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Women on Homesteads

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Speaking of Women

Anti-Suffrage Reasoning

Women on Homesteads

Distinction of Spheres

Woman Suffrage Bill


Nellie McClung, "Speaking of Women," Maclean’s May 1916.

Now even in the matter of homesteads women are not allowed free land unless they are widows with the care of minor children; although any man who is of the age of eighteen may have one hundred and sixty acres on payment of ten dollars, and the performance of certain duties. The alleged reason for this discrimination is that women cannot perform the required duties and so, to save them from the temptation of trying, the Government in its fatherly wisdom denies them the chance.

But women are doing homestead duties wherever homestead duties are being done. Women suffer the hardships—cold, hunger, loneliness—against which there is no law; and, when the homestead is "proved," all the scrub cleared, and the land broken, the husband may sell the whole thing without his wife's knowledge, and he can take the money and depart, without a word. Against this there is no law wither!

No person objects to the homesteader's wife having to get out wood, or break up scrub land, or drive oxen, so long as she is not doing these things for herself and has no legal claim on the result of her labor. Working for someone else is very sweet and womanly, and most commendable. What a neat blending there is of kindness and cruelty in the complacent utterances of the armchair philosophers who tell us that women have not the physical strength to do the hard tasks of life and therefore should not be allowed to vote! Kindness and cruelty have never blended well, though clever people have tried to bring it about.

Little Harry had a birthday party one day, and as part of the entertainment he proudly exhibited a fine family of young puppies, who occupied a corner of the barn. One of his little guests seemed to be greatly attracted by the smallest puppy. He carried about in his arms and appeared to lavish great affection on it! At last, he took it into the house, and interviewed Harry's mother. "Oh, Mrs. Brown," he said, "this little puppy is smaller than any of the others—and Harry says it will never grow to be a fire big dog—and maybe it is sick—and it is a dear sweet pet—and please may we drown it!"

I saw a letter last week which was written to the Sunshine Editor of one of our papers, from a woman on the homestead. She asked if a pair of boots could be sent to her, for she had to get out all the wood from the bush. Her husband had gone to work in the mines in B.C. She expressed her gratitude for the help she had received from Sunshine before, and voiced the hope that when "she got things going" she would be able to show her gratitude by helping someone else. There was no word of complaint. And this brave woman is typical of many. Whether able or not able, women are out in the world, meeting its conditions, bearing its conditions, fighting their own battles, and always under a handicap.

Now the question is, what are we going to do about it?

One way, pursued by many, is to turn blind eyes to conditions as they are, and "haver" away about how frail and sweet women are; and that what they need is greater dependence. This babble of marriage and home for every woman sounds soothing, but does not seem to lead anywhere. Before the war, there were a million and a half more women than men in the Old Country alone—what will the proportion be when the war, with its fearful destruction of men, is over? One would think, to read the vaporings which pass as articles on the suffrage question, that good husbands will be supplied upon request, if you would only write your name and address plainly and enclose a stamped envelope.

It is certainly true that the old avenues of labor have been closed to women. The introduction of machinery has done this, for now the work is done in factories, which formerly was done by hand labor. Women have not deserted their work, but the work has been taken from them. Sometimes it is said that women are trying to usurp men's place in the world; and if they were, it would be merely an act of retaliation, for men have already usurped women' sphere. We have men cooks, milliners, hairdressers, dressmakers, laundrymen—yes, men have invaded women's sphere. It is inevitable and cannot be changed by words of protest. People do well to accept the inevitable.

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