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School pupils, Carstairs, Alberta. [ca. 1909-1910]In the early pioneer days in central Alberta, it was difficult for girls, especially those in rural areas, to receive a formal education. Prior to the creation of a department of education in 1905, schools were few, and children had to cross long distances to reach the nearest school. Many families could not afford to send all their children to school, their work being necessary to the family economy, and it was usually boys over girls who were sent first. Also, for many, the early school curriculum was impractical, focusing on academics and matriculation rather than on the skills necessary for homemaking and farming. Especially for girls, the home schooling they received usually from their mothers - learning how to perform household chores, help out on the farm and the basics of reading, writing and mathematics - was seen as more important.

 

With the turn of the century, however, ideas surrounding the education of girls began to change. Since women were the centre of the domestic or private sphere they were in charge of the moral and physical well-being of the family. A woman improperly trained in Christian morality and in cleanliness and sanitation was seen as an intellectual and physical threat to her children. Therefore, many believed it necessary that women receive training that would make them good wives and mothers. Women's organizations, like the United Farm Women of Alberta, vigorously promoted the education of girls and farm women. They believed that girls should receive practical training in domestic and agricultural skills, as well as learning about academics and Christian morality. It followed then that more girls began attending and finishing grade school. Also, secondary educational institutions began developing programs specifically targeted at women and their development of domestic and agricultural skills. Of course, not all women believed in pursuing a domestic education, as many began entering degree programs at universities traditionally dominated by men.

 

In this section, we will examine the growth of women's education, both primary and secondary, in Central Alberta. We will also examine the other side of female education - women as teachers. Teaching, like nursing, became one the few professions that offered women career opportunities and provided an alternative to the traditional route of marriage and motherhood (although many abandoned their teaching careers once they became married). Teaching was certainly not an easy profession, especially in the early years and, in this section, we will explore the many challenges that women teachers faced. However, we will also look at how many women found that it was also a profession that afforded them a great deal of independence and authority. 

 

Featured Articles

An Education For Character in Alberta Schools, 1905-45 by Amy von Heyking

 

Literacy and Legacy by Hazel Flewwelling


 

 

  
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