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Involvement with the UFA

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

Reading: "A While Ago and Today"


UFWA LogoWalter 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 affair.

United Farm Women of Alberta Board, 1919. Irene Parlby at center.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.

Better baby show, Parkland, Alberta.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.

Haying on Parlby Flats, near Alix, Alberta.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 allies.

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.

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