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Alberta, Past and Present, Historical and Biographical
Vol 1 - Chapter XXIV
Women's Organizations and Activities


The women of Alberta are well represented in all the national organizations for women. Like all Canadian women they have a genius for organization. Among the Alberta Branches of the national organizations are some of the most prominent women in Canada. The National Council of Women, The Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, the Young Women's Christian Association, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Victoria Order of Nurses, the Women's Canadian Club, the National Council of Women, and other organizations have flourishing and aggressive locals in the principal centres of the Province.

Of distinctly Provincial organizations, the most important are the Women's Institutes and the United Farm Women of Alberta. These two operate among the women of the rural districts. Besides these there are numerous isolated societies, leagues and clubs such as Musical Clubs, University Clubs, Civic Clubs and Mothers Clubs.

A third group of Women's organizations that exert a great influence in Alberta, as they do in every Province of Canada, consists of the missionary societies and ladies' aids of the various churches. Every city, town and village has a group or two of devoted women who foster the work of the religious denomination to which they belong. Without their energy and enthusiasm religious and missionary work would be at a low ebb in many places. They are the oldest type of women's organizations in the Province, as in all other parts of Canada, and exert a profound influence on the life of the community.

It is generally recognized throughout the Dominion of Canada that the position of the women in Alberta is farther advanced than in any other Province. The women participate in a greater degree in the economic and political life of the Province than in most Provinces of Canada, and are rapidly taking their places beside the men in the conduct of public affairs.

They enjoy the same status and legal rights. Their position depends entirely upon their desire to embrace their opportunities and train themselves for their waiting responsibilities. "To no one woman or group of women," says Mrs. Henrietta Muir Edwards, "is due the present splendid legal position of women in Alberta. It is due to the Alberta women, who, by their courage, endurance and ability did team work with their husbands and brothers in all that has made for the development of the Province. The present legal position of Alberta women was gained not by militant methods, nor denunciation and accusations of men, but by measuring up to the requirements of new surroundings and new duties; and also to the generous appreciation of Alberta men who have placed the women on an absolute equality in all the responsibilities and duties of full citizenship."

It is a remarkable fact that woman suffrage was never opposed by any representative body of men in the entire Province. Women's rights have been enthusiastically supported by the United Farmers of Alberta. The attitude of the organized farmers gives the clue to the attitude of the men of the Province. Farm women have had a large share in developing Alberta. One of the delightful things about Alberta rural life is the absence of strain and dislocation in the relations between men and women. There is no jealousy that men will lose what women gain. Among the primitive necessities incident to pioneering a woman needs a man's help, and a man needs a woman's. She is helpless as a pioneer, but on the other hand the bachelor in a dreary ill-kept "shack" is not a happy or very efficient citizen. This fact is recognized by the banks. The married mail a family is a better risk for a banker's loan than a bachelor.

To quote from a recent writer from the Old Country on life in Western Canada: "For a man in the West marriage does not mean what it does among the well-to-do at home, giving up comfortable bachelor lodgings for all life of house-owning and smart dinners; it means leaving a ghastly loneliness for companionship and help, and squalor for decent comfort. For a woman in this new land the sphere of the home does not mean polishing scratches on silver or decorating the dining room with masses of flowers, but feeding and clothing and cheering husband and children, and being kind to poor bachelors round about who need kindness badly. Woman is at her old task as the civilizer, not as the over-civilizer."

When the Torrens System of land registration was introduced into the North West Territories in 1886 dower rights were abrogated. For years there was strong feeling on this question as much among men as among women. It was universally recognized that the homesteader's wife had as great a share iii developing the raw prairie homestead into a comfortable and prosperous home as her husband and that it was an injustice that this product of their joint labour became his sole property. The feeling grew until the anomaly was corrected by the Alberta legislature in passing the Married Women's Relief Act and the Dower Act. By the first act mentioned, the widow of a man who (lies leaving a will) by the terms of which in the opinion of the judge, the widow receives less than if her husband died intestate, may apply to the Supreme Court for relief. By the Dower Act the widow is entitled to a life interest in the homestead of the deceased husband. Broadly speaking the term homestead may be said to be the place occupied as the residence at the time of the husband's death. In towns and cities it is considered to be not more than four adjoining lots in one block in which the house occupied by the husband at his decease was situated. In rural districts the term homestead by the act is restricted to one quarter section of land. The legislation on these questions was not regarded as chivalrous concessions by the husband, but as a recognition of fundamental rights of the wife. For similar reasons the men of Alberta have always been in favour of giving women the vote. And when in 1916 the Honourable A. L. Sifton proposed to confer the franchise on the women of the Province, his Government was strongly supported in the press of the country, and in the legislature.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Alberta has led the way in several lines of women's endeavours. It granted equal suffrage a few months later than Manitoba. For years women had served on hospital boards, library boards, school boards, but Alberta was the first Province in Canada to elect women to the Legislative Assembly. In the general election in 1917 Mrs. Louise McKinney was elected for the riding of Claresholm, and Miss Roberta McAdams was elected as one of the Soldier representatives. In 1913 Mrs. R. R. Jamieson and Mrs. Fred Langford, of Calgary, were appointed Juvenile Court Commissioners for the trial of juvenile offenders. Mrs. Jamieson was the first woman officer of this class appointed in Canada. In 1916 Mrs. Arthur Murphy ("Janey Canuck") and Mrs. R. R. Jamieson were appointed Police Magistrates for the trial of women offenders in their respective cities of Edmonton and Calgary. Dr. Evelyn Windsor who was in charge of the medical work in the Calgary schools was the first woman physician to be sent overseas from Canada by the Department of Militia. The latest honour accorded women in Alberta has been the elevation of Mrs. Walter Parlby to a seat in the Provincial Cabinet, August, 1921. Mrs. Parlby is Minister without Portfolio, the second woman in the British Empire to win that distinguished position. The first was Mrs. Mary Ellen Smith, of Vancouver, elevated to a similar 1)OSitiofl in the Cabinet of British Columbia in 1920.

The National Council of Women is represented by locals in Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Wetaskiwin. The women identified with these organizations have devoted their activties to social and economic problems concerning women. Such subjects as equal parental control, homes for mentally deficient children and destitute old people, mothers' pensions, and equal moral standards for men and women, have been strongly advocated, and the passing of legislation on these subjects is in a great measure due to the intelligent propaganda of the various branches of the Local Councils.

The Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire is a patriotic organization and valiantly discharged that duty during the years of the Great war. The Daughters of the Empire in Alberta were the first to take UI) the support of the families of the first reservists called in August, 1914, to join their old regiments overseas, as well as the support of the families of the members of the First Canadian contingent. This work they carried on until the Canadian Patrotic Fund was organized and in a position to dispense relief. When the war broke out there were not more than half. a dozen Chapters of the Order in the Province; when the war closed in 1918, there were eighty-seven Chapters in the Province, with a membership of about 2,500 devoted to every phase of war relief. During the four years the Order collected $250,000 for patriotic purposes.

Organized action on behalf of women in rural districts is promoted by the United Farm Women of Alberta and the Women's Institutes. The former is the sister organization of the United Farmers of Alberta and was begun in 1915. Since 1913 women have been eligible as members of the United Farmers of Alberta. It was but a step to form themselves into a separate section. This was done in 1915 with Mrs. Walter Parlby (now Honourable Mrs. Walter Parlby) as President. She was succeeded in 1919 by Mrs. Marion Sears. The President of the Women's section is also a member of the Board of Directors of the United Farmers of Alberta. The organized farmers thus carry out very thoroughly the democratic principles for which they stand. During the war the United Farm Women were active in support of the Red Cross, Belgian Relief, Patriotic Fund, and other relief work. They bore a heavy strain in assisting in greater production for the armies and people of the Allies. Farm hell) in the house and in the field was almost unprocurable; notwithstanding the scarcity of labour the rate of production of all foodstuffs was enormously increased. Their work was undoubtedly a great factor in Alberta's contribution to win the war.

The Women's Institutes of Alberta were organized under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture of the Province. The work carried on by these organizations was first carried on in conjunction with the Farmers' Institutes. But the growing influence of women in matters of state policy and improvement of country life conditions led to a separate organization in 1916. This was done by an act of the legislature which provided for the formation of Women's Institutes in any district where eight or more women over sixteen years of age apply to the department to be constituted. Small provincial grants are given and the work superintended by an officer of the department. Miss Mary Mclsaac was the first superintendent of the work in Alberta. In 1921 she was succeeded by Miss Jessie McMillan, who still superintends this work for the Government of Alberta.

The work of Women's Institutes is devoted almost entirely to the improvement of social conditions in rural communities. Home nursing, sanitation, sickroom cooking, child welfare, old values, house furnishing and local neighborhood needs are representative activities that engage the attention of the Institutes. The work has been carried on by the women of the Province with great enthusiasm and with great promise for the future improvement of rural life. Different communities attack different problems. Some Institutes have established rest rooms in the towns for the country women who shop there. Others have devoted their energies to obtaining medical and nursing assistance, others to the establishment of libraries in their districts, and others to child welfare work. Through the Department of Agriculture lecturers and demonstrators are furnished to Institutes and short courses are given in subjects embraced within the scope of the act.

In recent years the work of the Women's Institutes has been enlarged to include the girls of rural communities. There are now (1921) fifty- four Women's Institute Girls' Clubs with a membership of 850. The objects of such clubs are the improvement of social and educational conditions among girls of school and adolescent age.

During the war the activities of the Women's Institutes were directed particularly to Red Cross and Patriotic work, but much was also done in the line of community improvements. Public libraries were established, the number of rest rooms in operation doubled, garden contests and flower shows held by increased number of Institutes and some Institutes organized Children's Day, when prizes were donated for general proficiency, regular attendance at school, drawing, sewing, cooking and flowers. In 1915 $6,459.00 was contributed to various war funds, and in 1916 $30,166.87 raised for war purposes, and 32,243 articles sent to soldiers overseas.

In 1918 the Women's Institute of Alberta was successful in completing the organization of the Society. The Province was divided into four geographical districts, the units of which were provincial electoral constituencies; each constituency elected a constituency executive board.

During 1919 and after the Spanish influenza epidemic it was thought advisable that instruction in home nursing and the care of the sick should be given to as many Institutes as were prepared to receive it. Consequently, short course schools in home nursing and first aid were given at fifty-four centres throughout the Province, with a total attendance of 3,409 women.

In 1919 the total membership was 13,150 with a total of 365 Institutes; 2,585 persons of 461 families were supplied with complete outfits of clothing; large numbers of layettes were supplied by the relief depot in those districts where the need was most urgent; $3,600 worth of new garments were purchased from the wholesalers with money contributed, and 22,042 garments were distributed by the depot; twenty-five Institutes gave prizes to students for various types of merits; one Institute completely furnished a domestic science kitchen; another Institute donated $100 worth of books to the local school.
There are thirty-eight Women's Institute Rest Rooms and Community Homes in Alberta, of this number approximately one-third of the Institutes own their buildings. A number of these homes have been built in memory of the boys from the district who fell in the Great war.

The Young Women's Christian Association and the Catholic Women's League have strong organizations in the principal cities. These two organizations exist mainly for the care of young women away from home. Each conducts splendid homes for business girls. While specializing on this splendid community service, they do a great deal of charity and patriotic work. The Catholic Women's League of Edmonton was very active during the war in assisting the Red Cross, French Relief Fund and Belgian Relief.

In the four principal cities of the Province there is a Children's Aid Society to assist in carrying out the objects of the Provincial laws respecting the protection of children. These Societies are mostly in the hands of women, who, in addition to keeping public sentiment alive on questions of child welfare maintain and manage children's homes for such children who need temporary care through the illness or misfortune of their parents.

The war brought into existence two associations of women. These were the Next of Kin Associations, incorporated under a Provincial act; and the War Widows' Association. They sprung up in the cities and principal towns. While husbands, brothers and sons were overseas the Next of Kin Associations rendered valuable community service in protecting dependents at home in matters of soldiers' assigned pay, separation allowances, Patriotic Fund and Red Cross relief, and did much to sustain the morale of soldiers' families. In Edmonton and Calgary, the Next of Kin Associations of these cities established Next of Kin homes for the care of soldiers' children when the mother was ill or when the mother died before the father's return and the lawful next of kin could not be found or did not look after the motherless family. In this work the Next of Kin received the cooperation of the Red Cross Society and the Canadian Patriotic Fund. After the close of the war and the demobilization of the various military units, the work of these homes steadily decreased, until it was taken over by the Alberta Branch of the Red Cross Society.

The War Widows' Association was composed of the wives of men who had died or been killed while in military service, and was particularly active during the war and the years immediately following its cessation.


 


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