reading Room
Site of the Ladies' Reading Room
158 Water Street, St. John's, NL
© 1998, Lisa LeDrew

Founded in 1909 by a group of women - in response to being banned from attending lectures at a male club - the Ladies' Reading Room was located in "a large and airy room" in the Lyon's Building, 158 Water Street. Situated on an upper floor it had a panoramic view of the Narrows, and its location on a busy shopping thoroughfare was inviting. It was open all day from ten until six, and the terms of membership, namely three dollars and the introduction of one member, made it accessible to at least the middle class.

Within a few weeks of its opening, 125 women had joined. The Ladies' Reading Room provided social space, a selection of "the best English and American papers and magazines", and lectures and debates sponsored by the Current Events Club which met on Saturdays. The women developed confidence as public speakers by giving papers, and debating and analyzing issues, all within a socially respectable atmosphere defined by cups of tea and genteel female company.