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The Limitations of the PioneeringPartnershipThe Alberta Campaign for Homestead Dower, 109-5 CATHERINE CAVANAUGH UNTIL RECEN'I•Y,scholarlyinvestigation of first-wavefeminism in Canadahasfocused on thecampaign to winvotesfor women?This emphasis onthesuffrage question hasledto a narrowinterpretation of women's political aimsandobscured the significance of regional differences in theevolution ofwomen's organized reformactivities in Canada.The relativesuccess of thevotes-for-women campaign in the threeprairieprovinces hasledtoa viewoftheearlywomen's movementin westernCanadaaspeaceful, popular,and short.According to CatherineCleverdon, in Albertaand Saskatchewan 'it wasonly necessary to arouseenoughgeneralinterestin the issueto askfor and receive the franchise? Cleverdon's interpretation isbasedon assumptions aboutfrontier democracy andthe pioneering partnership of menandwomenwho workedsidebysidein settling theWest.Sheargues thatdemocracy triumphedontheCanadian prairies, asit didontheAmerican frontier , because men were quickto recognize women'scontributionto western settlement?As a result, men in western Canada were more 1 An earlierversion ofthisarticle appeared aspartofmyMXthesis, 'TheWomen's Movement inAlberta asSeen through theCampaign forDowerRights, 1909-1928' (University ofAlberta 1986). I amgrateful toDavid Jones, Nand Langford, andRandiWarnefortheirsupport andthoughtful crifidsms in the preparation ofthispaper. 2 Catherine L.Cleverdon, The Woman Suffrage Movement inCanada.' The Start of Liberation (1950; newedition withanintroduction byRamsay Cook, Toronto 1974), 46 3 Cleverdon's interpretation owes muchtothe'frontier thesis' ofFrederick Jackson Turner, whose influentialessay, 'The Significance of theFrontierin American History,'wasfirstprintedin theProceedings of theStateHistorical Society of Wisconsin, 1893. For a discussionof the limitations of the frontier thesis as a CarutdianHistoricalReview,LXX1V,2, 1993 0008-3755/93/0600-0198 $01.25/0¸ University ofToronto Press THE LIMITATIONS OF THE PIONEERING PARTNERSHIP 199 willing thantheireastern counterparts to grantwomen a greater share ofpolitical power. Thisviewoffrontier-as-equalizer persists in the literature. In his introduction to the 1974 reissueof Cleverdon's book,Ramsay Cookargues thatin thefightto winthevote,western women enjoyed anadvantage as'equal partners inpioneering conditions ' which made it difficult for their husbands to 'fall back on the argument of thedifferentspheres. '4Subsequenfiy, CarolBacchi has extended the pioneering partnership argumentto includeshared social, economic, and moral reform objectives. Shemaintainsthat class solidarity andagrarian radicalism formed thebasis ofcooperationbetween prairiefeminists andwestern progressives. • This analysis founders whenappliedto the struggle for 'homestead ' dowerinAlberta,a campaign whose mainobjective wasshared ownership in theproceeds ofthepioneering partnership. 6Beginning in 1909, provindalwomencalledfor legislation guaranteeing the married woman an interest in the matrimonial home. Their efforts culminated, in 1925,in a failedbidtoestablish thewife's equalright tofamilyproperty.The fightfor dowerlegislation wasa directassault onarbitrarymaleprivilegethatguaranteed solepossession of family assets to thehusband. An examination of theAlbertacampaign calls into questionprevailingnotionsaboutfrontier democracy in the Canadian Westand raises fundamental questions concerning family relations to revealpatriarchypreserved on the prairies. The firststirringof anorganized woman's rightsmovement began in Alberta in 1909 with a campaignto securepropertyrights for women.Two main objectives wereat stake:equalrightswith men to the 'free' homesteads beingdistributed by federalauthorities, and provinciallegislationguaranteeingthe married woman a dower interest in her husband's estate. By 1913the intense campaign for equalhomesteading privileges for womenbeingwagedin all three prairieprovinces had met with little success and became bogged downin the question of federal-provincial jurisdiction overnatural complete explanation oftheposition ofwomen intheCanadian West seeDeborahGorham , 'Singing uptheHill,'Canadian Dimension 10,8 (1975): 26-38. 4 Cook, introduction, ThtWoman Suffrage Movement inCanada, byCleverdon, xvi 5 CarolBacchi, 'Divided Allegiances: The Response ofFarmandLabour Women toSuffrage,' inLindaKealey, ed.,ANotUnreasonable Claim (Toronto 1979), 89-107 6 WhiIetheAlbertacampaign isthefocusof thispaper,similar campaigns were wagedsimultaneously bywomen in Manitoba andSaskatchewan. 200 THE CANADIAN HISTORICAL REVIEW resources. 7It continued sporadically until1930whenOttawafinally grantedAlbertaand Saskatchewan controlovernaturalresources and crownlands. 8 Althoughthe Albertalegislation was immediately amendedto allowany'person' overtheageof eighteen to qualifyfor a homestead, this victorycametoo late to benefitmany women. Westernimmigration hadlongsincepeakedand primeagricultural land wasalreadylargelysettled.A few womenwere able to claim homesteads, chieflyin Alberta's Peace RiverDistrict.In Saskatchewan andManitoba, homesteading privileges wereabolished altogether. The strugglefor marriedwomen'sdowerrightsgainedmomentum . In part,it benefitedfrom the fightfor womansuffrage, which becamethe centralfocusof the provincialwomen'smovementfrom 1913 to 1917, and from an accelerationof the women's club movement during the periodof the GreatWar. Both in its organization and its leadershipthe dowercampaignwasdominatedby middleclass womenwith an obvious interestin propertyrights.However,in a predominantlyrural and agriculturalprovince, property laws directlyaffected theoverwhelming majorityof women.The campaign waslaunchedby the Woman'sChristianTemperanceUnion (WCTU) and the localNational Councilof Women of Canada (NCWC).While the WCTUand the NCWC continuedto play a leadingrole in the campaign, otherwomen's clubs and organizations werequicktojoin their voicesto the call for legislationguaranteeingthe married womana rightin familyproperty.This dynamiccoalition variedover time and includedprovincialsuffrageassociations, the...


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