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Career as a Politician

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

Irene Parlby, Cabinet Minister

Achievements of the UFA Government

Reading: "What Business Have Women in Politics?"


Irene Parlby with the United Farmers of Alberta caucus in July 1921In the month before the 1921 election, the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) launched an election crusade—and Irene Parlby was called into personal service. One morning, she received a phone call asking her to run for election in her home constituency of Lacombe. She had resigned as President of the United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) the year before, exhausted by the demands of the position. Now she was looking forward to devoting her time to her family, her beloved garden, her music and her books.

Her first impulse was to refuse the nomination, but her own repeated call to women to take their place in public life swayed her. She agreed to participate, never really believing that she would get the nomination, and quite certain she would never be elected.

Although she had spoken on behalf of Alexander Moore, during his successful campaign in the 1919 by-election, that was the extent of her election experience. Although she delivered excellent speeches, Parlby did not enjoy campaigning, and dreaded the hecklers. Her fears were allayed when the country people embraced her as their own as she campaigned throughout her constituency, but her reception in the towns was less friendly, as the old parties still had influence. She noticed that her opponents attacked the one flaw they could find in her: "The only thing which seemed to concern my opponents was that I am a woman—and worse, and Englishwoman who, although I came to Western Canada when it was still an undeveloped wilderness, could not possibly know anything about it!" Thus, they claimed she was not an appropriate representative for the people. Regardless of her naysayers, her friends and neighbours gave her campaign support, and her husband, Walter, and her son, Humphrey, provided her with enthusiastic support that helped carry her through.

On election day, an unprecedented number of voters turned out and (to their own amazement) the UFA was swept to power gaining 39 seats out of a total of 61. Parlby won Lacombe with a huge majority in the rural polls, which offset her much lower support in the towns.

Heritage Trail: A Woman of the West—Part 5
Irene Parlby was reluctant to run for office as a United Farmers of Alberta member in 1921. As a Cabinet Minister, she found politics to be troubling but full of new experiences. Listen Now
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