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Property Rights Movement


Property laws in the early 20th-century Canada discriminated against women. Married women held few rights to the money and property they shared with their husbands. This meant that if a husband died or abandoned his wife, she could easily lose all her financial standing. In divorce cases, a woman was not entitled to a share in the property nor financial support and, as a result, it was not an attractive option for women and many endured unhappy or abusive marriages. 

Many of the same Albertan women who fought for women's right to vote, also sought to improve women's property rights. Irene ParlbyIrene Parlby, for example, in her role as president of the United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) created resolutions in 1915 calling for a dower law that would grant women a share of their husband's property upon his death and legislation that would forbid a husband of disposing of property without his wife's consent. In 1917, the Liberal government responded to these resolutions, passing a Dower Act that guaranteed women a life estate on the homestead. Although this Act was a definite step forward, many women still criticized it for not allowing married women to own property in their own name and only guaranteeing women a portion of the land when their husbands died, not any of the other movable property.

More changes to property law came with the new UFA government. In 1925, Parlby introduced Bill 54, An Act Establishing Community of Property as Between a Husband and a Wife, into the legislative assembly. It proposed that all the property a woman brought to marriage or acquired as a gift or inheritance during marriage be in her name, all other property acquired by the couple during marriage would become community property. This community property was to be managed by the husband, but upon either of the spouse's death the property was to be divided equally between the living spouse and the dead one's estate. This bill was extremely revolutionary for its time and even many women did not fully support it. In the end the bill was not passed, instead the UFA passed another property bill in 1926 that did little more than increase the terms of a woman's life estate. However, Parbly's bill signified the amount of interest in increasing women's property rights and paved the way for future laws.
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  • McManus, Sheila. "Gender(ed) Tensions in the Work and Politics of Alberta Farm Women, 1905-29."  Telling Tales.  Eds. Catherine Cavanaugh and Randi Warne.  Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2000.



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