Learning about the feminist movements, and their history, through an Edmonton magazine

Tessa Jordan links cultural production and activism between generations

Branching Out, Canada’s first national magazine of second-wave feminism, was published in Edmonton, and reached readers from coast to coast – more than any other Canadian second-wave feminist periodical. However, after it ceased publishing in 1980, Branching Out all but completely disappeared from the historical record.

After completing a PhD dissertation on the magazine, Tessa Jordan, a Vancouver-based researcher and educator, decided to bring the story of Branching Out and its influence to a wider audience through her book Feminist Acts: Branching Out Magazine and the Making of Canadian Feminism.

As a feminist who came of age in the 1990s and 2000s, Jordan was surprised by the similarities between the issues Branching Out was tackling in the 1970s and those of her time. She wanted to trace the continuities between generations of feminists to add to and complicate some of the narratives and scholarship that tend to highlight conflicts between second- and third-wave feminists.

“I was eager to build bridges between the work that feminists across generations have done and are doing to not only change laws and policies but also hearts and minds,” Jordan says.

For her research, Jordan did a close textual analysis of the magazine’s 31 issues, and conducted interviews with 17 women who worked on and contributed to Branching Out, including the magazine’s founding editor Susan McMaster and long-time editor Sharon Batt. She also accessed uncatalogued materials from the Canadian Women’s Movement Archives.

The result is a book for anyone interested in feminist activism, gender studies, Canadian cultural history, and women’s cultural production.

“While the intention is certainly to add to the field of feminist periodical studies, I hope that the book will reach beyond an academic audience and be read by those who are interested in Canadian feminist activism, history, and publishing more broadly, whether because they have participated in the feminist movement or have a desire to learn about its history,” Jordan says.

Tessa Jordan
Tessa Jordan

The book also keeps Branching Out’s legacy alive. “Branching Out benefited from being published in Edmonton, outside of Canada’s publishing centres. Inside these centres the audacity of the project – to publish a national feminist magazine that appealed not only to women active in the feminist movement but to Canadian women more broadly – may have prevented Branching Out from ever getting off the ground,” Jordan explains.

In fact, it was the magazine’s attempt to reach as broad a readership of women as possible that contributed to its downfall.

“At times, it was accused by active feminists of being too moderate; at other times, it was accused by more moderate readers of being too radical,” Jordan says. “Branching Out tried to walk that line, providing quality art and literature alongside social, economic, legal, and political analysis written by Canadian women. Its high production values meant that it ran the risk of being dismissed as a glossy magazine.”

Feminist Acts not only keeps the legacy of Branching Out alive, but also stimulates discussions surrounding Canadian feminism.

Jordan says, “I hope that readers will get a sense of the complexity of second-wave feminism, the continuities between generations of activists, the features that are unique to Canadian feminism, the role of cultural production in political movements, and the importance of speaking and acting from the margins.”