Violet McNaughton (née Jackson) was a leader in the Canadian farm, women’s, peace, and co-operative movements. She became the most influential farm woman in Canada and in Saskatchewan during the first half of the 20th century. Born on November 11, 1879, and raised in radical north Kent in southeastern England, she worked as a schoolteacher. Immigrating in 1909, she joined her father and brother, homesteaders near Harris; in May 1910 she married John McNaughton, a neighbouring homesteader. A feminist sympathizer, she became an active agrarian feminist by 1914, when she began to organize farm women. Her ardour arose out of the dire living and working conditions on the rural prairies during the newcomer settlement period. As well, she had had a serious gynecological operation in 1911 while living in these conditions. Unable to have children as a result, she resolved during her lengthy recovery to work to make the world a better place for all children.
She organized the Women Grain Growers (WGG) in Saskatchewan, a group whose class and gender analyses made it one of the most radical in Canada, and was elected its first president in 1914. A leader of the Saskatchewan women’s suffrage movement, she also led the WGG’s campaign for trained midwives as well as more nurses, doctors, and hospitals; the WGG wanted these services be to affordable and in close proximity to all farm families. As a result of their campaign, legislation in 1916 allowed for the establishment of union hospitals, municipal nurses, and municipal doctors. This was the first step on the long road to medicare in Saskatchewan and, later, Canada. McNaughton also helped to organize Euro-Canadian farm women’s groups in several other provinces, and was president of the Inter-provincial Council of Farm Women and the Women’s Section of the Canadian Council of Agriculture from 1919 to 1923.
By the early 1920s McNaughton was one of the three most influential people in the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association. As well, she was active in the Progressives, and helped to organize and maintain the Wheat Pools, the Saskatchewan Egg and Poultry Pool, and the Western Producer, the liveliest farm paper in Canada. She became the Producer’s women’s editor in 1925. The “Mainly for Women” pages and the “Young Co-operators,” edited by McNaughton and her staff, were read by tens of thousands of western farm women and their families. She strongly supported the WGG and its successors, as well as United Farm women in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. She also promoted Homemakers’ Clubs and Women’s Institutes, and other farm women’s groups. She retired as women’s editor in 1950, but wrote a Western Producer column for nine more years. She died in Saskatoon on February 2, 1968.
Georgina M. Taylor