Walter and Irene Parlby were among the earliest settlers
in the Buffalo Lake District, and they, along with the
Westheads and Marryats, were among the most prominent people
in the area around the town of Alix (named for Mrs. Westhead).
It is hardly surprising then, that when Alberta's two
farm advocacy groups united to form the United Farmers of
Alberta (UFA) in 1909, Colonel Marryat was one of the main
instigators of the Alix local UFA, and Walter Parlby was its
first President. When Irene became President of the UFA's
Women's Auxiliary in 1916, the UFA really became a family
Although initially the UFA did not allow women to be
members, at the 1913 convention, it amended its constitution
to allow their admission. In 1915, a meeting of all
farmwomen was called in conjunction with the regular UFA
convention in the interests of forming a Women's Auxiliary.
A provincial Women's Auxiliary was formed with Jean Reed as
its President and Leona Barritt as its Secretary.
At the convention the next year, Irene Parlby was
nominated as President of the provincial Women's Auxiliary
and easily won the electiony. One of the first things she
did was propose changing the Women's Auxiliary into an
independent association. Thus, with the backing of the UFA
President Henry Wise Wood, the auxiliary became the United
Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) in 1916.
That first summer, Parlby and Barritt made their first
tour for the purpose of organizing new UFWA locals
throughout the province—travelling by wagon, train, or the
occasional auto and bunking with locals or occasional
hotels. Such tours must have been effective, because within
four years, 293 local groups had been formed, with a
membership of 3,926.
As well as serving as President of the UFWA, Irene Parlby
also filled the role of Health Convenor. In this role, she
called together a committee to draft a bill setting up the
first Municipal Hospitals. She and Mrs. Barritt were on the
committee, as were: Henry Wise Wood, President of the UFA,
Herbert Greenfield, President of the Rural Municipalities
Association, Mr. Lamb, later Deputy Minister of Health in
the Liberal cabinet, and C. Rice Sheppard. This group
drafted the Municipal Hospitals Act, which was finally
passed in1919. The UFWA also drew up the plans for the
system of Public Health Nurses and the Travelling Clinics.
As part of her duties as President, Parlby was called to
address the UFWA's counterparts in Saskatchewan and
Manitoba. In 1919, she was one of the two Alberta women
called to Ottawa by the Minister of the Interior to discuss
the problem of immigration for women.
At this meeting, a permanent council was formed, with
Mrs. Violet McNaughton of Saskatchewan representing the
newly formed Interprovincial Council of Western Farm Women.
The duties of this council included studying overseas
selection of women immigrants, caring for immigrants at the
points of embarkation, supervising hostels, find out about
employment fields and training facilities.
Parlby also took a keen interest in education, feeling
strongly that it was important for people in farming
communities. As a result of her interest, she served on the
University of Alberta's Board of Governors for three
years—during her term as President of the UFWA. Thus, she
had a hand in formulating the institution's early
policies—particularly, those of the Faculty of Extension,
which sent books and educational materials to rural
communities. Dr. Henry Marshall Tory, President of the
University of Alberta, became one of Parlby’s strongest
One of the results of the UFWA’s commitment to education
for rural children was the annual Farm Young People’s Week
at the University—during which young people from the farm
could stay in University residences and enjoy a week of
talks and short courses in a university environment.
The UFWA also sponsored School Fairs and Field Days, in
the interest of making farm life attractive for young
people, so that they would not be turned away from the
agrarian tradition by education. This program also received
support from the University Extension Department.