Social Activism

There was a perception that pioneer life on the Canadian prairies afforded greater equality between men and women. In the campaign to attract women to the West, many promoters claimed that, because women worked alongside men both inside and outside the home on the Prairie, their work was more appreciated. Necessity required that most pioneering women did help out on farm or in the family business, in addition to shouldering most of the work inside the home. Many women and men, as a result, believed that, since women contributed more directly to the financial well-being of the family, they should have greater rights and participation in the political process. To what extent, then, did they achieve greater liberty and equality in the Alberta political scene?

Featured Women

Irene Parlby
Irene Parlby, an advocate for rural women and children, was elected to the Alberta Legislature in 1921. She was appointed Minister Without Portfolio—the first female cabinet minister in Alberta history and only the second in the British Empire. Parlby represented Canada at the League of Nations in Geneva in 1930 and was the first woman awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta in 1935.

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In this section, we look at women's struggle for greater equality and rights in Alberta politics. We first give a general overview of women's organizations, examining why so many decided to join these organizations and what impact these organizations had on the period's political and social issues. We then examine the early equal-rights movement. Three major campaigns make up this movement: the suffrage movement, in which women fought for the right to vote; the dower rights movement, in which women sought a legal share of their husband's property upon his death, and; the Persons Case, in which five Albertan women challenged the definitions of "persons" as it appeared in the British North American Act. Next, we examine women's involvement in the political parties of the day. Both the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) and the Social Credit party incorporated women; both parties had an auxiliary women's organization and the UFA's minister Irene Parlby was the second woman in the British Empire to be appointed to a cabinet position.

Based on these studies, it seems women played a significant role in Alberta politics from the beginning; however, strict limitations were often placed on the extent of women's power and their participation was often justified on the basis of their domestic and maternal roles. In this section, we will examine the contradictions that accompanied women's success in the political sphere. We also examine women's participation in terms of post-war movements.