Since many women will either from choice or from force
of circumstances continue to earn a living outside the home,
are we not duty-bound to stand for the principle of equal
pay for equal work?
—Louise McKinney, 1919
Although women flooded into industry during the First
and industry made changes to accommodate this new workforce, during the
1920s, little improvement in female's hours
and wages transpired.
As a result, women's groups pressured provincial
governments to enact legislation to protect women from
economic exploitation and to improve the lot of women who
had to support themselves with their earnings. Organized
labour groups also brought pressure to bear, since low wages
for women undercut wages for all workers, and these groups
wanted to limit female competition in the work force.
Irene Parlby sponsored the
Minimum Wage for Women Act,
which was passed in 1925, making Alberta the first province
to enact a minimum wage law for women. Although Nellie
McClung was a proponent of equal wages for men and
women (at the time, women earned only
1/3 of a man's wage), she objected to the UFA's Minimum Wage
Act, because it did not provide for women to be on the
The purpose of the minimum wage law was to ensure that
female workers could earn a living wage—one sufficient to
"preserve the health, morals and efficiency" of working
The dollar figure was established by estimating the basic
weekly amount a single woman needed to keep herself in a
"respectable, if somewhat impoverished state."
Unfortunately, the assumption was made that the woman would
work full-time and year-round. For most women, this was not
the case. For many women, the minimum wage was really too
low to fulfill its intended purpose. It did not provide vacation pay, benefits, or a future pension,
so while their position may have improved slightly, women were still at a great economic disadvantage.