United Farm Women of Alberta

The United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) was the first provincial organization of farm women in ALBERTA.
The United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) was the first provincial organization of farm women in ALBERTA.

United Farm Women of Alberta, The

The United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) was the first provincial organization of farm women in ALBERTA. First established in 1915 as an auxiliary to the UNITED FARMERS OF ALBERTA (UFA), the farm women assembled at the 1916 convention voted to make the UFWA a separate organization, with its own constitution and direction. By 1915, many local women's groups were already in place, with distinct names, purposes, and procedures of their own. The provincial organization drew from the women's experiences in local groups and from the procedures already developed for the UFA, to create a highly centralized organization with most local initiatives funnelled through and directed by the central office and the provincial executive. A yearly program, outlining the content and structure of monthly meetings, was developed at the provincial level and followed faithfully by locals. An information bulletin on each monthly topic was added in 1920.

Three provincial committees were struck in 1916, focusing on health, education and young people's work, and reflecting the "social welfare" and betterment of rural life foci of the organization. More committees were added over the years as the group broadened its focus to include the legal status of women and children, cooperative marketing, farm safety and environmental concerns. Issues such as property rights for farm women, reproductive rights, farm economics and marketing, stress in farm families, child care in rural areas, access to affordable medical care, rural depopulation and loss of schools and services kept the UFWA lobbying and in advocacy activities for decades, and maintained its reputation as a respected voice for rural communities. The women, however, were not allowed to petition Parliament or the provincial legislature on any issue without endorsement by the United Farmers of Alberta board. This relationship to the men's organization would persist throughout the history of the organization, even as it changed its name and focus.

The UFWA was responsible for innovations including a provincial department of health and the municipal hospital scheme, a Junior Branch for Young People, Farm Young People's Week at the University of Alberta, Farm Women's Week at Olds Agricultural College, and the first Egg and Poultry Pool established in Canada and the first rural CHAUTAUQUA in Alberta. The organization initiated changes in legislation affecting credit for young farmers, income tax reform, mothers' allowances and widows' pensions. It was a major contributor to the UFA's successful elections to govern Alberta through the years 1921 to 1935, after being a major player in the suffrage campaign, which granted women the vote in 1916. The organization's first president, Irene PARLBY, was appointed as the first female cabinet minister in Canada after winning a seat in the 1921 election.

In 1949 the UFWA followed the UFA's lead and became the Farm Women's Union of Alberta (FWUA). Significant achievements of the FWUA include the launching of a magazine for farmers, and building a leadership camp (Goldeye Camp) for young people in the foothills of the Rockies. In 1970 due to another organizational amalgamation, this time with the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, Unifarm was created, and the women's organization chose the name "Women of Unifarm." Significant achievements of this period include the Matrimonial Property Act, giving women equality in division of marital property, and the introduction of Farm Safety Week and the Farm Safety Hike, which garnered international recognition for the organization. The organization dissolved in 2000 as declining membership and resources made it impossible to continue.

Further Reading

  • Nanci Langford, Politics, Pitchforks and Pickle Jars: 75 Years of Organized Frm Women in Alberta (1997); Carrol Jacques, Unifar: A Story of Conflict and Change (2001).