Pondering the history of International Women’s Day

Michael Dawe

On March 8, people around the world commemorated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

While March 8 is the date that the global event is now held, the first International Women’s Day, or as it was then known, International Working Women’s Day, was celebrated on March 19, 1911.

The original idea of an International Working Women’s Day was put forward by the Socialist Party of America, but the first observances took place in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

The event was never meant to be just a celebration of respect and appreciation for women. The rapid industrialization that occurred in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought a surge of economic growth. However, it also often brought abysmal working conditions, particularly for women and children.

Moreover, legal rights for women were sadly lacking. It was rare for women to have a vote in elections. Protection from domestic violence and abuse was weak or non-existent. Property rights generally went to men over women.

Central Alberta is not often known for activism and radicalism, but there was a growing local recognition of women’s rights in the early part of the last century. In 1901, when Red Deer was incorporated as a town, unmarried women and widows with property were given the right to vote.

In 1913, when Red Deer was incorporated as a city, all adult property owners, both men and women, were given the right to vote in civic elections.

Meanwhile, there was a strong movement, led by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, to bring in Prohibition against the sale and manufacture of alcohol. Today, many people dismiss groups such as the W.C.T. U. as being overly straight-laced individuals who are against others enjoying some beer, wine or liquor.

However, just as the situation is today, alcohol was frequently a major contributing factor to violence, crime, poverty and poor health. Those who bore the brunt of the violence and the burdens of poverty were wives and children. There weren’t the social programs in place to ease the suffering and provide ways of correcting the domestic and economic situations.

Thus, “banning the bar” was, for groups such as the W.C.T.U., a promising way to improve the plight of women and children. Moreover, the W.C.T.U. became a strong advocate of improving women’s rights to property and estates, creating mothers’ pensions, providing legal protections for women and children against violence and abuse, and creating public health systems.

Groups such as the W.C.T.U. and the Red Deer Local Council of Women also strongly supported extending the franchise in municipal, provincial and federal elections to women, not only to improve the calibre of people elected, but also to increase the chances of Prohibition being approved in plebiscites.

In 1915, Red Deer voted for prohibition by a margin of 80%, while the measure was approved province-wide by a two-thirds margin. In April 1916, women were given the right to vote and to hold elected public office in Alberta. The franchise was extended to women in federal elections in 1917.

In 1921, Laura Irish became the first woman in Red Deer to run for public office. She lost her bid to become a public school trustee by only 10 votes. In 1921, Irene Parlby of Alix was elected to the Alberta Legislature and shortly thereafter became the first woman cabinet minister.

In 1922, Red Deer made legal history when, for the first time in Canada, a court case was heard with women on the jury. Those first woman jurors were Jessie Huestis, Zelma Smith and Maude Horn.

In 1926, Edith Ellis McCreight became the first woman to be elected in Red Deer when she successfully ran for public school trustee. In 1960, Margaret Parsons became the first woman chair of the Red Deer Public School Board.

In 1961, Ethel Taylor became the first woman to be elected to City Council. In 1992, Gail Surkan was elected as Red Deer’s first woman mayor. She held the office for 12 years, thereby tying the record as longest serving mayor set by her predecessor, Bob McGhee.

Just Posted

WATCH: Red Deer’s Westerner Days kicks off to a smoking hot start

Thousands take in the food, entertainment, rides and more at Westerner Park

WATCH: 2018 Westerner Days Parade brings 1000s to downtown Red Deer

The parade begins five days of western fun and culture in Central Alberta

Innisfail RCMP seize eight dogs from hotel room following earlier arrest

Dogs were in distress and taken to an animal rescue organization

Westerner Days opens today

Lots to see and do for the whole family

RCMP Major Crimes South make arrest in Red Deer homicide investigation

Gabriel Juma We Agotic of Red Deer arrested in Calgary

WATCH: Tune into What’s Up Wednesday

An overview of the week’s news in Red Deer

Two charged near Sundre after dog, cat, horse and five lambs stolen

Witnesses give valuable information to police, stolen property recovered

Parks Canada looks to shine light on cloudy future for historic sites

A plan is in place to produce 10-year plans designed to turn around sagging attendance figures

Ontario police say attack on Muslim man was motivated by hate

Two men, aged 27 and 19, have been charged with assault in the incident

Price no guarantee for safety with horse riding helmets: new report

A Swedish insurance report reveals that many brands of equestrian helmets do not protect riders as well as they could.

Gord Bamford Charity Golf Classic launches into its second decade

The Gord Bamford Foundation is continuing to support youth supporting charities

VIDEO: Toronto Raptors send DeMar DeRozan to Spurs in colossal NBA trade

Toronto also sent Jakob Poeltl and 2019 first-round pick, gets Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green

Wetaskiwin man facing charges after allegedly impersonating war veteran

Wetaskiwin RCMP lay charges for unlawful use of military uniforms/certificates

Kitten OK after being rescued from underground pipe in B.C.

An adventurous feline has been rescued after getting trapped in an underground pipe in Kamloops, B.C.

Most Read