Reproductive Justice, Teen Mothers, and Integration into Education

Holy Angels School Building, photo by author.

Mallory Davies

This is the seventh entry in a monthly series on Thinking Historically. See the Introduction here.

Coined by activist American women of colour in the 1990s, reproductive justice is an activist framework that provides an intersectional understanding of reproductive autonomy. Reproductive justice invokes the “sexual autonomy and gender freedom for every human being,” among the right to reproductive decision making.[1] Despite advancements, the last few years have witnessed a reduction in reproductive rights protections in the United States and Canada. In the United States, the overturning of Roe v Wade has led to a host of changes to medical care, often with the result that individuals are denied their reproductive rights.

In Canada, these conversations are being broached in the realm of education with the Alberta premier proposing anti-trans policies aimed at the sex education curriculum and switching to an opt-in approach for sex education, as was recently discussed in a blog post on this site by Karissa Patton and Nancy Janovicek. These contemporary conversations propose to limit reproductive decision-making for citizens and curtail the kinds of education available to students. Now more than ever, we need reproductive justice as a framework to be incorporated into the education system.  To understand how early efforts of reproductive justice were incorporated into educational systems, I focus on some very early findings from my study on the history of education for teen mothers in Calgary, Alberta.

The Bankview School Project (colloquially known as the School for Unwed Mothers, and later renamed the Louise Dean School) was the first school specifically for pregnant teenagers in Canada when it opened in 1969. Prior to the 1970s, most pregnant teenagers were asked to leave school and were isolated in training schools or maternity homes. The opening of the Bankview School provided an important avenue for pregnant teens to continue their education. Crucially, it provided pregnant teenagers with the right to carry their children to term while also receiving an education. In this post, I explain the early efforts to integrate teenage mothers into the education system (and thus continue their schooling) in the post-Second World War period as well as the discourse around this progressive program in Alberta as a measure for inclusion through reproductive justice.

The Bankview school was formed within the Adult Education Division of the Calgary School Board. One purpose of the Bankview School was to “provide opportunity for unwed mothers of school age to proceed with their educational plans,” as administrators believed that it was the “responsibility of the educational system to provide educational opportunity for all students under 21 years of age.”[2] The school itself was much more focused than other public schools on ensuring teenagers retained their educational opportunities despite their pregnancies, by including services that met their needs. In addition to on-site educational services, Bankview offered education via correspondence, counselling, and health services, which included meeting with a nurse for pre- and post-natal education. In this vein, this program provided teens with the education they needed in a supportive manner.[3] The supportive intent behind the program seemed to fill the gaps for integration left by other institutions.

While the Bankview school continued to segregate its students from the regular school setting, school staff recognized the harms of institutionalization. One education counsellor at Bankview was “reluctant to criticize institutions for unwed mothers because they were the only ones for many years who did anything at all.”[4] But overall he disagreed with sending pregnant teens away to institutions and was in favour of providing educational supports instead.

The Bankview program was an innovative undertaking for its time. It seems that students were appreciative of the opportunities it provided, explaining to journalists that they were relieved that they didn’t have to miss a year of school.[5]  In the first full year, the school had over 100 students and nine staff.[6] The school had enough students that by 1971, it moved into a new building in Calgary at the former Holy Angels School to be able to accommodate up 125 students.[7]

Historical plaque at the Holy Angels’ Building, photo by author.

The school recognized and attempted to address the educational inequalities that teens faced for being pregnant. The school provided options for pregnant teens when it came to keeping their child or choosing to give their child up for adoption, and created support groups based on what they chose.[8] Despite its segregated nature (in that it wasn’t fully integrated with the regular high school), this school seemed inclusive for its time because it welcomed pregnant teens back into the educational sphere. Staff explained that the lack of education previous to Bankview was a “weak spot in the educational pattern” and that the school was intended to “to erase the stereotyped ideas many people have about unwed mothers.”[9] Staff were empathetic to students and ensured they retained their educational opportunities.

An inclusive schooling grounded in reproductive justice encompasses not only students’ right to their own sexuality and reproductive autonomy in curricula, it also fosters inclusive spaces to meet diverse needs in public schools. Bankview is a reminder that discussions about reproductive rights when it comes to public schooling are not new and are important for inclusive education. A focus on the history of education for teen mothers with considerations for reproductive justice is crucial because it helps to inform present educational policies for pregnant and parenting young women, and young women at large. It is the hope that this research and it’s understanding of the past, will contribute to a larger discussion about how education systems can support all students.

Mallory Davies is a doctoral candidate in the history department at the University of Waterloo. Her doctoral research analyzes the history of education for teen mothers in Calgary, Alberta. She is a research assistant with the Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future Project, where she focuses on civic engagement in history textbooks and curricula. 


[1] Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger, Reproductive Justice: An Introduction (Berkley: University of California Press, 2017). p. 9

[2] A Brief: Re The Calgary Public School Board Bankview Project for Unwed Mother Adult Education Division, Box 11, Education, Field Services Division fond, Provincial Archive of Alberta.

[3] Suzanne Zwarun, Bold New Approach in Calgary: Unwed Mothers’ School, Calgary Herald, November 26, 1969, p. 57

[4] Suzanne Zwarun, Bold New Approach in Calgary: Unwed Mothers’ School, Calgary Herald, November 26, 1969, p. 57

[5] Liz Pike, “Unwed mothers take special classes’: Baby doesn’t stop schooling,” Calgary Albertan, July 3, 1969, p. 7.

[6] School for unwed mothers receives generous financial support, Calgary Albertan, April 18, 1970, p. 16

[7] Vern Fowlie, City’s unwed mothers get permanent quarters, Calgary Albertan, June 30 1970, p. 9.

[8] Year End Report, 1970-71, folder 17, M-7625-17. Calgary Birth Control Association fonds, Glenbow Archives, p. 2

[9] Suzanne Zwarun, Bold New Approach in Calgary: Unwed Mothers’ School, Calgary Herald, November 26, 1969, p. 57.

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