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Women on Homesteads

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Homesteaders wagonThe vast majority of people who immigrated to the Canadian prairies lived on homesteads. The promise of free land, providing part of it was developed for agriculture, attracted a strong wave of immigrants to the region from 1896 to 1914. Posters and pamphlets distributed throughout Europe and Eastern North America extolled the virtues of this new frontier, while cautioning that only certain types of people would be suited to the life.

Most families intending to homestead came to the Canadian prairies together. Upon selecting a quarter section of land at the nearest land claims office, they travelled (usually by wagon) to their final destination. There was nothing to mark their claim on the vast prairie but a numbered stake at each corner.

It often took several years for farms to become commercially productive. Land that was forested had to be cleared, and the soil did not always produce a bountiful crop the first year. Wives helped provide for their families' economic needs through these difficult years. Many sold surplus eggs and milk collected from the household chickens and cows, while making meals for their own families.

Husbands and wives worked cooperatively to fulfill their families' economic needs by specializing in the tasks appointed to their own gender. However, women were neither socially nor politically equal to their husbands. Henrietta Muir Edwards, in her booklet, Legal Status of Women in Alberta, discussed the political discrepancies in the province, particularly as they related to homesteaders. Farm wives were recognized as important contributors to their families—perhaps more so than urban wives—but the work they performed was still valued less than their husbands'.

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