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Volunteerism in Alberta: 100 years of Celebrating Community
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Rights and Reform Unite - Page 1
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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.

Picking potatoes

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 1920.

Woman cutting oats

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.

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Volunteerism in Alberta: 100 years of Celebrating Community
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