Eileen Dailly

Minister of Education, 1972-1975

Eileen Dailly Eileen Dailly is known as "the lady who banned the strap." But during her tenure as Education Minister, she made other significant changes to the public school system: she introduced legislation that made kindergarten mandatory, removed provincial exams, and created a new provincial school district in the Nass River Valley.

The daughter of an Irish-Catholic father and a politically aware Scottish Presbyterian mother, Dailly received an early education in working-class politics at the dinner table and in the home. Eileen Elizabeth Gilmore was born in Vancouver on 15 February 1926. Her mother, Mary A. Scott, came from the strong labour town Dundee, Scotland, and spoke with pride about the town’s political history. Her father, John Gilmore, captain on a government customs patrol boat, was not so politically inclined and was at sea most of the time. But when the Depression hit, he was suddenly unemployed.

Dailly recalls her feeling at the time: "My brother and I were old enough to start thinking. ‘Here’s our Dad who wanted to work, why can’t he?’ And my Dad was only representative of thousands of other men skilled or not who wanted to work." When her father couldn’t get another job, the family had to move to a lower-rent area in the east end of Vancouver.

In 1941, at age fifteen, Dailly joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a left-wing political organization concerned with social welfare. She joined the CCF because a change in government made her more aware of the politics in everyday life. [In that year, the provincial Liberal Party and the provincial Conservative Party formed a coalition government.] Afterwards, Dailly said these early lessons in politics and unemployment gave her an "orientation to the working person."

Although Dailly was fond of theatre in high school, she decided to go into teaching because she liked children and because there were not many professional options open to women. She went from Grade 13 at John Oliver High School into a one-year teacher-training program at the provincial Normal School in Vancouver. After graduating in 1945, she was posted to a rural school on Denman Island, where she taught thirty students from grades one to grade eight. Two years later, she moved to an elementary school in Burnaby. In 1951, she married James Dailly and they had one son. Dailly left teaching in 1955, because she wanted to be at home with her family.

Dailly was elected trustee to the Burnaby School Board in 1956 under the banner of the left-wing Co-operative Commonwealth Federation [CCF]. The CCF was the precursor of the New Democratic Party [NDP], launched in 1961 with support the Canadian labour movement. In 1966, NDP organizers in Burnaby North encouraged Dailly to run for provincial office. Dailly was duly elected and was re-elected to the provincial legislature for Burnaby North in 1969 and again in 1972. During these years she served as the NDP's "shadow critic" of education. In 1972, when the NDP formed a government under Premier Dave Barrett, she became Minister of Education and Deputy Premier. Dailly was only the second woman to hold office as Minister of Education [after Tilly Rolston], and was the first woman to be named Deputy Premier.

Dailly realized her desire to create change when, on 14 February 1973, she amended the School Act and abolished corporal punishment from provincial public schools. Her decision was based on her own experience, her political principles and current educational research. Her decision to "outlaw the strap" - to ban corporal punishment -- was unprecedented in Canada. And, although it was a very controversial decision, the "strap" was never reinstated, even when the conservative Social Credit Party was returned to office in 1975.

Besides abolishing the strap, Dailly made it mandatory for all school districts to provide kindergartens by September 1973. At this time, kindergartens were operating in many provincial school districts. But they were not available in 16 of the province's 75 school districts and in many communities they were held in inadequate facilities. As a former teacher, and social democrat, Dailly was concerned for children whose parents could not afford to send them to private kindergartens. "Having taught school, I knew particularly the importance of early education and these kids were being denied that opportunity," she said.

In 1973 Dailly also discontinued province-wide Grade 12 graduating examinations. Influenced by her experience as an educator, Dailly felt that too much emphasis was placed on one exam and not enough emphasis on the yearly work of students. In her opinion, teachers were better judges of children than centralized tests. "It didn't mean that there shouldn't be testing, but to put the emphasis so strongly on one exam, I considered was wrong." So, in June 1973 departmental exams were discontinued. [Province-wide Grade 12 exams were re-instated by the Social Credit government ten years later].

In 1974, Dailly helped create the first native school district in the Nass River Valley, a decision which highlighted her belief in education for all citizens. Before the school district’s creation, the Nisga’a were part of the Nass River Valley School District. Dailly points out "the Nisga’a were very progressive and had been asking for their own school district, which would still be part of the public school system." The new school district gave the Nisga’a an opportunity to have an input, as school trustees, in the curriculum for their own students. Giving First Nations their own school board was a start in encouraging them to be involved in education. "I could see from the figures how few Native Indians graduated from school and also how few native Indian teachers there were and so that’s where something concrete was done."

Despite the defeat of the NDP government in 1975, Dailly remained MLA for Burnaby North until 1986. When she retired from politics that year, she had spent twenty years in the public service. After her retirement, she volunteered on a community cable television program from 1988 to 1991, where she hosted a seniors' program called "Coming of Age," and served on the executive of the provincial Retired MLAs Association. Since retiring from politics, she has also had more time for her family, especially her four grandchildren.

Although Eileen Dailly was Minister of Education for only three years, she brought about signicant changes to the British Columbia public school system. Dailly expanded kindergartens, improved access to education for First Nations students, and removed provincial exams. However, she is best known as the minister who on 14 February 1973 gave pupils in the public school system "a Valentine," by abolishing corporal punishment.


Written and researched by Yvette Drews, History 349, Malaspina University-College, March 2002

Sources:
Interviews with Eileen Dailly by the author 9 February and 14 March 2002
Eileen Dailly, "The First Year in Review," B.C. Teacher, 53, 2 (November 1973): 42-47.
British Columbia. Legislature. 2nd Session, 30th Parliament Official Report of the Debates of the Legislative Assembly (Hansard) January 25th, 1973, to April 18th, 1973. Victoria: Queen's Printer, 1973.
E. W. Whelpton, Who's Who in Canada 1977-78. Toronto: International Press Ltd, 1977.