Herstory: An Exhibition

"...what men had done for themselves in agricultural pursuits...women could do..."

Image of E. Cora Hind
E. Cora Hind
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I consider it downright impertinence for a man on a farm to talk about supporting his wife. When she cooks his meals and sews and mends for him and his children from dawn until dusk, what is she doing if she is not supporting herself?
Francis Marion Beynon, 1917.

From the beginning of time, women in what is now Canada have been involved with agriculture. First Nations women made the decisions about planting, harvesting, seed selection, and food storage. Later, women settlers grew food to feed their families and to sell for cash in nearby communities.

On the prairies, women were no less involved. Although unable to homestead on their own unless they were widows, Saskatchewan women worked alongside their men, breaking soil, growing crops and selling what they raised. There are many stories of women who essentially farmed alone, since their husbands were working far away to earn cash.

The Saskatchewan Women Grain Growers and the United Farm Women of Alberta in the 1910s and 1920s, and later the women in the United Farmers of Canada organized and lobbied for all matters affecting rural women--suffrage, education, rural nurses, libraries, wages for women and girls.

Francis Marion Beynon (Herstory 1979), women's editor of the Grain Growers Guide, used her editorials to rally women to organize for suffrage and women's rights. Many women who became involved in western politics got their start in various agricultural movments. Annie Hollis (Herstory 1990), Dorise Nielsen (Herstory 1974), Elsie Hart (Herstory 1988), Irene Parlby (Herstory 1975) and Sophia Dixon (Herstory 1981) are but a few. Most also wrote about the conditions of women. Annie Hollis, for instance, wrote in periodicals such as The Canadian Forum, Farm and Ranch Review and England's Time and Tide about the economic and social conditions of women.

Today, women operate farms, serve as Wheat Pool delegates, work as agricultural extension agents. In 1988, Janet Sutherland Parsons (Herstory 1992), who farms near Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, became the first woman named the M. R. Motherwell Outstanding Young Farmer of the Year.

I met women forced by circumstances into business or industrial life, the monotony and routine of which starved those very faculties which would have found full scope in the care of grateful animals and the varied labours of the land, and, having arrived myself at the place where I knew how to succeed, through having learned what to avoid, in farming on the prairie, it seemed to me that, through the untidy gap I had made in scrambling through a blind fence to get that knowledge, others would make a gate if they once realized that what men had done for themslves in agricultural pursuits on the prairie, women could do for themselves. Woman can earn for herself independence and in time, wealth.
(Georgina Binnie-Clark, 1914)

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