The Women's Pages of The Western Producer, 1925-1939: Violet McNaughton and Interwar Feminism in Canada


Introduction by
Margaret Hobbs
Trent University
September 2009
Documents selected by Margaret Hobbs and Susan Wurtele

        Readers of the Saskatchewan farm paper, The Western Producer, might have noticed a change on the women's page during April of 1925. The page was clearly stepping up to new prominence, evidenced first and foremost by the new editorial leadership of Violet McNaughton, by then one of Canada's best known champions of farm interests and women's rights. Beginning her editorship with "A Call to Women Readers," McNaughton spoke directly to the 15,000 or so women readers of the paper, urging them to make their voices heard and realize the power of co-operative action and analysis: "Will you co-operate with me in using this page for discussion of efforts that we can make to attack our share of economic problems and important social ones too?"[1] An immigrant farm woman herself, McNaughton knew well the hardships and isolation of homesteading in Saskatchewan. Women, she insisted, desired and deserved not only to "'make a living but to live a life,'" and they had a right to "'better homes' in the widest sense of the term." She appealed to women as farm wives and homemakers first, while simultaneously refusing the public/private divide and gendered stereotyping that narrowed the scope of many women's pages to recipes, patterns and love stories. Through the paper, the editor sought to draw women into a wide "circle" of friends, providing a safe space in which to air views and consider information on a full range of subjects that had a bearing on women's lives as farm women and as citizens in broader human communities. For the next quarter of a century, until her retirement as women's editor in 1950, McNaughton used the "Mainly for Women" pages to engage farm women, and men as well, in dialogue and debate in pursuit of what some have called "agrarian feminist"[2] visions of change anchored in the politics of women's everyday lives and the power of individual and collective action.

       In this full-text contribution to Women and Social Movements, the "Mainly for Women" pages are reproduced from the beginning of McNaughton's term as women's editor in 1925 to the end of the 1930s. By then, crops were generally recovering in Saskatchewan, though many farm families were still shackled with debt and scarred by poverty. The Depression, however, was lifting, and rains were returning in regions that had not had a crop in years. The economy combined with the weather and the inhospitable farm land in the large "dust bowl" area of Saskatchewan meant that this province was hit the hardest in the 1930s. The optimism of feminist reformers and pacifists like McNaughton, however, was curbed by the rise of fascism overseas and Canada's declaration of war in 1939. A focus on these particular years is useful to historians and researchers for at least two reasons. First, historical attention to the prairies has favoured the earlier years between 1870 and 1925, the so-called "pioneer" period marked by large-scale white, though ethnically varied agricultural settlement facilitated by aggressive immigration policies and by the deliberate displacement of the indigenous inhabitants from their lands and cultures. Although there is much yet to be explored in this period, we also need more work on diverse women's lives within the complex relations of power after 1925 when immigrant prairie communities were more established and colonial processes more deeply entrenched.[3]

       Secondly, an interwar study permits continued engagement with the scholarly debates in Canada and the United States about what happened to feminism and women's status in what is known somewhat misleadingly as the "post" suffrage period.[4] As researchers chip away at the "wave" theory of feminism with its narrative peaks and valleys, the twenties and thirties emerge not as a period marked by the death or decline of feminism, as the older historiography suggested, but rather as complicated decades with continuities and discontinuities, constraints and possibilities.[5] These pages, especially when read in conjunction with the voluminous personal papers McNaughton left behind, provide a rich record of the editor's own feminism, which has received little sustained analysis in published scholarly sources.[6] More broadly, they contain a wealth of information about local, provincial, national and international agrarian and women's movement politics. Illuminating detail is also found in the letters column about the everyday realities, thoughts, and actions of individual farm women, whose offerings were always mediated through McNaughton's editorial hand. Together, the editorials, articles, letters, poems, household hints, garden columns and even the advertisements, are among the best sources available for analyzing the responses of individuals and organizations to the multiple challenges facing the predominantly white rural settlers and reformers who read and contributed to the paper in these years.

       It is worth noting that very few of the writers on the page specifically identified themselves as "feminists." Even McNaughton, who once described herself as an "ardent feminist,"[7] avoided that label in public settings. Her close friend and political ally Annie Hollis, who wrote a regular column for the paper, refused the term despite her role as a determined suffrage activist and a leader in the agrarian women's movement. Associating "feminism" with maternalist beliefs in women's moral superiority, Hollis thought of herself as a proponent of equal partnerships between men and women.[8] Many contributors did not weigh in one way or the other. The documents reprinted here therefore invite more debate about when and how historians should impose the language of feminism on women who did not take the term on themselves. While we need to choose our descriptors carefully and sensitively, rural scholar Monica Halpern is rightfully concerned that "historians have used this absence of feminist self-identification to deny farm women their feminist character."[9] It might be useful to revisit bell hooks's invocation of feminism as an adjective, a set of political perspectives one advocates, rather than merely as a noun and identity label.[10] However one resolves the dilemma, scholars will undoubtedly find evidence in these documents of the countless ways in which women asserted themselves, fought gender and other forms of discrimination, and pressed for entitlements and reforms that would improve their own lives as well as those of other farm women and their families.

       Common themes and patterns of resistance emerge from the writings, but farm women did not speak with one voice. Nor, despite the repeated emphasis on "co-operation," did they always unite across their political and identity differences. The pages document women coming together and moving apart in intricate maneuvers through complicated inclusions and exclusions. Which voices were present and which were absent? What was said and what was not said on the pages? These issues need careful consideration. Presence and absence were influenced by many factors, including dominant and counter-hegemonic ideas about gender, race, ethnicity, class, ability and other categories of difference. A close reading of the women's pages provides opportunities to participate in current debates about the functioning of "difference" in women's reform movements and in the thought of individual women. Recent Canadian scholarship on late nineteenth and early twentieth century feminism has challenged previous historiographic assessments of early activists that were either celebratory or critical, the latter based on evidence of feminists' racism, classism, and ableism.[11] Many newer studies are more nuanced, variously influenced by postmodern, postcolonial and transnational perspectives on gender, race, colonialism and empire in relation to women, feminism and nation-building projects. The reinterpretation by Janice Fiamengo, for example, of Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy and others, helped "break the log jam," of polarized debates which had "become somewhat fixed, even sterile."[12] She and others have explored, and some embraced, the ambiguity, complexity and contradictions in early feminist ideas and practices, adding new layers to the recent literature analyzing the interrelated histories of early white settlers, reformers, and Aboriginal peoples in Canada.[13] The tensions and contradictions that emerge from this literature deserve fuller examination in relation to McNaughton and the many other contributors to her women's section in these important interwar years.


       It must have been quite a coup for The Western Producer when Violet McNaughton agreed to join the staff in April 1925 as the first women's page editor. The paper had been formed two years earlier as The Progressive, a farmer-oriented weekly that successfully supported the establishment of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, which became its official sponsor. McNaughton was on the editorial board of The Progressive, and she had also been part of a radical "Ginger Group" within the Saskatchewan Grain Growers' Association (SGGA) that promoted the pool and took control of the organization away from the conservative male leadership in 1922. The paper's founding had been one response to widespread farmer unrest in the immediate post-war years. On top of longstanding farmer grievances about tariffs, big business interests, railway policies, grain prices and marketing, the economy hit a recession wall after the war and wheat prices plummeted in 1920 when the government ended its short-term wartime control of grain marketing. The recession eased off by the mid-1920s, but the farm movement itself became badly divided by a host of issues. The paper countered this political dissension with a bid to unify farmers across the west. In 1924 the name changed from The Progressive to The Western Producer in order to distinguish the weekly newspaper from the Progressive Party, a federal farmers' political party that had burst onto the scene in the early 1920s and fizzled by mid-decade. While the paper had always maintained close ties to the Progressive Party, the name change signaled the editorial board's insistence on absolute editorial independence and non-partisanship.[14]

       This was an important strategy for a paper intent on uniting farmers and building a solid subscription base beyond the narrow wheat pool and SGGA members from which it drew its initial support.[15] SGGA membership lists had dropped sharply,[16] necessitating a broad and sustained circulation and subscription drive.[17] Who better to help with the tasks of unifying farm communities, revitalizing agrarian movements, and increasing circulation figures, especially among female readers, than Violet McNaughton? Her name alone was precious, and few could match her talents as a builder of bridges and networks, through individuals and organizations. Her skills and contacts had been developed over a dozen years of political leadership work at local, provincial, regional, and national levels, and she had international connections as well.

       McNaughton had come to Saskatchewan in 1909 as thirty-year-old Violet Jackson, a school teacher who left her home in Kent County, England to join her father and brother on their new homestead in the Hillview district southwest of Saskatoon. Within a year, she married a neighbouring farmer, John (Jack) McNaughton, beginning a supportive and quite unconventional domestic and political partnership that that lasted over a half century until his death in 1965, three years before her own. During 1912 and 1913 the McNaughtons became mainstays in their Hillview Local of the SGGA. They also worked together to help other communities form Grain Grower locals, pressing the provincial parent organization for support in building the organization from the grassroots. Violet McNaughton was never a full supporter of gender-segregated organizing, believing in the ideal of both sexes working in partnership for social and economic changes. But the existing farm organizations were dominated by white men, and made little room for women's involvement, so she became an active proponent of what she initially called women's "auxiliaries," a term she later rejected in favour of the separate but equal model of women's "sections." McNaughton was instrumental in forming women's sections in her local GGA and in the provincial SGGA by 1914. After working tirelessly and strategically with leading prairie feminists like Francis Marion Beynon, McNaughton was elected first president of the Women's Section of the SGGA, often simply called the Women Grain Growers (WGG). It was, as Georgina Taylor noted, "the first organization of its kind in Canada," and McNaughton helped farm women in Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario establish women's sections too. While fighting hard for women's suffrage, the WGG also focused on women's work and a range of social, cultural and economic issues. McNaughton succeeded in cracking through the masculine control of the organization, becoming the first woman on the SGGA Board of Directors, and one of the most powerful people on the executive.[18]

       Her work with the Grain Growers was just the beginning. She also joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) by 1916, becoming a persistent though careful advocate for peace at all levels, from the familial to the global. An avid supporter as well of women's suffrage, she was instrumental in the 1914 founding of the Provincial Equal Franchise Board, a province-wide suffrage coalition of farm and city women. Her belief in the power of cross-difference coalitions also led McNaughton to work with the eastern and urban-dominated National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) during the war until she gave up in discouragement and disgust after 1919. She had better luck on the national scene pulling together organized farm women across the country through, for example, the Interprovincial Council of Farm Women (ICFW). Established in 1919 with McNaughton as president, the organization became the Women's Section of the national farmer organization, the Canadian Council of Agriculture (CCA), the following year. McNaughton was absorbed by then in the possibilities of national organizing, and she worked hard as president of the WS-CCA to push on to the federal political stage the bundle of reforms known as the New National Policy through the CCA's Farmers' Platform. She resigned in 1923 after the CCA pulled its support from the Progressive Party. For a time beginning in 1919 McNaughton was also western vice president of an organization called the Canadian Council of Immigration of Women for Household Service, which tried to recruit British women as domestic helpers for western farm women. By the early 1920s, this activist was swept up in the dreams of Progressivism, which took shape as a movement as well as a political party spurred on by the election of farmer-supporting governments in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta between 1919 and 1921. But as the Progressive Party began to crumble, McNaughton was very active again provincially, working as a leader in the SGGA and promoting producer pooling with other radicals in the organization, including her friend A.J. McPhail, the first president of the Wheat Pool in 1924.

       McNaughton brought to her post at The Western Producer all the political passion that had fueled her activism and a sophisticated and varied range of skills and experiences with agrarian and women's movements. Some early assessments of McNaughton framed her turn to the press as a shifting away from politics in the midst of discouragement over postwar feminist and agrarian reform. One such writer further lamented that she left shoes too big for others to fill in the leadership of farm women's organizations.[19] "She chose the paper over politics," pronounced another scholar.[20] While it is certainly true that McNaughton's editorial duties increasingly left her little time for "direct" organizational involvement, her role with the paper was motivated by her political vision and she used the instrument of journalism to maximum political effect. Too much emphasis on the discouragement factor by the mid-twenties—prompted by the collapse of the Progressives, a divided farm movement, and the unrealized political potential of the women who had been granted the vote—can overshadow the vibrancy of her political spirit and her continued optimism and effectiveness despite the challenges presented by the interwar years. Her journalistic work is more usefully understood as a shift in political tactics or strategy.[21]

       The prairie presses were well established vehicles for political mobilization and debate and McNaughton was well aware of their power to educate citizens and shape opinion. As McNaughton's reputation as a farm leader grew in the 1910s and early 1920s she was in high demand as a contributor to the reform presses. Over the years she had written for the organ of the National Council of Women of Canada, Women's Century, and for a variety of farm papers, including the popular Grain Growers' Guide. Most relevant to her new position was her two-year stint as women's editor for the Saturday Press and Prairie Farm in the middle of the war during 1916 and 1917. McNaughton had developed tight political and personal connections with many of the prairie women's page editors like Francis Marion Beynon of the Grain Growers' Guide and her sister Lillian Beynon Thomas of the urban Manitoba Free Press and the rural Weekly Press and Prairie Farmer. She knew first hand that women's pages could play a special role in the lives of isolated farm women new to the west.[22]

       Pat Waldron, co-editor with Harris Turner, recruited this star of the prairie women's and farm movements. She consented, with some uncertainty, it seems, insisting that the position be temporary, voluntary and part-time.[23] For over a year and a half she performed her duties from the kitchen table of her cramped farmhouse. The editors were counting on McNaughton for a vibrant women's page that would substantially increase circulation figures, solidifying the financial base of the paper and expanding its length. Pushed by advertisers newly reveling in women's potential as consumers, the editors looked especially to enlarge their female readership.[24] They would not be disappointed. Waldron was delighted from the start: "I am glad to get your stuff every week," he told her two weeks after she began. "I think that after a while we are going to have a really tip-top interesting Women's Section."[25] The page was a hit and by December 1926 Waldron had persuaded her to continue on the women's page as a full-time salaried member of the editorial team. She was offered $120 a month,[26] and earnings from the paper were essential to the McNaughtons' survival, keeping them off the relief rolls during the Great Depression. McNaughton now worked mainly from the newspaper office in Saskatoon but she went back to the farm often and still helped with the labour, especially during the busy harvest period. She and her husband lived together only about half the time over the next decades.[27] While they had no biological children of their own, making this arrangement, and her earlier organizing, more feasible, she still had significant familial responsibilities caring for an increasingly ill, difficult and at times violent father, and also "mothering" the five young people who would join their family in the 1920s and 1930s.[28]

       At the beginning of her journalistic career McNaughton also had to juggle the demands of her lingering provincial organizational work. She had resigned from a ten-year term on the Board of the SSGA early in 1925, before joining The Western Producer. But she would soon participate in an Amalgamation Committee to break the mounting tensions between the SGGA and its more radical challenger, the Farmers' Union of Canada (FUC). A new unifying organization was established, the United Farmers of Canada Saskatchewan Section (UFCSS), and with it a new and more gender-integrated model for women's participation was developed through the United Farm Women of Saskatchewan (UFWS).[29] By fall 1926 McNaughton had freed herself up from her official organizational responsibilities and was in a better position to shift her work at The Western Producer to a full-time basis.[30]

       In her initial discussions about the paper with the executive of the Women Grain Growers, McNaugton imagined that her women's section would feature, in "as attractive as possible" a manner, discussions on education, citizenship, and co-operative marketing, "with some attention to the subjects that the purely domestic woman is only interested in and some attention to 'Current Events'."[31] A lively letter column was also part of her plan, and indeed the "Mail Bag" (initially called the "Letter Box"), would soon become a favourite among readers and the focus of intense and varied dialogue and debate. Over the years the women's space expanded from a single page to two, three, four and even six pages, and the topics spilled over the boundaries of the editor's original vision. Each issue began with McNaughton's editorial comments, followed by long and short articles, the "Mail Bag" letters, poems, recipes and household hints, regular reports from farm women's organizations, a garden column which became a full page in the early 1930s, and occasional pictures or photographs. Syndicated columns were included, yet this editor never rested in her search for original contributions from well known and unknown alike. Co-operative agrarian principles underlay not only her organizing but also her journalistic style, and despite her own definite ideas about the section's content, she always insisted to readers that "this is your page, not mine, and it will become whatever you make it."[32] She appealed to women widely, beyond the paper's main rural readership in Saskatchewan and across differences in identity and social location. "Our circle grows," she wrote encouragingly early in 1926. "Far off correspondents are very welcome," and she promised "Every nationality and colour will be made to feel at home with us."[33]

       Despite this pitch, the readers and contributors who helped build the section were not as diverse as the prairie population in Saskatchewan or beyond. Although it is not always possible to determine the identity of contributors, especially in the "Mail Bag" where pseudonyms were common, Native and Métis voices were glaringly absent from the pages in the twenties and thirties. This gap is not surprising in the wake of the colonial policies that geographically, as well as socially and economically, separated the diverse original peoples from the new settlers. McNaughton was an unquestioning agent in these processes, seeing the prairie landscape initially as empty, a blank canvas.[34] Even as "subjects," Native peoples appear infrequently in the pages, at first only as "savages and primitive people" who were backward and unchanging in accordance with the "vanishing Indian" stereotype.[35] Her attitudes would change, beginning in the 1930s, but slowly and unevenly. She developed some contacts with Native people, including certain leaders, in that decade, partly through her growing interest in Indian handicrafts and education. But she also struggled personally with the decision of her "chosen daughter," Mary Crozier, to marry a Métis man named Harold Anderson. Her racism surfaced overtly in her opposition to the union and her insistence on referring to Mary's fiancée as "a half breed, with the Indian half most in evidence." By 1940, deeply distressed by the family's grinding poverty and by Harold's history of TB, she still spoke of him as "more naturally Indian" and, in accordance with old European stereotypes, as "unable to do farm work."[36]

       For readership and written contributions, McNaughton set her sights on the rural immigrants of the prairies, mainly women, as the title of her section suggested, and mainly married women. They were by necessity English speakers and writers, as the paper was not printed in other languages. There was some ethnic diversity in the women's pages, but language barriers limited the reach and the preponderance of Anglo-Celtic names is striking. By 1921, almost half of Saskatchewan's population was made up of non-British immigrants, including many first and second generation Germans, Ukrainians, Russians, French and Scandinavians.[37] Many recent immigrants did not know English, and the vast majority of the settler population was white. A small number of Black immigrants, primarily from Oklahoma, had come to the Canadian plains between 1905 and 1912, escaping racism and segregation in the South and seeking free homesteads. White settlers and provincial and federal governments, however, determined to keep the prairies white, actively and successfully campaigned to block the northward migration of African Americans.[38] There is little evidence that McNaughton was successful in engaging the Black settlers that did manage to come.

       McNaughton exercised an unusually high degree of independence from her editors, even for the prairies with its history of strong independent women journalists. In accordance with the paper's overall editorial policy, she restricted controversial issues and opinions to the editorials and the letters column. But journalistic "objectivity" was increasingly the watchword among Canadian presses, and The Western Producer aimed for impersonality in tone. This would not do for the women's section. Its success depended on its difference from the rest of the paper. Waldron knew it, insisting that "the personal note is essential." In fact, he advised, "the more you lend your personality to the page the more I will like it."[39] Taking full advantage of his invitation to be "personal," McNaughton used her position to "talk" to readers in conversations that spilled over into lengthy personal correspondences, some of which lasted for decades. McNaughton maintained a policy, painful at times but central to her style and strategy, of responding to every single letter she received. Her most reliable and long-standing contributor, who wrote under the name "Jenny Pringle" and sent her writings to other papers as well, told her, "Yours is the only paper that sends out a personal reply and I believe it's your best drawing card. I always feel I know you so well."[40] Through her personal correspondence and editorial "Comment," McNaughton invited women in for a "chat" to combat their loneliness and share their ideas and experiences. "Pringle," whose real name was Velma Sanders, was only one of many who shared confidences with the editor, confessing sometimes she just "felt like talking to someone."[41] Another woman, struggling with poverty and illness in the thick of the Great Depression, signed off a personal letter to McNaughton saying "Well dear friend thank you for all your kindness you are better to me then my own relatives."[42] Many thought of her as a friend, a lifeline even, and implored her to visit should she ever be nearby.[43] McNaughton did manage a trip to Sanders's farm for a few days, but most others remained more literally "page friends."[44]

       The personal connections she nurtured were crucial to the process of filling the pages each week, especially for the "Mail Bag," which became the most popular and lively corner of the paper. When Lillian Beynon Thomas began a letter column for her own women's page in Manitoba years earlier, she penned the first two herself to kick-start the process.[45] McNaughton got things going through persistent encouragement and personal appeals to readers to send in whatever was on their mind, their "buried treasure," as she put it.[46] Men were invited into the space, too, and unlike Beynon Thomas, she never cut them off. But the pages were "mainly for women" and at the beginning, women needed a good nudge to participate equally:

       I could name right here a hundred spots in the west where I have met bright, intelligent, practical women with ideas that this page needs. Indeed, I could name a hundred women. So, come on, sisters, and show our busy brethren, who are contributing so fully and freely, that we, too, have thoughts worth considering.[47]

       Researchers using the letters as historical sources are advised that McNaughton took many liberties with the material she received. For the most part readers didn't mind. They commonly told her, "do what you want with what I write." The act of writing itself, and the opportunity to "let off steam," was sometimes what mattered most.[48] The boundaries between letters directed to McNaughton personally and those intended for the "Mail Bag" became slippery, and the editor would often cobble together extracts from personal letters and publish them in the paper. Only occasionally did this practice seem to unsettle contributors.[49] McNaughton edited pieces for length and revised for clarity, grammar and sometimes style. She took out personal references, especially when judgemental, and eliminated self-identifying information for writers using a pseudonym. She altered or rejected pieces found factually inaccurate, and as war loomed closer in the late thirties, she refused to publish letters that she thought were blatantly racist. She also toned down the opinions of some writers. Always, the editor held fast to a ban on material that could inflame religious controversies which "can lead us no where." The purpose of the paper, she reminded readers, was "to bind the farmers of the west of all classes and creeds together in a solid group for the advancement of their economic interests."[50] McNaughton was sincere in her assurance to one writer that "I never add to any of your own opinions."[51] Yet her editorial interventions were often bold and could sometimes alter the content of letters submitted for the "Mail Bag." The editor, for example, had a lot invested in the "partnership ideal" between men and women, yet she also knew that in practice the ideal fell short in most marital relationships.[52] By the time she took over the women's pages, she was more protective of men, and she sometimes removed from letters submitted for publication specific references to the failures of individual husbands.[53]

       McNaughton sought to unify, educate, strategize, mobilize and organize for change through the women's pages. But seeing no point in merely talking with the converted, she challenged herself to hook the women who were not overly interested in political and social questions. For her, that was the main value of the "lighter side," pertaining to purely domestic interests. It was not a new strategy among the more politicized women's page editors but some, like the radical Francis Marion Beynon of the Grain Growers' Guide, had relished this material as well as the more overtly political content of their pages.[54] McNaughton did not. She never liked to cook and had even less interest in fashion or home décor. Yet the recipes and such on the page provided an initial point of entry into many women's lives, something of practical value that gave recognition to the value of their labour while also acting as an entering wedge to expand their tastes and encourage their eye to wander to the other columns. In 1938 McNaughton urged the influential rural leftist Dorise Nielsen, who wrote under the name "Judy O'Grady," to "try to reach some of the very domestic women by writing on some topic of purely home interest and perhaps getting in a little wider appeal on the matters so near to your heart."[55] An amused Nielsen wrote back to McNaughton, "As for your suggestion about cook stoves & domestic things ... I'm such an undomesticated person, that I would only display my ignorance."[56] McNaughton, however, held to her belief that "you can't sustain interest in politics or questions involving individual study continuously. The work must be more nearly related to every day life."[57]

       Despite the editor's assurances that "I have never wished to inflict my own views upon you,"[58] her particular interests and politics were never far from the surface. She actively intervened to shape the content of her page, not only through heavy editing, but through suggesting and encouraging topics and issues that she thought were of particular importance.[59] With her wide eclectic taste and her ability to see interconnections between issues, in many ways she put into practice an early agrarian brand of what later feminists called "integrative" feminism.[60] Researchers will find in the "Mainly for Women" pages an astonishing array of topics close to McNaughton's heart including, but not limited to, farm women's reproductive and productive work; labour-saving technologies; women's and agrarian organizations; local and international politics; war and peace; marriage and familial relations; co-operative economic and social initiatives; health and healthcare services; economics; birth control; schools for the deaf; rural education; arts and culture; leisure; immigration and citizenship; relief policies and practices; married women's property laws; maternity grants; old age pensions; and books and libraries. In what follows I make some very brief contextualizing comments on just three of these issues, namely work, peace, and economic security, emphasizing her broad and interconnected understanding of prairie farm women's difficulties.[61]

       McNaughton's approach to issues owed a lot to personal experience, hers and other women's, as immigrant farm women, and she built outwards from there. Women's work was at the center of feminist analysis in the interwar years across the country, and rural women in particular were "dissatisfied workers," perhaps especially in the prairies where electrification and water systems arrived so late.[62] McNaughton divided women's work into two types: productive and "unproductive" (in contemporary terms, reproductive). She and her contributors gave the most sustained attention to reproductive labour in the women's pages in the 1920s and 1930s.[63] Agrarian women fought particularly hard in these years for recognition of the value of their labour and for modern labour-saving devices that would help ease their burden. "Drudgery," McNaughton reminded readers, was "one of the most important subjects we can discuss."[64] She linked this to health, leisure, education and organizing: women's physically demanding and endless labour was robbing them of their health and stealing precious time away from valuable educational, political, and cultural activities. The greatest form of drudgery for rural women, she insisted, was "the handling of water." "You see, she knew what it was to carry water in a pail," recalled Rose Jardine (Ducie), her assistant from the late thirties and successor.[65] McNaughton suffered many health problems in her life, not least of which was an emergency hysterectomy in 1911 that for years made heavy labour, especially hauling water, particularly difficult and painful. She used the paper throughout the interwar years to study and campaign for simple and affordable water systems, as well as other labour-saving devices, "waste disposal, ventilation, humidification, insulation, electrification and power."[66]

       McNaughton's approach to issues owed a lot to personal experience, hers and other women's, as immigrant farm women, and she built outwards from there. Women's work was at the center of feminist analysis in the interwar years across the country, and rural women in particular were "dissatisfied workers," perhaps especially in the prairies where electrification and water systems arrived so late.[62] McNaughton divided women's work into two types: productive and "unproductive" (in contemporary terms, reproductive). She and her contributors gave the most sustained attention to reproductive labour in the women's pages in the 1920s and 1930s.[63] Agrarian women fought particularly hard in these years for recognition of the value of their labour and for modern labour-saving devices that would help ease their burden. "Drudgery," McNaughton reminded readers, was "one of the most important subjects we can discuss."[64] She linked this to health, leisure, education and organizing: women's physically demanding and endless labour was robbing them of their health and stealing precious time away from valuable educational, political, and cultural activities. The greatest form of drudgery for rural women, she insisted, was "the handling of water." "You see, she knew what it was to carry water in a pail," recalled Rose Jardine (Ducie), her assistant from the late thirties and successor.[65] McNaughton suffered many health problems in her life, not least of which was an emergency hysterectomy in 1911 that for years made heavy labour, especially hauling water, particularly difficult and painful. She used the paper throughout the interwar years to study and campaign for simple and affordable water systems, as well as other labour-saving devices, "waste disposal, ventilation, humidification, insulation, electrification and power."[66]

       Concerns about women's health, workload, and material security were also connected in the mind of McNaughton and many of her readers to the question of birth control. The 1892 Criminal Code had declared it illegal "to 'offer to sell, advertise, publish an advertisement of or have for sale or disposal any medicine, drug or article intended or represented as a means of preventing conception or causing abortion.'"[70] Despite the law, the editor knew well that dire economic circumstances and the heavy burden of women's domestic labour made family limitation a critical matter. A firm believer in women's right to safe and legal birth control, McNaughton declared defiantly to a correspondent in 1921 that, "I would enjoy going to prison but I want to accomplish something by so doing, and I do not want to involve my friends, many of whom would take it for granted that anything I was apparently advocating was perfectly safe legally and otherwise."[71] The more she looked into the legal aspect, the more convinced she became that the educational work of changing public opinion must lead the "practical side of the work," which was so risky. Still, McNaughton read and responded to women's fears and complaints about repeated pregnancies, and quietly, under the guise of "education", circulated her own copies of books, magazines, and pamphlets by Margaret Sanger and the American Birth Control League. In 1927, beginning in January, she permitted a lengthy debate on birth control to dominate the Mail Bag. Here, alongside concerns about women's own health and work, were eugenic fears about overpopulation among "undesirable" groups, including the physically and mentally "defective". Women desperate to control their fertility also wrote in with personal pleas for information. In response, McNaughton publicized the Saskatoon office where readers could purchase The Birth Control Review for 25 cents a copy or $2.25 a year.[72] In 1931, as conditions worsened in the prairies, McNaughton supported the withdrawal of a birth control motion at a United Farmers of Canada (UFC) convention. While some readers were critical,[73] she agreed with UFC members that the issue was too divisive in current economic conditions when unity was so desperately needed. McNaughton then turned back a contributor's piece on birth control, for its mis-information but also because The Western Producer was standing behind the UFC policy.[74] Despite McNaughton's ability to see interconnections between issues, in this instance, she privileged economics at the expense of the birth control issue. In the 1930s birth control was rarely discussed in the women's pages, although the women's editor continued to work quietly in the background on the issue.[75]

       Peace was another issue that received an inordinate amount of McNaughton's attention on the pages right from the start.[76] Again it intersected other issues. She was never as bold in her approach as Francis Marion Beynon, whose radical pacifism led to the loss of her position at the Grain Growers' Guide during WWI.[77] And she certainly was not as radical as the Communist press which slammed the League of Nations and argued for the wholesale destruction of capitalism as the way to end war.[78] She was in sympathy with many socialist critiques, and was a friend and supporter of the CCFer turned Communist, Dorise Nielsen. McNaughton, however, was much more cautious than the radical left. She "loved tangling," but not conflict and direct confrontation, preferring instead diplomacy and "tactfulness."[79] She put her faith not in revolution but in reform and education. A great admirer of Ontario's radical agrarian MP Agnes Macphail, she urged readers to stand behind this pacifist politician's efforts to eliminate militarism in the schools, and she nurtured discussions on how peace could be promoted. In the 1927 Mail Bag debates, some advocates of birth control argued its centrality in peace politics, reminding readers that militarists needed large families to provide "cannon fodder" for armies.[80] This was an argument that McNaughton likely appreciated.

       As part of her work for peace, she opposed nationalism and "race prejudice," and promoted the cultivation among individuals and nations an internationalist co-operative spirit. She was greatly drawn to the possibilities of Esperanto as a universal language that could facilitate global understanding. Artistic expression and music held similar potential. Music, she wrote, was an "international language, and one that we can most effectively use to link up with our New Canadian neighbours."[81] From the beginning of her editorial role, McNaughton included articles showing the power of cross-racial friendship between "Negros" and whites. Her ideas about "race" were still strongly influenced in this period by evolutionary and racial science popularized in the late nineteenth century, and she displayed hierarchical beliefs in racial "types." In marked contrast to her static colonial stereotyping of indigenous peoples, she thought that Blacks were "evolving" in impressive ways. She printed material about their "progress" in the United States and noted approvingly evidence of increasing Black pride. She thanked a subscriber for sending her copies of The Negro Champion, and she held up the gender inclusiveness apparent in the American Negro Labor Congress as "encouragement for us to follow."[82] As tensions mounted overseas and World War II neared, McNaughton tried to defuse the rising racism against, in particular, Germans, Japanese, and also Doukhobors (who were exempt from military service on religious grounds). Writers engaging in overt attacks on these and other groups were challenged by McNaughton through personal correspondence. Gently but persistently she questioned their stereotypes, offering as counterpoint her own positive experiences of friendships with individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds. The double-edged nature of her anti-racist education, however, is especially apparent in her correspondence with Velma Sanders. McNaughton would defend the Doukhobors, for example, against Sanders's critiques, while simultaneously agreeing that they had a "disagreeable" or "unpleasant" side. Her attachment to the notion of racial types and instincts butted up against her belief in the social construction of racial difference. Blaming the Doukhobors' historical experiences of persecution for the negative qualities highlighted by Sanders, McNaughton insisted the younger generation in particular were outgrowing "these bad habits."[83]

       McNaughton was a vigorous supporter of the women-only international peace group, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Both liberal and radical left wings of the peace movement had long appealed to women as mothers, and McNaughton could too, though she was more leery than most of the common maternalist assumption of women's "natural" pacifism. By the late 1930s she was increasingly insistent that men and women should work together for peace, but she stayed committed to the organization.[84] In 1931 she campaigned nonstop through her pages to collect signatures for its World Disarmament Petition. Her optimism sometimes wavered, but she plugged away.[85] In the absence of WILPF locals in Saskatchewan, she encouraged organized peace work through the existing agrarian reform groups like the Homemakers Clubs and the United Farmers of Canada Saskatchewan Section (UFCSS).[86] She continually plugged WILPF activities in the paper, editorialized and encouraged peace articles and discussion in the paper, and circulated peace literature among readers. Sometimes she worried that she was giving too much attention to peace in the paper.[87] By the end of 1932 she was the epitome of the activist editor, and confided to an American WILPF activist,

       The truth is I probably should not let my interest in peace to take up so much of my energies. So few people are specializing on the question in this province that it brings me a great deal of work speaking and sending out material for meetings and yet it needs to be done and I love doing it.[88]

       McNaughton had also always been deeply involved with the full range of issues related to rural economic security, and she paid close attention to its gendered dimensions. As soon as she joined The Western Producer she campaigned through her pages for the establishment of an egg and poultry pool, which became Saskatchewan farm women's first co-operative marketing venture. She also supported women's efforts to earn extra income through bee keeping and other such potentially profitable enterprises connected with women's farm labour. She placed a great deal of importance on de-mystifying economics for women, and toward that end urged women's participation in small local study groups and in the free "Short Course" on economics offered at the University of Saskatchewan. The question of married women's economic security was discussed and debated, alongside the related issue of the devaluation of farm women's labour. McNaughton printed a copy of the Community Property Act that suffragist and reformer Irene Parlby was trying to push through in Alberta. She urged women to study it, and learn as well the "business side of farm life." Women, she insisted, paid a high price for ignoring these issues.[89]

       Not surprisingly, she followed closely the tentative federal and provincial interventions in social security in the interwar years. When the federal government was considering enabling legislation for Old Age Pensions, McNaughton pounced on it as a "natural right" of the elderly. She was bitingly critical of the specifics of the proposed legislation, with "its air of 'You really don't deserve it, you know, you really don't - but, here you are, fido.'" Yet she supported it as "the thin edge of the wedge of 'social responsibility.'" When the legislation flopped, she told readers, we should be indignant.[90] During the 1930s Saskatchewan farmers in particular suffered the combined vagaries of depression, drought, grasshoppers, rust, and dust storms. McNaughton turned her attention to the fumbling and half-hearted establishment of state-sponsored emergency relief in the province as letters poured in from women struggling in dire poverty. She kept readers abreast of the relief coordination efforts in the province, warning, however, that relief would not solve the economic inequalities facing farmers: "while we are dealing with 'starvation in the midst of plenty' in this way let us remember the root causes of the problem remain untouched."[91] As winter approached in 1931 she encouraged women and families to apply to the municipal relief officer for assistance, "again and again, until relief is forthcoming. How else can our governments know the full extent of the distress that exists?"[92] Yet women were already falling through the cracks in the system. McNaughton worried about the inadequate provision for some sole support mothers who could not get on relief but who also did not qualify for provincial Mothers' Allowance.[93] Maternal and infant health, a major concern of hers, was at the time suffering a blow by the cancellation in September 1931 of the provincial Maternity Grants, which had entitled impoverished expectant mothers in outlying areas up to $25 for hospital and nursing services.[94] Although the Maternity Grants were reinstated in 1934, women struggled throughout the Depression against woefully inadequate, discriminatory, and corrupt income support policies and practices.[95]

       McNaughton's support for relief entitlement, however, was highly ambivalent. She worried about corruption in relief administration, but also about abuse of the system by recipients, encouraging in editorials the importance of vigilance on both accounts.[96] She knew personally of abuse incidents that, while illegal, were not in her mind wrong. For example, when Alice Butala wrote of putting some money aside for a house without telling the relief officer, McNaughton was sympathetic, not disapproving. By not publishing her letter, she also protected Butala from the authorities.[97] Still, McNaughton's writing and personal correspondence reveal a gut level fear, shared by many of her readers, that relief eroded "morale" and the independent prairie pioneer spirit she so admired. The women McNaughton liked best were those with "pluck," who worked hard and smart to stay off relief and only took it as a last and temporary resort and would never succumb to the "temptation" to cheat. Women like "Jenny Pringle." McNaughton identified strongly with her determined avoidance of the relief option, confiding that,

       I don't wonder that you are puzzled as to what to do for the best. The situation re relief has certainly helped a great many people to get more than bare necessities and yet, like you, I would have struggled to keep my independence, and I don't think you will ever regret it. Do you think your family would be as resourceful as they are or have learned as much about the responsibilities of finding food and clothing?[98]

       Still, a worried McNaughton egged "Pringle" on to take relief "the moment you see that your health or that of any member of your family is suffering," and in fact the family was forced on relief soon afterwards.[99]

       During the 1930s McNaughton's readers were active contributors to the "hard times hints" on the women's pages, and participation in the seed exchange established the previous decade increased. The editor encouraged such forms of self-help and mutual aid, and tried herself to assist women by forwarding articles of clothing, bits of cloth, and sometimes paper and stamps to keep their letters coming to the "Mail Bag." While relief was an absolute necessity for many, she also urged farm women to "make do" and "conserve" resources. Not, she insisted, out of "resignation" but to store up their reserves to "fight." As the misery of the Depression continued, many letter-writers submitted to the paper proud individual narratives of hard work, deprivation and, for the most part, survival. These infuriated McNaughton's worst critic, Mr. Pepper, who lambasted her, in public and private, for encouraging the "conservative, slavish mind of the prairie women."[100] Readers weighed in through their letters, as historians might too, on the slippery lines between accommodation and resistance on the women's pages of The Western Producer.[101]

       Violet McNaughton understood that women's lives and choices were seriously circumscribed, not just through individual sets of social relations but through structural inequities enshrined in legal, political, and economic systems. As she emphasized to Alice Butala, "I think it is only organized effort that will really ever accomplish anything but I do agree with you that we have lots of weapons in our hands to use individually – speaking, writing and raising questions that will make people think."[102] Through the "Mainly for Women" pages, McNaugton connected these multiple strategies. Building on her earlier work as an organizer in both agrarian and women's movements, she continued her activism through her journalism as women's editor of The Western Producer. Focusing mainly on women, but with the participation of men as well, she used her pages not merely to inform, but to engage and mobilize rural readers as active participants in individual and collective social justice work at whatever degree and level was possible under their particular circumstances. Her thought and activism were not seamless and consistent, and her dedication to feminist and agrarian movements could be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. A major figure in interwar feminism, she shaped the contours of feminism in important, if imperfect, ways.

       Thanks to Barb Glenn and the staff at The Western Producer office, to the archivists at the Saskatchewan Archives Board, and also to Elisabeth Harrison and Dave Tough for their assistance with the research and documents.

       For the earliest years we extended beyond the boundaries of "Mainly for Women" to include other pages with significant content on women and women’s organizing. Researchers should also note that there are some gaps in the newspaper records reproduced here and the quality of the images varies depending on the quality of the original microfilm.


  1. "A Call to Women Readers," The Western Producer (hereafter cited as WP), 9 April 1925, p.11. The female readership estimate was McNaughton's.
  2.  See Georgina Taylor, "Ground for Common Action: Violet McNaughton's Agrarian Feminism and the Origins of the Farm Women's Movement in Canada" (Ph.D. dissertation, Carleton University, 1997). See also Louise Carbert, Agrarian Feminism: The Politics of Ontario Farm Women (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995); Lisa M. Faye, "Redefining 'Farmer': Agrarian Feminist Theory and the Work of Saskatchewan Farm Women" (Ph.D. dissertation, Carleton University, 2006). For a critique of the term "agrarian feminism" in favour of "social feminism," identified as heavily informed by agrarian feminism, see chapter one of Monica Halpern, And On That Farm He Had a Wife: Ontario Farm Women and Feminism, 1900-1970 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001).
  3. Kathryn McPherson, "Was the 'Frontier' Good for Women? Historical Approaches to Women and Agricultural Settlement in the Prairie West, 1870-1925," Atlantis 25, 1 (Fall/Winter 2000): 75-86
  4. The phrase is misleading because not all women were included in the provincial and federal suffrage successes of the 1910s and early 1920s in Canada. Quebec women waited until 1940, Asian women (in all parts of Canada) until 1948, Inuit women until 1953, and Indian women on reserves did not have the right to vote until 1960. Women had also been caught in the net of the 1917 Wartime Elections Act, which disenfranchised conscientious objectors and pacifists along with citizens from "enemy alien" countries who were naturalized after 1902. See A History of the Vote in Canada (Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 1997). On Canadian suffragists' responses to the Wartime Elections Act see Gloria Geller, "The Wartime Elections Act of 1917 and the Canadian Women's Movement," Atlantis 2, 1 (Fall 1976): 88-106
  5. For the association of the interwar years as a period of feminist decline see Catherine Cleverdon, The Woman Suffrage Movement in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1950; reprinted 1974); Carol Bacchi, Liberation Deferred? The Ideas of the English-Canadian Suffragists, 1877-1918 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983). For some reassessments of these years see Veronica Strong-Boag, "Pulling in Double Harness of Hauling a Double Load: Women, Work and Feminism on the Canadian Prairie," Journal of Canadian Studies 21, 3 (Fall 1986); Joan Sangster, Dreams of Equality: Women on the Canadian Left, 1920-1950 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1989); Margaret Hobbs, "Equality and Difference: Feminism and the Defence of Women Workers During the Great Depression," Labour/le Travail 32 (Fall 1993): 201-23; Ester Reiter, "Camp Naivelt and the Daughters of the Jewish Left," in Marlene Epp, Franca Iacovetta and Frances Swyripa, eds., Sisters or Strangers? Immigrant, Ethnic, and Racialized Women in Canadian History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).
  6. Much of the work on McNaughton is in unpublished Doctoral and Master's theses: Taylor, "Ground for Common Action"; Sheila Steer, "The Beliefs of Violet McNaughton: Adult Educator 1909-1929," (M.A. thesis, University of Saskatchewan, 1979); Christa Scowby, "'Divine Discontent': Women, Identity and The Western Producer," (M.A. thesis, University of Saskatchewan, 1996). I want to thank Christa Scowby for sending me a copy of her carefully researched thesis. For published sources, see Georgina Taylor, "'Should I Drown Myself Now or Later?' The Isolation of Rural Women in Saskatchewan and Their Participation in the Homemakers' Clubs, the Farm Movement and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation 1910-1967," in Kathleen Storrie, ed., Women: Isolation and Bonding: The Ecology of Gender (Toronto: Methuen, 1987); Georgina Taylor, 10-part series in Western People: Supplement to The Western Producer, January 3, 17, 24,31, February 7, 14, 21, 28, March 7, 1991; Christa Scowby, "'I Am a Worker, Not a Drone': Farm Women, Reproductive Work and The Western Producer, 1930-1939," Saskatchewan History 48 (Fall 1996): 3-15.
  7. "You know that I am an ardent feminist...," she wrote to Peter Bludoff in 1942. Saskatchewan Archives Board (hereafter cited as SAB), Violet McNaughton Fonds, A1 D12, Violet McNaughton to Mr. Peter Bludoff, 11 April 1942. Also noted in Taylor, "Ground for Common Action," p. 18.
  8. Cathy Holtslander, "Annie Hollis – Organizing Prairie Women with The Western Producer," Prairie Forum 29, 2 (Fall 2004), p.180.
  9. Halpern, And On That Farm, p.4.
  10. bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Boston: South End Press, 1984), pp. 28-30. Halpern settles on a similar solution. Because the Ontario farm women she studied did not call themselves feminists, she says "I avoid naming them as such. Instead, I refer to them as 'feminist,' emphasizing [...] women's propensity for feminism over their self-identification as feminists." Halpern, p.142, n8.
  11. For the more critical assessments see Bacchi, Liberation Deferred?; Mariana Valverde, "'When the Mother of the Race is Free': Race, Reproduction, and Sexuality in First-Wave Feminism," in Franca Iacovetta and Mariana Valverde, eds., Gender Conflicts: New Essays in Women's History (Toronto: University Press, 1992); and, more recently, Jennifer Henderson, Settler Feminism and Race Making in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003).
  12. "Editors' Introduction" to Veronica Strong-Boag, Mona Gleason and Adele Perry, eds., Rethinking Canada: The Promise of Women's History, 4th edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p.150. See Janice Fiamengo, "A Legacy of Ambivalence: Responses to Nellie McClung," Journal of Canadian Studies 34.4 (Winter 2000): 70-87; reprinted in Strong-Boag, Gleason, and Perry, eds. Rethinking Canada, pp.149-63; Janice Fiamengo, "Rediscovering Our Foremothers Again: The Racial Ideas of Canada's Early Feminists, 1885-1945," Essays on Canadian Writing. 75 (Winter 2002): 85-117; reprinted in Mona Gleason and Adele Perry, eds. Rethinking Canada: The Promise of Women's History, 5th edition (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp.144-62.
  13. See Sarah Carter, et al., eds, Unsettled Pasts: Reconceiving the West Through Women's History (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2005), especially, in relation to reassessments of early feminists, ch. 3: Patricia Roome, "'From One Whose Home Is among the Indians': Henrietta Muir Edwards and Aboriginal Peoples," pp. 47-78. For a few other recent studies of race, gender and colonial relations, see Myra Rutherdale, Women and the White Man's God: Gender and Race in the Canadian Mission Field (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002); Adele Perry, On the Edge of Empire: Gender, Race, and the Making of British Columbia, 1849-1871 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001); Katie Pickles and Myra Rutherdale, eds., Contact Zones: Aboriginal and Settler Women in Canada's Colonial Past (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2005); Veronica Strong-Boag and Carol Gerson, Paddling Her Own Canoe: The Times and Texts of E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahienwake (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002); Carol J. Williams, Race, Gender, and the Photographic Frontier in the Pacific Northwest (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
  14. SAB, A1 E86, "Minutes of Editorial Board Meeting – May 10th, 1924"; "Minutes of Editorial Board Meeting Held at Saskatoon, Aug. 15th – 1924."
  15. Dana Marie Turgeon, "Images of Women in The Western Producer 1946-1960," (M.A. thesis, University of Regina, 2003), p.7.
  16. Steer, "The Beliefs of Violet McNaughton," p.58.
  17. SAB, A1 E86, "Minutes of Editorial Board Meeting – May 10th, 1924."
  18. Georgina Taylor, "The Pony Pair," The Western Producer, 17 January 1991, p. 11. For thorough coverage of McNaughton's organizing activities in the Hillview and provincial WGG, see Taylor, "Ground for Common Action," chapters 4 and 5. See also R. G. Marchildon, "Improving the Quality of Rural Life in Saskatchewan: Some Activities of the Women's Section of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers, 1913-1920," in D.C. Jones and Ian MacPherson, eds., Building Beyond the Homestead: Rural History on the Prairies (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1985).
  19. See for example this early article assessing the work of the SGGA: L.J. Wilson, "Educating the Saskatchewan Farmer: The Educational Work of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers' Association," Saskatchewan History 31, 1 (1978), pp. 26-27.
  20. Steer, p. 126. Steer's 1979 Master's thesis also de-emphasized the political import of McNaughton's journalism, partly through reliance on polarized concepts of "direct" and "indirect" organizing and partly through the author's focus on education as McNaughton's "most important" belief. The work is very competent yet the analysis tends to feed into older understandings of "the political" and older historical narratives of feminism as in decline in the twenties.
  21. Taylor, "Violet Begins her Career with The Western Producer," The Western Producer, 31 January 1991, p.13.
  22.  In the early 1950s, after she resigned her editorial position with The Western Producer, McNaughton recalled vividly, for example, the importance of the "Home Loving Hearts" page produced by Beynon Thomas under the pseudonym "Lillian Laurie" between 1906 and 1917: "'How many of us from down east or overseas, new to the prairie isolation and hardship, watched for Lillian Lauries's weekly message? How many of us shared our joys and sorrows with her, through her page or by personal letters?'" Cited in R.E. Hawkins, "Lillian Beynon Thomas, Woman's Suffrage and the Return of Dower to Manitoba," Manitoba Law Journal 27, 1 (1999-2000), p.51.
  23. SAB, A1 E 86, Violet McNaughton to Mrs. Geo. Hollis, 22 February 1925.
  24. See Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar: The Making of Women's Beauty Culture (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998). For an early influential history of the rise of mass marketing in the 1920s and the discovery of women as consumers see Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture (New York: McGraw Hill, 1976).
  25. SAB, A1 E86, A.P. Waldron to Violet McNaughton, 25 April 1925.
  26. SAB, A1 E86, A.P. Waldron to Violet McNaughton, n.d.
  27. Taylor, "Violet Begins her Career," p. 13.
  28. Extensive correspondence is available at the Saskatchewan Archives Board in Saskatoon between McNaughton and her husband John, and between McNaughton and her "chosen" children, one of whom was a young woman, Mary Crozier (Anderson).
  29. See Cheryle Jahn, "Class, Gender and Agrarian Socialism: The United Farm Women of Saskatchewan, 1926-1931." Prairie Forum 19, 2 (1994): 189-206.
  30. Taylor, "Violet Begins her Career with The Western Producer," p. 13.
  31. SAB, A1E86, Violet McNaughton to Mrs. Geo. Hollis, 22 February 1925.
  32. Violet McNaughton, "Comment," The Western Producer, 16 July 1925, p.11; 7 May 1925, p. 11; 4 June 1925, p.11.
  33. J. and V. McNaughton, "Comment," The Western Producer, 9 December 1926, p.12.
  34. "There is to me a romance in being the first dwellers, on this prairie," she told a meeting of her Grain Growers' Local in 1913. SAB, A1 E 72, Violet McNaughton, "The Prairie Woman," [1913].
  35. Violet McNaughton, "A Savage Survival," The Western Producer, 5 August 1925, p.13.
  36. SAB, A1 D2 (9), Violet McNaughton to General F.P. Crozier, 26 February 1935; SAB, A1 D2 (8), Violet McNaughton to the Municipal Doctor, 12 August 1940. See the fascinating nine folders of correspondence between McNaugthon and Mary Crozier (Anderson) over thirty-seven years, from 1930-1967. SAB, A1 D2. Correspondence and other documents relating to McNaughton's relationships with Native leaders and her interests in Indian handicrafts is found in SAB, A1 E30. For a fuller analysis of her attitudes towards prairie Indians, see Georgina Taylor, "Ground for Common Action," pp.491-516.
  37. According to the 1921 census, 44 per cent of the immigrant population in Saskatchewan whose "racial" origins were specified, were not British. The percentage would actually be higher as many of the additional 1,787 people who were "unspecified" would have been non-British. The "Indian" population is listed as 12,914 persons, or 1.7 per cent of the population whose origins were specified. Census of Canada 1921, Volume 1, Table 24.
  38. R. Bruce Shepard, Deemed Unsuitable: Blacks from Oklahoma Move to the Canadian Prairies in Search of Equality in the Early 20th Century Only to Find Racism in their New Home (Toronto: Umbrella Press, 1997). There were 396 people identified as "Negro" in Saskatchewan in the 1921 census. Census of Canada 1921, Volume 1, Table 24.
  39. SAB, A1 E 86, A.P. Waldron to Violet McNaughton, 25 April 1925.
  40. SAB, A1 D58 (1), Mrs. H.E. Sanders to Violet McNaughton, 8 January 1936.
  41. SAB, A1 D58 (1), Mrs. H.E. Sanders to Violet McNaughton, 20 June [1937].
  42. SAB, A1 D22 (1), Mrs. Ted East to Violet McNaughton, 14 December 1936.
  43. Not just women, but some men too, especially youths, thought of her as a "friend." A very depressed Arnold Barclay confided in her regularly, saying "You make me feel that, in you, I have a real friend and it means a great deal to me." SAB, A1 D3, Arnold Barclay to Violet McNaughton, 25 April 1937. McNaughton nurtured many young people, both personally and through their writing for the "Young Co-operators" page that she also edited.
  44. SAB, A1 D1 (4)), Violet McNaughton to Mrs Ilsa Read, 20 February 1951.
  45. Hawkins, "Lillian Beynon Thomas," p. 51.
  46. "Comment," The Western Producer, 7 July 1927, p.12.
  47. "Comment" by V.M., The Western Producer, 4 June 1925, p.11.
  48. SAB, A1 D22 (1), Mrs. Ted East to Violet McNaughton, 17 February 1937; SAB, A1 D58 (1), Mrs. Sanders to Violet McNaughton, 3 December 1937.
  49. For example, early in the war, Mrs. East said she had not minded McNaughton using part of her personal letter on the page, "except maybe the bit about the old bills this made the boss sort of angry and about English soldiers not needing socks, of course I had my own nephews in mind when I wrote that and I would not want to be the cause of some poor fellow losing out on a pair of socks because all the knitters thought they had lots." SAB, A1 D22 (1), Mrs. Ted East to Violet McNaughton, 25 January 1940.
  50. SAB, A1 E89, Violet McNaughton to Mrs. M.E. Aldous, 2 March 1936.
  51. SAB, A1 D22 (1), Violet McNaughton to Mrs. Ted East, 5 May 1937.
  52. For historical challenges to the egalitarian familial assumptions behind the "partnership" ideal of rural gender relations see, for example, Margaret E. McCallum, "Prairie Women and the Struggle for a Dower Law, 1905-1920," Prairie Forum 18, 1 (1993): 19-34; Sandra Rollings-Magnusson, "Hidden Homesteaders: Women, the State and Patriarchy in the Saskatchewan Wheat Economy, 1870-1930," Prairie Forum 24, 2 (Fall 1999): 171-83; Catherine Cavanaugh, "The Limitations of the Pioneering Partnership: The Alberta Campaign for Homestead Dower, 1909-25," Canadian Historical Review LXXIV, 2 (1993): 198-225; Terry Chapman, "'Til Death do us Part': Wife Beating in Alberta, 1905-1920," Alberta History 36, 4 (1988): 13-22; Halpern, And On That Farm; Georgina Bye, "'I Like to Hoe My Own Row': A Saskatchewan Farm Woman's Notions about Work and Womanhood during the Great Depression." Frontiers, 26, 3 (2005): 135-67; Georgina Bye, "'I Think So Much of Edward': Family, Favouritism, and Gender on a Prairie Farm in the 1930s," in Carter et al., eds., Unsettled Pasts, pp. 205-37.
  53. For example, compare Mrs. Langerok's letter as it was originally submitted with the published version. She took out Langerok's comment that "Oscar does not understand me"; altered her complaint about her own isolation relative to his to read "My husband naturally gets out more"; changed the frequency of her feeling "that I am going to go crazy" from "often" to "sometimes"; and left out the line that read, "Sometimes it seems as tho I can't possibly go on." SAB, A1 D37, Claudia Langerok to "Dear Friends", 14 December 1937. The published letter is in The Western Producer, 6 January 1938. Christa Scowby compares these two versions as well but has a different interpretation. See Scowby, "Divine Discontent," pp. 32-33.
  54. See Angela Davis, "'Country Homemakers': the Daily Lives of Prairie Women as Seen through the Woman's Page of the Grain Growers' Guide 1908-1928," Canadian Papers in Rural History, vol. VIII, in Donald Akenson, ed., (Gananoque, Quebec: Langdale Press, 1992).
  55. Nielsen, secretly a member of the Communist Party, was officially a CCFer, and would head to Ottawa in 1940, just as Agnes Macphail, the popular agrarian leader from Ontario and Canada's first M.P., was voted out of office. Nielsen was left as the lone woman in the House of Commons. On Nielsen, see Faith Johnson, A Great Restlessness: The Life and Politics of Dorise Nielsen (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2006). For a biography of Macphail, see Terry Crowley, Agnes Macphail and the Politics of Equality (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1990).
  56. SAB, A1 D 53, Dorise Nielsen to Violet McNaughton, 23 November 1938.
  57. SAB, A1 E89, Violet McNaughton to Mrs. S.E. Selby, 1 October 1933.
  58. "Comment" by V.M. The Western Producer, 11 February 1926, p.12.
  59. See, for example, "Comment," by V.M., The Western Producer, 17 September 1925, p.13.
  60. See Taylor, "Ground for Common Action," pp.20-24, for the application of this term to McNaughton's politics. Taylor draws on Angela Miles's Integrative Feminisms – Building Global Visions 1960s-1990s (New York: Routledge, 1996).
  61. For a more detailed discussion of the full range of McNaughton's ideas and practices as women's editor during the Depression decade, see Scowby, "'Divine Discontent'."
  62. The phrase "dissatisfied workers" is from Monica Halpern. "'Such Outrageous Discrimination': Farm Women and Their Family Grievances in Early Twentieth-Century Ontario," in Sharon Cook et al., eds. Framing Our Past: Canadian Women's History in the Twentieth Century (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001), pp. 123. Electrification was particularly slow to enter rural homes on the prairies, but even in the rest of the country rural electrification lagged far behind urban centres. By 1941, about 60% of urban households had power, compared with only 20% of rural homes. Julie Dorsch, "'You Just Did What Had to be Done': Life Histories of Four Saskatchewan 'Farmers' Wives,'" in David De Brou and Aileen Moffatt, eds. 'Other' Voices: Historical Essays on Saskatchewan Women (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, 1995), p.120. See also Strong-Boag, "Pulling in Double Harness or Hauling a Double Load."
  63. SAB, A1 E72, Violet McNaughton, "Prairie Women," [1913]. For a much fuller analysis of reproductive work through the women's pages during the 1930s, see Scowby, "'I Am a Worker, Not a Drone.'"
  64. "Comment" by V.M., The Western Producer, 16 July 1925, p. 11.
  65. Rose Jardine [formerly Ducie], "A Bonny Fighter," The Western Producer, 23 August 1973, p. 48.
  66. Strong-Boag, "Pulling in Double Harness," p.37.
  67. Halpern, And On That Farm, pp. 31-34.
  68. Violet McNaughton, "More Leisure," The Western Producer, 16 April 1925, p.11. McNaughton reiterated this argument many times, but for a few other early examples see "Comment" by V.M. The Western Producer, 4 March 1926, p.12; "Comment" by V.M., The Western Producer, 29 April 1926, p.12; "Comment" by J. and V.M., The Western Producer, 9 September 1926, p.12; "Comment" by V.M., The Western Producer, 21 October 1926, p.9; "Comment" by J. and V.M., The Western Producer, 3 March 1927, p.12.
  69. SAB, A1 E72, Violet McNaughton, "The Prairie Woman," [1913].
  70. Quoted in Angus McLaren and Arlene Tigar McLaren, The Bedroom and the State: The Changing Practices and Politics of Contraception and Abortion in Canada, 1880-1997 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 9.
  71. SAB, A1 E3, Violet McNaughton to Mrs. Marie Wilson, 6 May 1922.
  72. See the editor's response to "Another Reader" in The Western Producer, 10 November 1927, p. 12.
  73. See for example, SAB, A1 D55, Violet McNaughton to Mrs. Shoebridge, 6 April 1931.
  74. SAB, A1 E3, Violet McNaughton to Mrs. Lawson, 4 March 1931; Violet McNaughton to Mrs. Shoebridge, 30 March 1931.
  75. Scowby, "'I Am a Worker, Not a Drone,'" p. 8.
  76. On McNaughton's pacifism during WWI see Barbara Roberts, 'Why Do Women Do Nothing to End the War?' Canadian Feminist-Pacifists and the Great War, CRIAW Papers, no. 13 (Ottawa: CRIAW/ICREF 1985), pp.15-20.
  77. On Beynon's pacifism, see Roberts, 'Why Do Women Do Nothing to End the War?' pp. 6-15.
  78. On the Communist-linked Women's Labour Leagues' approach to peace in the 1920s, see Margaret Hobbs and Joan Sangster, eds. The Woman Worker, 1926-1929, St. John's: Canadian Committee on Labour History, 1999, ch. 4; Joan Sangster, "The Communist Party and the Woman Question, 1922-1929," Labour/Le Travail 15 (Spring 1985).
  79. Rose Jardine, "A Bonny Fighter," The Western Producer, 23 August 1973, p. 48.
  80. See Mail Bag letters by Sophia Dixon, "Vision," The Western Producer, 18 November 1926, p.12; Letitia Krips, "Advocates Birth Control," The Western Producer, 20 January 1927, p.12; and by 'Interested', "Family Limitation," The Western Producer, 24 February 1927, p.12.
  81. "Comment," by V.M., The Western Producer, 22 October 1925, p.13.
  82.  Sydney Strong in Unity, "The Negro," The Western Producer, 28 May 1925; "Comment" by J and VM, The Western Producer, 25 March 1925, p.12; "Comment" by J and VM, The Western Producer, 22 April 1926, p.12.
  83. SAB, A1 D58 (2), Violet McNaughton to Velma Sanders, 22 September 1938.
  84. SAB, A1 E89, Violet McNaughton to Mrs. P.J. Rowe, 2 August 1938. Further, she shared that "I sometimes regret that it [the WILPF] is a women's organization when the need is so great for men and women to pool their resources."
  85. On her discouragement at some points during her peace work in the 1930s see SAB, A1 E95 (1), Violet McNaughton to Mrs Jamieson, 10 Oct. 1930; SAB, A1 E95 (2), Violet McNaughton to Miss Katherine Devereax Blake, 13 Dec. 1932; SAB, A1 E95 (2), Violet McNaughton to Jamieson, 27 April 1937.
  86. SAB, A1 E95 (2), Violet McNaughton to Mrs Woodsworth, 21 March 1932.
  87. Christa Scowby, "'Divine Discontent,'" p. 125.
  88. SAB, A1 E95 (2), Violet McNaughton to Miss Katherine Devereax Blake, 13 December 1932.
  89. "Comment," by V.M., The Western Producer, 29 October 1925, p.12.
  90. "Comment," by V.M., The Western Producer, 1 April 1926, p.12; "Comment," by V.M. The Western Producer, 17 June 1926, p.12.
  91. Violet McNaughton, "Co-Operation in Relief Work," The Western Producer, 3 September 1931, p.10.
  92. "What Will Santa Claus Do this Year?" The Western Producer, 17 September 1931, p.10.
  93. See for example her concern about Mrs. Bendall in SAB, A1 D1 (2), Violet McNaughton to Mrs Marion Minish, 16 April 1940. Also see the Bendall correspondence file: SAB, A1 D8.
  94. Violet McNaughton, "Stopping the Maternity Grant," The Western Producer, 15 October 1931, p.10.
  95. On women's resistance to the gendered, discriminatory, and inadequate nature of relief in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, see Theresa Healy, "Engendering Resistance: Women Respond to Relief in Saskatoon, 1930-1932," in De Brou and Moffatt, eds., 'Other' Voices, pp. 94-111.
  96. Violet McNaughton, "What Will Santa Claus Do this Year?" The Western Producer, 17 September 1931, p.10; Violet McNaughton, "Demonstrate if Necessary," The Western Producer, 1 October 1931, p.10. See also SAB, A1 D58 (2), Violet McNaughton to Velma Sanders, 25 Nov. 1938.
  97. SAB, A1 D16, Violet McNaughton to Mrs. George Butala, 7 February 1938.
  98. SAB, A1 D58 (2), Violet McNaughton to Velma Sanders, 25 Nov. 1938.
  99. SAB, A1 D58 (2), Violet McNaughton to Velma Sanders, 25 Nov. 1938.
  100. "The Slave Mind," letter to the editor by L.J. Pepper, 31 December 1931. See also the file of later correspondence between McNaughton and Mr. Pepper between 1939 and 1944 in SAB, A1 D55.
  101. Christine Georgina Bye analyzes her grandmother's identity construction as a "good" farm woman during the Depression in Saskatchewan. Bye reads her celebratory narratives of her hard and varied work as acquiescence not resistance. Although Kate Greaves was proud of her work and role, Bye suggests that she and other prairie farm women ultimately reinforced gender boundaries in ways that would be harmful to future generations of women. Her conclusions are open to contestation, as is her generalization from Graves's story to "virtually all prairie farm women." Yet her perspective adds significantly to the ongoing debates about farm women and interwar feminism, and it is worth considering in relation to many of the "strong woman' narratives appearing in the "Mainly for Women" pages. See Bye, "'I Like to Hoe My Own Row'" and also Bye, "'I Think So Much of Edward.'"
  102.  SAB, A1 D16, Violet McNaughton to Alice Butala, 10 September 1938.   


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