Class, gender, race, and resistance: the United Farm Women of Manitoba,1916-1936
Thompson, Eleanor Glenne
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In the second decade of the twentieth century, the resistance of Canadian prairie farm women to the inequities of the Dominion government’s national policies, coupled with their growing awareness of women’s unequal rights, gave rise to the formation of semi-autonomous farm women’s organizations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. These women were part of the agrarian protest movement that has left its mark on the political, economic and social structures of Canada. Considerable research has shed light on the organized farm women of Saskatchewan and Alberta, but little has been written about the United Farm Women of Manitoba (UFWM). Drawing on the extensive files of the UFWM preserved in the Archives of Manitoba as well as relevant secondary sources, this thesis situates members of the UFWM in the context of settler colonialism and utilizes the intersectional analyses of gender, class, race, religion, ethnicity and region to examine these women’s lives and work, both on the farm and in the public sphere, between 1916 and 1936. The UFWM resisted the economic and political structures of monopoly capitalism that served the interests of the wealthy and privileged while oppressing those who laboured to produce that wealth and the Indigenous nations whose land was stolen. They worked tirelessly to build an alternative society based on principles of cooperation and a more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources, and they fought for women’s right to vote, to hold public office, to have an equal share in the assets they worked to produce, as well as equality in divorce, separation and child custody. Their strong agrarian class identity prevented them from affiliating closely with urban middle-class women’s groups and they felt a closer affinity with the working class. They stood in solidarity with First Nations when the Dominion government tried to take additional reserve land for returning soldiers after World War I. However, as determined as UFWM members were in their resistance to the constructed hierarchies of gender and class, their strong identity with their British Anglo-Saxon race and Protestant religion eventually led them to support assimilation and eugenics practices. While the UFWM has much to teach us about the liberating possibilities of collective action in the building of a more equitable society, their strong adherence to constructed racial and religious hierarchies reminds us of the ways racism impedes the fight for truth, reconciliation and social justice.