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Organized Farm Women in the WGG, the UFC, the SFU, and the NFU

The Woman Grain Growers (WGG) and women in the United Farmers of Canada Saskatchewan Section (UFC), the Saskatchewan Farmers’ Union (SFU), and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) represent one of three important streams of the farm women’s movement in Canada. A first stream, the Homemakers’ Clubs and the Women’s Institutes, came into being in Saskatchewan in 1911; and the third stream, the Saskatchewan Women’s Agricultural Network, was founded in 1985. The WGG, also known as the Women’s Section of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association (SGGA), evolved out of the local work of Violet McNaugton, a Harris farm woman who was active in the Hillview Grain Growers. She and her husband John saw the SGGA as the best vehicle for accomplishing the reforms in rural Saskatchewan that they regarded as necessary to better the lives of hard-pressed farm families. (The SGGA had originally been the Territorial Grain Growers’ Association, established in 1902.)

In co-operation with Frances Beynon of the Grain Grower’s Guide, McNaughton organized a Women’s Congress in conjunction with the annual provincial meeting of the SGGA in 1913. The women at the Congress established a committee to organize the 1914 founding convention of the WGG. McNaughton, who was the most active member of the organizational committee, became the first president of the WGG in 1914. The women were full members of the SGGA and also members of the WGG, then the most radical women’s organization in Saskatchewan in terms of class and gender analyses.

The WGG, which pushed the SGGA to consider issues besides those directly concerning the farm economy, agitated for numerous reforms that improved the lives of farm families, led the fight for women’s vote in Saskatchewan, and waged a campaign for trained midwives and more nurses, doctors, and hospitals that were affordable and in close proximity to all farm families. This campaign resulted in a 1916 legislation that enabled the establishment of union hospitals, municipal nurses, and municipal doctors—the precursor of Medicare in Canada.

McNaughton and other members of the WGG executive were an important part of the SGGA Ginger Group that pushed the Association to help organize the Wheat Pool in the early 1920s. As well, the WGG established the Saskatchewan Egg and Poultry Pool in 1926. The WGG and the SGGA Ginger Group also pushed the SGGA to amalgamate with the Farmers’ Union to form the United Farmers of Canada (UFC) in 1926. McNaughton and Annie Hollis, who were on the Amalgamation Committee that negotiated the marriage of the two organizations, devised a plan to ensure women’s participation in the new UFC: its constitution guaranteed their presence on the executive and board of directors. In theory the president could be a man or woman, but the constitution specifically provided for a woman president and two women directors. This arrangement, which was a form of affirmative action, continued when the UFC became the Saskatchewan Farmers’ Union (SFU) in 1949 and when the SFU joined with other farm groups to become the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in 1968. Among the women who held the office of woman president (later referred to as the women’s president), were Annie Hollis, Louise Lucas, Sophia Dixon, Beatrice Trew, and Nettie Wiebe.

Early efforts to ensure women’s participation included provision for women’s locals in the WGG and women’s lodges in the UFC, which were phased out by 1930. Then from the late 1920s onward an annual Farm Women’s Week was held on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan. Participants were entertained and educated, attending sessions of interest to farm women, such as poultry-raising, politics, and the farm economy. As well, they attended an annual general meeting in which they debated resolutions contributed by women at the local level. Approved resolutions were sent to the annual meeting of the general UFC or SFU. For many farm women, this week was their only holiday. The activities of this stream of the farm women’s movement were always given full coverage on the women’s pages of the Western Producer.

Georgina M. Taylor

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Further Reading

Marchildon, R.G. 1985. “Improving the Quality of Rural Life in Saskatchewan: Some Activities of the Women’s Section of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers, 1913–1920.” Pp. 89–109 in C. Jones and I. MacPherson (eds.), Building Beyond the Homestead—Rural History of the Prairies. Calgary: University of Calgary Press; Wiebe, N. 1987. Weaving New Ways. Saskatoon: National Farmers Union.
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