Organization and Cooperation
Suffrage associations, such as the Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board, were rare in rural areas. Instead, these women were more likely to become members of farm associations that preceded the suffrage movement. Members of these groups included those who became heavily involved in “the cause.” As a result, these organisations were central to suffrage activities. Men supporting the movement typically saw enfranchisement as a way to further influence the provincial government for genuine change. Rural men also viewed the extension of the franchise to women as another way to strengthen their political representation in urban centres.
- Photograph LH-2133 courtesy of Saskatoon Public Library — Local History Room / Photographie LH-2133 avec l’autorisation de Saskatoon Public Library – Local History Room (bibliothèque municipale de Saskatoon – salle d’histoire locale)
Other Saskatchewan organisations helped women achieve the franchise. The varied purposes of these entities — prohibition, health care, agrarian advancement, gender equality, labour parity, and social reform — represented most women in the province, whether they were in urban or rural areas. As off-shoots of larger inter-provincial and national associations, these groups grew under the direction of leading provincial suffragists Violet McNaughton, Zoa Haight, Alice Lawton, Annie Hollis, Erma Stocking, and the Beynon sisters, Lillian and Francis. Spearheaded by these women, the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association, the Women Grain Growers’ Association, the Saskatchewan Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board all developed into distinctly Saskatchewan entities.
- Grain Growers’ Association conference, Saskatoon. Photograph LH-463 courtesy of Saskatoon Public Library — Local History Room
-Women’s Section, Saskatoon Grain Growers Association, Provincial Archives of Sasatchewan, R-B4481
Shoulder to Shoulder
Rural women in Saskatchewan organised and promoted the suffrage movement almost entirely through agrarian organisations. Of these groups, the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association was the largest and most supportive. Established in the early 1900s to lobby the provincial and federal governments for agricultural reform, members included both men and women.
The Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association produced a newspaper called “The Grain Growers’ Guide,” which distributed news throughout rural Saskatchewan until the mid-1920s. The Guide included a popular women’s section, which published stories, letters to the editor, recipes, poetry, and household tips. The section became a forum for women to share their grievances, experiences, ideas, and advice with each other. It became a way for women who livedin isolation to support one another and discuss the franchise.
- Photograph LH-2132 courtesy of Saskatoon Public Library — Local History Room
Growing Women's Activism
In 1914, Violet McNaughton created a strictly women’s organisation from the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association. It was called the Saskatchewan Women Grain Growers’ Association, and Violet became the first president. Under her leadership, and with help from Zoa Haight and other women leaders, the Women Grain Growers’ Association grew into more than just an offshoot of its parent Association. Working together, the Women Grain Growers’ and the Grain Growers’ associations became the dominant champions of women’s suffrage in Saskatchewan. Amongst other things, the Women Grain Growers’ Association was also instrumental in creating a rural health care system, including hiring district doctors and nurses, establishing libraries, and securing various laws that protected the rights of women and children.
-Women Grain Growers leaders Zoa Haight, Violet McNaughton and Erma Stocking, at center front. Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, ph-88-50
A Sobering Stance
The connection between the temperance movement and suffrage was especially close. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was instrumental in the promotion and success of the suffrage cause. Originating in urban areas, Union chapters quickly appeared in Saskatchewan in the early 1900s. Many urban and rural women viewed the use of alcohol as the root of domestic violence, unemployment, poverty, and the disintegration of families. Women’s Christian Temperance Union leaders, however, recognised that their members were mainly women who lacked political influence. They partnered with provincial suffrage groups, believing that once the franchise was secured, women would vote for prohibition. Inevitably, women who were drawn to one organisation often became members of the other.
- License: Public Domain
-Premier Walter Scott declaring prohibition. Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, R-B10109