have played a large role in recording the history of Alberta. Through
their letters, books, poems and articles they have recorded much of the
information available on everyday life in Alberta from the early fur trade years
right up until today. As we will examine in the Women section many women
in Central Alberta were writers: some were professionals hired as
journalists, but most were amateurs or volunteer writers. Although they
in a number of genres and formats, a common thread that linked them is
their interest in recording the history of their local communities.
The first women to write about Alberta were the missionary wives and pioneer
women. Often they offered the first accounts of life on
the Western frontier and, thus, their accounts met with great interest in Eastern
Canada and Europe. A popular subject among missionary wives was the
Aboriginals and their writings often contained a moral message. For
instance, Elizabeth Boyd McDougall, wife of the Methodist missionary John
McDougall, wrote a short article entitled "Just a few Sentences about the
Indian," which was published in 1905. In this article, she attempts
to make the reader understand what she perceives to be the mindset of the
Aboriginal and calls for compassion among "White People" when dealing
Aboriginal land claims. Annie McDougall, Elizabeth McDougall's
sister-in-law, also described the Aboriginal people of the prairies (although
she did so in a speech that has been transcribed), going into detail about how
they prepared food:
the fall the Indians with all the members of their families would migrate to the
prairie. The men killed the buffalo, the women skinned then, cut the meat
into long strips, and hung it on poles to dry over a little fire. When the
meat had dried on one side they turned the other side. The meat by being
completely dried was thus preserved for future use.
details on the everyday chores of Aboriginal women prove to be very valuable to
historians, as they are very scarce.
women also wrote detailed accounts of their everyday lives. Susan Jackal's
book A Flannel Shirt and Liberty: British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian
West, 1800-1914 contains a collection of letters, essays and articles written by
women on their lives on the Western frontier. One Alberta ranch woman,
Agnes Skrine, in a letter to the British press details how she spends each of
her days, commenting: "I like both the work and the play here, the time out
of doors and the time for coming home. I like the summer and the winter, the
monotony and the change. Besides, I like a flannel shirt, and
liberty." Her letter exemplifies how much of the writing coming out
of the West was directed at an audience in the motherland, in Skrine's case
England. Their writings often led to much discussion regarding the
standard of living of women in the West.
in the 20th century have continued this trend of writing about the details
of everyday life on the Prairie's. In the communities throughout Central
Alberta it is often women who have recorded the local new and histories.
For example, in our Women section, we profile journalist Marjorie Ludvigsson, a
correspondent for The Lacombe Globe, The Stettler Independent and The Bashaw
News who apparently always kept her ears cocked for a story while in a crowd and
Nancy Ward Samson who helped to initiate the first newspaper in Hobbema, The
Beaver Hills Native-Voice. We also profile women, such as
Margaret Godkin, Vera Barritt, Jeane Thompson, and Helen Benson, who collect stories, write and
edit the first histories of their towns or communities. For the most part,
the work of these women is as volunteers.
Why is it that women are so
interested in writing about their local communities? One
reason is that women do most of the communicating within communities;
they visit the old-timers and collect their stories, listen for
interesting bits of news in everyday conversation and make note of the
important events in peoples lives, like births, deaths and marriages.
They, more than men, tend to maintain links of communications between families,
generations and friends and, thus, have a reserve of information on local
life. Also, they, more than men, seem to be interested in everyday occurrences
(although this is not always reflected in their writing) and see the need to
record these details.
just because women write local histories, does not mean that they include very much
information about women. Historian Nanci Langford explains in her
article "Modesty and Meaning: Women in Alberta Local Histories," that while
women writers provide very detailed information on the activities and
accomplishments of their husbands, children and other relatives, they are very reluctant
to write about themselves. Also, they have a tendency to undermine their
work by casting themselves in secondary roles to men. Even if a
women had a successful career or contributed to managing the farm, it is her domestic traits that are
most often described and praised in the
writings. They often emphasize how through uncomplaining
determination and sacrifice women helped bring their families through hard times
and how women helped improve the quality of life for others. For
example, Catherine McManus is described in The Tales and Trails of
were difficult during the 20's and 30's but Mrs. McManus was a skilful manager
and an excellent homemaker. She was also in much demand as a midwife and
assisted in bringing a number of Millet-area babies into the world. Many a
friend and neighbour was grateful to Mrs. McManus for her assistance in times of
illness in their home.
despite the fact that they omit information about women and fall into gender
stereotyping, these local histories are very valuable to historians of
Canadian women. While they might not talk about themselves personally,
they do include abundant information on women's organizations, women's community
activities and women as important figures in the community, such as
schoolteachers and nurses. Their tone and style provide some insight into
the character and values of women and often what they do not mention speaks
louder than words to many of the pressures and limitations on women.
Therefore, they provide historians with some of the rare glimpses into women's
culture in Central Alberta.
Hugh. "Women Journalists as Historians." Alberta
History 45(4) 1997: 2-8.
Susan, ed. A Flannel Shirt and Liberty. Vancouver: University of British
Columbia Press, 1982.
Nanci. "Modesty and Meaning: Women in Alberta Local Histories."
McDougall, Annie. "Pioneer
Life in the 1870s." Alberta History 1998 46(3): 25-27.
and District Historical Society. Tales and Trails of Millet. 1978.
Stiles, Joanna. "Descended from Heroes: The Frontier Myth in Rural