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Alberta’s volunteers are often the first people to
recognize what social, political, economic, cultural, and
philosophical issues should be publicly addressed.
Volunteers are an outward expression of Albertas’ values;
they tackle what they believe are important topics and they
help shape the quality of our lives and our communities.
Numerous urban and rural women’s volunteer organizations
were formed in the early 20th Century to address social and
political rights and issues. For example, in 1904, Louise
Crummy McKinney introduced the Women’s Christian Temperance
Union (WCTU) to women in Alberta. The WCTU spearheaded the
prohibition movement, which felt alcohol abuse and
prostitution were damaging Alberta’s families and society.
The WCTU also championed women’s rights.
Formed in 1909 by Alberta farmers, the United Farmers of
Alberta grew into a powerful co-operative organization that
tackled social, educational, business, political, and rural
issues. The UFA established community halls, organized
social events, supported the education of rural youth,
practiced co-operation, and promoted self-help to farm
businesses. The United Farmers of Alberta is one of the best
examples of how, initially, a volunteer-led organization
helped shape and influence government policies for decades.
The United Farm Women of Alberta (formed in 1913 with
Irene Parlby as its first president) campaigned for the
equality of women and for the improvement of health care.
Women, especially from Alberta’s early farm period, worked
simultaneously in their homes and on the homestead alongside
their husbands. The division of labour — with women as
homemakers and men as earners and the sole contributor to
the family’s income— is a misconception.
Men often took outside labour jobs so they could purchase
farm implements. When husbands were absent, the full burden
of maintaining and running the house and homestead fell upon
females. Women ran farms, planted crops, cared for children,
acted as veterinarians, fed livestock, grew gardens, cooked,
cleaned, and everything in between. Yet in the eyes of the
law, women could not sit on juries or vote, and they lacked
basic property rights. Until the Dowers Act was passed in
1917, a woman could be left penniless if her husband died.
Women were also denied equal rights over their children until
The majority of Alberta’s population was rural and
agriculture fuelled the economy. Farmers had political
clout, which they displayed at the United Farmers of Alberta
1912 Convention by formally supporting equal political
rights for women. The voluntary Suffrage Movement in Alberta
also included WCTU, and various local urban women’s
councils. Well-known Edmonton-based suffragette Nellie
McClung also lent her voice and pen to the Suffrage
Movement. On October 1914, men and women took their cause to
Alberta’s legislature. They presented a petition signed by
1200 people, stating their demand that the Alberta Election
Act change the word "male" to "person." Another delegation
to the Alberta’s legislature in 1915 and many speeches and
writings finally made their mark. Alberta women were given
the vote in 1916. This same year, a plebiscite endorsing
prohibition was passed and remained in effect until 1923.