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Homemakers' Clubs and Women's Institutes

Emma Ducie, shown here in 1976, was an active member of the Homemakers' Club.
Peter Blashill (Saskatchewan Archives Board) S-SP-A10014-22, Saskatoon StarPhoenix fonds

The Homemakers' Clubs of Saskatchewan (HMCS) and the Saskatchewan Women's Institutes (SWI), which replaced the Homemakers in 1972, have played an important part in the lives of rural women. Both were affiliated with the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada (FWIC), founded in 1919, and with the Associated Countrywomen of the World (ACWW), founded in 1933, and Saskatchewan delegates regularly attended their meetings. The Homemakers and the Women's Institutes were the first of three main streams of the farm women's movement in the province, along with the second stream, the Women Grain Growers (WGG) and its successor organizations that came into being in 1913 and 1914, and the third stream, the Saskatchewan Women's Agricultural Network, established in 1985 and now inactive. Founded in 1911, the Homemakers' Clubs were patterned on the Women's Institutes in Ontario. In Saskatchewan they were affiliated with the Extension Division of the University of Saskatchewan, which was both a strength and a problem for the Homemakers: they were at times constrained by the middle-class male administrators of the University, but on the other hand benefited from their affiliation with the University. For instance, the University hired Winnipeg agrarian journalist Lillian Beynon Thomas to organize clubs, and her work was partially responsible for the existence of the Homemakers. In later years the HMCS held an annual Homemakers' Week on the campus of the University.

Executive of Saskatchewan Homemakers' Clubs, elected at Saskatoon, June 1929.
University of Saskatchewan Archives A-3924

The HMCS and the SWI, which were made up of numerous groups at the local level, attracted large numbers of rural women. Women often joined the Homemakers in order to overcome their loneliness on isolated farms, but many women in small towns also joined the local organizations. Both groups focused on Education and homemaking skills, shunning involvement in political questions. The HMCS, for example, did not participate in the women's suffrage campaign because its constitution barred what was considered partisan action. Some farm women, however, belonged not only to a Homemakers' Club, but also to the local WGG club and the Local of the Grain Growers, which focused on economic and political questions. As well, the HMCS and the WGG co-operated in as many areas as possible. During the newcomer settlement period, for instance, both the Homemakers and the WGG believed that farm mothers, their babies and their families needed better medical aid, and both believed that by united action the WGG and the Homemakers could help to secure improved medical care for farm people.

The Homemakers also worked closely with the Victorian Order of Nurses to improve the Health Care available to rural women and their families. In 1914 they also urged the provincial government to give a grant of $25 to every needy mother who gave birth in the province, $15 of which was to go to the doctor who delivered the baby. These grants, which were to continue for decades, were seen as necessary prior to the implementation of medicare. The HMCS and WGG had many other common interests. Both wanted better libraries, better schools, restrooms in small towns where weary farm women could rest, and other services in rural areas.

Although thousands of Saskatchewan women were involved in the Homemakers and the Women's Institutes, one family in particular illustrates the way enthusiasm for them was often passed from one generation to another. Emma Ducie organized the Coates Homemakers' Club in 1913, was active at a local level for thirty-seven years, was provincial president of the Homemakers from 1926 to 1929, and passed her enthusiasm on to her daughters: the elder, Rose, who worked for the Western Producer, promoted the Homemakers and other farm women's activities in the newspaper; the younger, Emmie Oddie, was active in the Homemakers and the SWIs at the local, district, and national level, and was also involved in the ACWW. The number of local Women's Institutes declined during the final decades of the 20th century, but there are still some throughout the province. SWI members have also continued to co-operate with other organized farm women on specific issues such as rural childcare in order to improve the lives of rural women and their families.

Georgina M. Taylor

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Further Reading

Saskatchewan Women's Institutes. 1988. Legacy - A History of Saskatchewan Homemakers' Clubs and Women's Institutes, 1911- 1988. Saskatoon: Saskatchewan Women's Institutes.
This web site was produced with financial assistance
provided by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan.
University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
Ce site Web a été conçu grâce à l'aide financière de
Diversification de l'économie de l'Ouest Canada et le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.