Category: Women’s History

Margaret Laurence

Margaret Laurence

Drawing From a Dreadful Childhood in Neepawa

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

Jean Margaret Laurence, Manitoba’s distinguished author of “The Stone Angel” and “The Diviners,” was born Jean Margaret Weymiss, on July 18, 1926. Her mother was Verna Simpson, 6th daughter of John Simpson. Margaret’s father was Bob Weymiss, a lawyer who had really wanted to become a carpenter. Her dreadful early life in Neepawa became the source of her writings.

DEATH WAS HER EARLY COMPANION

Death was Margaret’s companion in childhood. Margaret lost her mother Verna at age four. Her aunt Margaret returned from Calgary to help care for young Margaret and slept in a back room. After a year of town gossip, her aunt became her next mother. From then on she would call her new mother mum. At age 9 Margaret lost her father. As a little girl she was made to go see her parents’ graves, surrounded by peonies. From then on she hated that flower.

GRANDFATHER SIMPSON

The other major figure in Laurence’s life was her maternal grandfather John Simpson, a successful businessman in Neepawa. He had come from Milton Ontario as a pioneer and had literally walked the 50 miles to Portage La prairie where he got his start. Simpson was a mean, avaricious man who was respected but hated by nearly everyone. He refused to let his wife go shopping with any money, and he later regretted sending Margaret’s mother to Agricultural College as he did not like the idea of paying tuition for her to “learn how to cook.”

After her father died the family had to sell their house and move in with Grandfather Simpson. Margaret later remarked how the house felt like a cage and her grandfather was a tyrant. She was encouraged in everything she did. She felt different from the other children, an outsider. She became an observer of the lives of others. The war took away every boy in her class by grade 12. As a result, all of Margaret’s memories were of Neepawa as a place of death.

ESCAPE TO WINNIPEG

At age 17 she won a scholarship to United College and found an opportunity to meet other budding writers. At age 18 she bought a Remington typewriter for $14 and remarked that her typing course taken at age 14 was the best thing she ever did. She stayed at Sparling Hall and ate at a Salisbury House as well as Tony’s. She had coined the name Minewaka in a short story competition run by the Winnipeg Free, Press.

MARRIED LIFE

She married Laurence in 1962 at age 21 and they lived for a while at 515 William above Anne and Bill Ross. For a while Margaret worked at a communist newspaper without knowing it and later for the Winnipeg Citizen. Her husband and the Rosses did not get along as he disapproved of their causes. Her husband was interested in 3rd world development work and after a short stint in England he found work on improving the water supply in Somalia. She wrote first about Africa but later after returning to England in 1962, after her divorce. She had two children.

There she began to write about Manawaka (Neepawa). The Stone Angel came out in 1964. In 1974 she returned to Canada living in Lakefield Ontario. She became a heavy smoker and an alcoholic. In later life she did not enjoy the idea of returning to Neepawa even for short trips. On her rare visits, she refused to walk by the old brick house.

This secretive woman who had decided long earlier that “a life without hope is not worth living,” planned the details of her own funeral, including the timing of her death in Jan 5, 1987, during a battle with cancer.

EDITH ROGERS Manitoba’s First Female MLA

EDITH ROGERS

Manitoba’s First Female MLA

By George Siamandas

On June 29, 1920 Manitobans elected their first woman member of the Legislative assembly. Edith Rogers had been active in soldier’s relief programs, and was seen as woman capable of bringing women’s issues before the Legislature. She is described as having been a true daughter of the north country in that both her mother and father had strong connections with the Hudson Bay Co. Her paternal grandmother had been the illegitimate daughter of Sir George Simpson.

She was born Edith MacTavish in 1876. growing up at Norway House. She was educated in Montreal. In 1897 she met Arthur Rogers who was a wholesale dealer in fruits and provisions, while on a duck hunting expedition with her uncle. Arthur Rogers began a new dairy business in 1905 called crescent creamery with the active involvement of Edith. The dairy was a success because they paid close attention to hygienic conditions during a time when typhoid fever was rampant.

HOW DID SHE BECOME A PROMINENT WINNIPEGGER?

Edith raised four children and led an active life as part of the social elite. Participating in many luncheons, teas, bridge parties and dinners, Edith Rogers took a special interest in the General Hospital and the Convalescent Home. After WW2 she was very involved in veterans associations helping returning soldiers adjust to civilian life. In 1920 the Liberal party asked her to run as a candidate. Manitoba was the first province to give women the vote that year and it was the first opportunity women had had to vote or to run for office. Three other women ran for office that year.

WHAT ISSUES DID EDITH ROGERS PRESS IN THE LEGISLATURE?

She was very interested in social welfare and pressed for the adoption of the child welfare bill. She also introduced a bill for censorship of motion pictures and a bill giving widows increased power over their husband’s estates. She also represented the government on the Social Welfare Council of Winnipeg. She also introduced a bill to incorporate the Winnipeg Foundation. She was also credited by city of Winnipeg officials for always being willing to secure legislation that solved civic problems.

She continued to serve in the legislature till 1932, after which due to declining health retired in her daughter’s home in Toronto. She came back at the outbreak of WW@ to become chairman of the War Council of the Red Cross. In 1942 she decided to retire to her childhood home in Colbourne Ontario. On the eve of her departure for more than an hour and a half a steady procession of people came to pay their respects at the grand staircase of the legislature. She died in 1947.

The 1946 Portage Women’s Jail Riot

 

Portage Women’s Jail

The 1946 Portage Women’s Jail Riot

Unhappy to Have a Woman Warden

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

 

On April 15, 1946 a riot broke out at the Portage La Prairie Jail for Women. Newspapers reported a combination of bad food, overcrowding, and poor medical care as the cause of the riot. It was a Monday and 15 women refused to go to work. Tear gas was used to bring the women under control but they began to throw furniture around and barricaded themselves. The women demanded to see the Attorney General J.O. McLenaghen while singing “don’t fence me in.”

Attorney General J.O. McLenaghen met with them and heard complaints against female Warden MC Mountain. One inmate said of trying to communicate grievances to Miss Mountain, “you might as well be talking to a little dog.” McLenaghen promised to look into their complaints, ordered they be taken off their bread and water rations and left to a chorus of “he’s a jolly good fellow.”

A DAMNING REPORT ON THE WOMEN’S PRISON

Head of jails in Manitoba Royal Burritt conducted an investigation into the state of jails in Manitoba and found the womens’ complaints had merit. The management consisting of Ed Calder and Maud Mountain was judged as incompetent. Staff was only at half the level required. Maud Mountain was a lousy administrator and showed no initiative. Ed Calder the past warden at the jail had been accused of hitting numerous women with his clenched fist. He ran the place like an autocrat. Burritt suggested that Calder be fired. Yet at the top of the womens’ demands was their wish to see the return of their male warden Sheriff Ed Calder.

Set up in 1931 and made women’s only in 1935, the facility was badly in need of repairs. The colours were depressing, and described by Burritt a “bilious blue” and “dirty yellow.” The windows had been painted over a “hideous green” preventing light from coming into the cells. The food consisted of cold meats and potatoes. The fridge barely worked and the range needed replacement. It would have failed any restaurant health codes in effect at the time. The women were not given toothbrushes even though the cost was only 10 cents. There were no written rules of behaviour. Calder made the rules up as he went. Complainant Edna Burch said Calder beat her for a small infraction of the rules and put her on bread and water for 5 days.

There was no vocational training available, nor any recreational facilities. The library contained nothing up to date. It had a few rotting foul smelling old books. Burritt concluded that there was nothing wrong with the food. “Nothing could start trouble sooner than to provide poor food and we know that well enough” said Burritt. Two years later Burritt seemed to have forgotten the importance of a decent meal.

1948 MEN’S PRISON COMPLAINTS

In 1948 unrest broke out at Headingley Jail. Men complained of not enough variety in meals. Not enough sugar available. No bedtime snacks. An investigation proved the men’s concerns. Meals consisted of a lot of beef stew and steamed or mashed potatoes. On alternate days sliced balogna. Sugar rations were tripled. It was deemed too impractical however to give prisoners bedtime snacks in their cells.

MANITOBA WOMEN WIN THE VOTE


MANITOBA WOMEN WIN THE VOTE

By George Siamandas

A bill to give women the vote was passed on January 27, 1916 in the Manitoba Legislature. Manitoba became the first province to enfranchise women. Hon T. H. Johnson declared that January 27 1916 will for all days remain a milestone for this province. There was a time in society when women were considered chattels of their husbands. They were thought not to be interested in worldly issues like voting. It was thought that they were pre-occupied with other things. Home, the children and their husband’s needs. And it has to be noted that the Rodmond Roblin government of the day was not at all interested in any kind of reform. Nowhere in Canada did women have the right to vote. But things were about to change in Manitoba.

Women had been working on this issue since the late 1890s. On January 28 1914 a delegation from the Political Equality League met Premier Roblin in the old Legislature to ask for the right to vote. It was novelist Nellie McClung and President of the League, Dr. Mary Crawford who led the delegation. They stressed that women would help clean up corruption. She felt women were inherently purer and more virtuous than men.

Nellie McClung noted women were about to vote in the US, they had been voting in China and England. She declared women were ready to be let out of the asylum. And she compelled men to be the fair sex. The women said they were not asking for a favour or a gift, but for a right.

McClung wanted to address Roblin’s cabinet, a request which Roblin refused. He considered her a “rather conceited young woman who may have had some success at Friday afternoon schoolhouse entertainment and so was labouring under the delusion that she had the gift of oratory.”

She responded “You’ll hear from me later Sir Roblin.. and you may not like what you will hear.” “Is this a threat?” Roblin asked. “No,” Nellie said, A prophecy!”

Roblin refused their request for the vote. Roblin felt that Winnipeg women didn’t want the vote. The next night at a meeting at the Walker Theatre, Nellie McClung parodied Roblin to a great reception by the audience. The movement for the women’s vote had gathered a lot of political backing. The Political Equality League had support from the Icelandic Women’s Suffrage Association, the Women’s Temperance Union, the Trades and Labour Council, the Canadian Women’s Press Club, and the Young Women’s Christian Association.

NELLIE MCCLUNG
She was born Nellie Moonie in Ontario in 1873. In 1880 her family moved west to homestead in Manitou. As a young woman she fought for higher education and against the customs that kept women at home. She went to the Normal School (Teacher’s College on William Ave.) and later taught in Treherne and Manitou.

In Manitou she married Wes McClung a druggist who gave her the freedom to be herself. Nellie wrote that she “could be happy with Wes. We did not always agree, but he was a fair fighter. I would rather fight with him than agree with anyone else.”

She began to write children’s literature and published her first novel “Sowing Seeds in Danny” in 1908 which became a Canadian best seller earning her $25,000 for 100,000 sales. Wes, who had joined Manufacturer’s Life, Nellie and their four children moved to Winnipeg in 1911 and lived in a house at 97 Chestnut Street.

Winning the vote took what it seems has always been required in politics. And that is being able to get the ear of a party that is willing to listen. Thus in the provincial election of July 10, 1914 the reformers supported the Liberals and their leader TC Norris.

Roblin’s government did however win with a slim majority. But his days in power were numbered. The Legislature construction scandal blew wide open forcing Roblin to resign on May 12, 1915. Norris took over, called, and won the election of August 16, 1915. On December 23, 1915, a delegation of 60 men and women presented new Premier TC (Tobias Crawford) Norris a petition of 40,000 names in support of women’s suffrage. Two weeks later, Norris brought in a bill and it received third reading on January 27 1916. A year later, another act gave women the right to vote in civic elections if they met property qualifications. But suffrage was still not available to all women. Aboriginal women had to wait till 1952 to get the same privilege.

WHAT HAPPENED TO NELLIE MCCLUNG?
Her husband’s job caused a move to Alberta in 1916, where she continued to press for the vote in Alberta winning that one by late 1916. She was elected to the Alberta legislature in 1921. And she continued to champion issues mother’s allowances, public health nurses, free medical and dental for children, new laws for women’s property rights. She served on the Board of the CBC during 1936-1942. She continued to work for improved prison conditions and liberalized divorce laws. She died in Victoria BC, in September 1951.

Mary Speechly

Mary Speechly

Winnipeg’s First Lady of the University

By George Siamandas

Mary Speechly was born Mary Barrett in London England in 1873. Her father was a schoolmaster who wanted Mary to receive a good education. He was concerned that the local girl’s school was “too feeble,” and instead had her attend his boy’s school. She would be the only girl among 80 boys. It was clearly not a time when the education of women was considered important. And she was denied access to higher mathematics, science, carpentry and sport.

In 1889 she won a scholarship to University College in Liverpool where she received a degree in classics. She later attended Cambridge University where women formed only 10% of the population and were not permitted degrees except through arrangements with lower colleges. She married Henry Speechly, a doctor, in 1895, and they came to Manitoba in 1901.

LIVING IN PILOT MOUND
Dr Speechly arrived at Pilot Mound 8 months ahead of Mary at a time when it was still a pioneering community. Mary had obtained training as a professional photographer and practised as Pilot Mound’s only photographer for the first few years. She found taking pictures financially rewarding and a great way of meeting local people. Mary Speechly found the first few years very difficult in pioneering Manitoba with no running water, no electricity and no phone. But their house was frequently full of people. And Mary found that she had to be not only a nurse to Henry’s patients but also a cook as well as patients brought their families and they sometimes stayed for hours. She educated her daughter herself till age 14.

Mary became involved with the school board and noticed that the area’s young women knew nothing of cooking or sewing. She found a travelling teacher who would teach these simple homemaking skills. Mary Speechly went on to become one of the founders of the Women’s Institute. She became very active in the area’s Agricultural Council, played the church organ, was church treasurer and sat on many committees.

THE MOVE TO WINNIPEG
During WW1 Dr Speechly went to serve in England. By 1916 the family had moved to Winnipeg and they would reside at 232 Home St. for the rest of their lives. Dr Speechly became famous as Winnipeg’s coroner and the man who in 1925 campaigned for the introduction of mosquito abatement.

In Winnipeg Mary Speechly became involved in many educational and family causes. She founded organizations like the Birth Control League, which helped improve the lives of Manitoba women. The Birth Control League was founded in October 1933. She worked tirelessly for the Red Cross, the Community Chest, and the Anglican Church. It was her work in relief where she recognized the problems brought about by large families that led to her work with the Birth Control League. It was work that at that time was against the law. She was the first woman to be appointed to serve on the Agricultural College Council in 1927. Later she continued to serve on the University’s Board of Governors 1933-1947. In 1947 she received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. In 1964 the new Women’s Residence at the University of Manitoba was named Speechly Hall.

THE SPEECHLY FAMILY
Mary and Dr Speechly lived at their famous white columned home where they raised three children. Their oldest son William Grove taught at Gordon Bell high School. Everyone who went to Gordon Bell in the 1960s will remember Mr. Speechly as “The Chief” and how entertaining his geography classes were for all the boys in the “Mob.”

Local newspapers continued to honour Mary Speechly well into her nineties dubbing her Winnipeg’s First Lady of the University. In 1963 at age 90 she was reported to still be caring for bachelor son William. She would walk a mile to do her shopping. She needed no glasses and she still had all of her teeth. She lived to 95 and died Nov 7 1968.

Lillian Beynon Thomas

Lillian Beynon Thomas

Writer and Social Reformer

by George Siamandas

LILLIAN BEYNON THOMAS
In the decade between 1907 and 1917 she was one of the most influential women in Canada. As a writer for the Winnipeg Free Press and the Prairie Farmer, Thomas raised the consciousness of women. She was also one of the founders of the Political Equality league which fought the Roblin govt for the right to vote.

Lillian Beynon was born Sept 4, 1874 in Kings Ontario. Her family moved to Hartney in the south west corner Manitoba in 1884. After her father’s death, her family moved to Winnipeg, and she received her Normal School certificate in 1896. In the next nine years she taught in various rural Manitoba locations developing a compassion for the lives of rural women. In 1905 a time in which women were only 11% of all college graduates, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wesley College and began teaching in Morden.

BECOMING A WRITER
It was John Dafoe of the Free Press who gave her a chance to write in 1907. It had been her life-long ambition. She wrote under the pseudonym Lillian Laurie and the column was called “Home Loving Hearts.” Her column was not about how to be beautiful nor how to win a husband. Instead she told stories about women who had been abandoned, mistreated, and who had no legal rights to children. She began to be an advocate for social reform, for dower rights, and for temperance as she had seen how many farm families had been torn apart due to liquor. Thomas, well ahead for her times, also supported unwed mothers and illegitimate children. She soon realized that obtaining reform would come only after women had secured the right to vote for reform.

THE SUFFRAGETTE’S FIGHT
Manitoba was ahead of other provinces in lobbying for the right to vote. This was attributed to the Icelandic women that had come to Manitoba who had enjoyed the right to vote in their home country. The fight to ban the booze had started in 1885 and by 1893 the Women’s Christian Temperance Union took up the voting issue.

In 1906 women who owned property were allowed to vote in municipal election. But the Manitoba government fearing they would vote in prohibition, in which the govt had a vested interest, took away their right to vote. This move strengthened women’s resolve to pursue the vote. Thomas continued to write and was instrumental in the establishment of homemaker’s clubs throughout Saskatchewan.

MOCK PARLIAMENT SKIT
In 1912 the Political Equality league was set up with Lillian Beynon Thomas as its first president. She helped set up a Speaker’s Bureau whose members toured the province. Despite changing public support the Roblin govt refused women the right to vote and finally Lillian Beynon Thomas having seen a skit in which she decided to show thew absurdity of Roblin’s reasons fro not giving the women the right to vote. The famous Mock Parliament skit at the Walker Theatre. Here the roles were reversed. Men came to women begging for the right to vote and were told that beautiful and cultured men should not receive the right to vote.

LEGISLATIVE BUILDING SCANDAL GIVES WOMEN AN OPENING
In May 1915 Roblin’s govt fell after the scandal over the escalating costs of building the legislature. TC Norris the new premier promised women the vote. Lillian Beynon Thomas was also an advocate of social concerns. In 1912 she initiated a campaign to get nurses into rural areas and arranged for the exchange of care parcels between have and have not Manitobans. She gave exposure to the work of JS Wooodsworth.

WHAT HAPPENED TO LILLIAN BEYNON THOMAS
In 1917 she moved to New York with her husband AV Thomas where she studied short story writing at Columbia University. In 1922 they returned to Winnipeg were she began work for the Tribune. She also began to write plays and found great sucess in this new carreer. She died Sept 2 1961 at age 77.

Gabrielle Roy

Gabrielle Roy

Our Franco Manitoban Author of International Stature

by George Siamandas

GABRIELLE ROY
Born in St Boniface, Gabrielle was the last of 8 children born to Leon Roy and his wife Melina Landry. In March 22, 1909, the year of her birth, her dad was 60 and her mother 42. Her dad was dismissed from his civil service job just prior to retirement thus losing his pension, plunging the family into genteel poverty.

Gabrielle attended St Joseph’s Academy where she was taught in the French language. For the next five years she achieved the highest ever standing in French. She graduated in 1927 with a enough scholarship money to go anywhere she wanted to. She chose normal school. And after graduation taught in rural areas before returning to teach in St Boniface. But she wanted more. She wanted to experience her parent’s homeland in Quebec.

With eight years separating her from her next sibling, Gabrielle spent a lot of time reading in her book filled attic where she looked out at over the early St Boniface of the 1910s and 1920s. She dreamed of becoming a writer. By age 10 she had written her first play, and during the summers after this, neighbourhood children would mount productions of her dramas. She joined La Cercle Moliere in 1935.

She lived in Manitoba about 30 years choosing to travel or live in Quebec after 1939. In 1937 Roy left Manitoba to study abroad and in 1939 settled in Quebec.

JOURNALISM AND WRITING
She ran out of money in Europe and returned to became a journalist in Montreal writing about agriculture. She also wrote about social issues and poverty in Montreal. The journalism supported he while she worked on her first novel over a period of more than four years.

Her first novel, “The Tin Flute,” was published in 1945 and brought her literary fame. It won a French Prix Femina, the Canadian Governor General’s Award and was the book of the month pick in 1947. The Tin Flute proved to be both a popular and a critical success and was considered the “first volley” in Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. It is about a poor girl who lives with her mother during WW2. Because the girl becomes pregnant, it caused quite a stir and created a scandal. It was banned in Manitoba but apparently the ban brought it even closer attention according to a Catholic priest who said that he and his colleagues then knew they had to get it.

Most of her writing was set in Manitoba and was influenced by the prairie landscape. Known for a simple style she was able to make the everyday details of life interesting. For the narratives Gabrielle relied on her mother’s vivid descriptions of her life. Both parents were great storytellers that regaled young Gabrielle of their early pioneering years homesteading in the Pembina Triangle near Sommerset.

Returning to St Boniface to care for two ill sisters, Gabrielle met Marcel Charbotte, Cercle Moliere President, with whom she fell in love. They left for Paris where her new husband pursued medical studies. But their life as a couple was not happy. It is not generally known that she married a gay man.

Finally in this different place, Gabrielle started to write novels about Manitoba. She was stunned by the controversy over a foreigner winning the French Prix Femina. They returned to Canada in the early 1950s and settled in Quebec City living on the Grand Alle. But in Quebec she felt an outsider and once again Quebecers were resentful of a book written by an outsider. And she did not like the nationalism of Quebec.

Gabrielle Roy died in Quebec city in July 1983. The home in which she grew up is still standing at 375 Deschambault St. Members of the St Boniface community are working to create a museum there one day. One of her sisters Adelle, better known as Marie-Ana, is still alive at 105 years of age.

Ironically Roy fought for acceptance outside St Boniface, in the other French communities. The French were annoyed that a foreigner won their Prix Femina, while the Quebecers about whom she wrote, resented her, an outsider, depicting the Quebecers to the rest of the world. She found Quebec and insular place that made her feel like an outsider.

But in St Boniface they take great pride that someone born and raised in St Boniface had become the toast of the French speaking literary world.

EILEEN MAGILL

EILEEN MAGILL

Manitoba’s First Aviatrix

by George Siamandas

In mid November 1928, Eileen Magill, Manitoba’s first woman aviatrix was taking to Manitoba skies with the first pilot’s license ever granted to a woman. She was born in Nova Scotia April 18, 1906. Her parents came to Winnipeg where she graduated from the University of Manitoba in May 1928 as an honours student in French and Philosophy. Eileen Magill was a different kind of lady for her times. She smoked, she wore slacks, she drove a fast car and she dreamed of becoming an aviatrix.

LEARNING TO FLY IN 1928
Magill applied to the newly opened Winnipeg Flying Club and learned on a DeHavilland Moth a plane with open sides. Her teacher was Michael de Blicguy, and it all took place at newly named Stevenson Airport (now Winnipeg International Airport.) Back then it cost $9-$17 dollars per hour of instruction, and $180 to $240 for a private pilot’s license.

Eileen Magill was awarded her license on October 28, 1928 and became the second woman in Canada to become an aviatrix. Another Eileen, an Eileen Volcock from Ontario had been the first just nine months earlier. Under the terms of her Manitoba license Magill faced several restrictions. She was not permitted to fly commercially or take passengers until she had put on 10 flying hours.

FIRST MANITOBA WOMAN ON AN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT
Eileen became a member of the new flying club and soon joined three men pilots for a good will flight to Minneapolis. They were seen off by the premier, and other civic dignitaries. Magill’s group of flyers stopped to meet mayors from Grand Forks, Fargo, Crookston. But on their last leg on the way to Minneapolis, she encountered fog forcing the group to land in a field. They walked to a highway, and flagged down the bus to Minneapolis to the relief of the authorities waiting their arrival and thinking the worst.

A NATURAL FOR THE AVIATION BUSINESS
She tried to get a job with the Dept of Civil Aviation. She came highly recommended had a pleasing personality but at a time few women worked outside the home, was turned down for the job. Within her first year she had logged 57 hours and 33 minutes of flying time. And then she quit. Just like that. She married Rene Cera and moved to Woddbridge Ontario where they had one son. She lived to age 58 and died at Lennox Massachusets in 1964.

FRED STEVENSON
Winnipeg’s airport was named in honour of Captain F J Stevenson who died in January of 1928 after having received the Harmon trophy for commercial aviation in 1927. Stevenson had been born in Parry Sound Ontario but grew up in Winnipeg. He had destroyed 18 enemy aircraft and 3 observation balloons while with the RFC. Stevenson flew the first commercial shipment: 23 tons from The Pas to Sherrit Gordon mines in 1927.

CORA HIND

CORA HIND

Manitoba’s Distinguished Agricultural Journalist

by George Siamandas

Cora Hind came to Winnipeg in 1882 while it was still a small frontier town. She was an orphan who was brought up in by her grandmother on a farm in Artimesia Ontario. She arrived full of dreams of a bright future for her aspirations to become a newspaper woman. This was time when there were none and when most women chose the path of teaching. William F Luxton editor of the Free Press at the time told her that the newspaper business was not made for women especially with the late hours and the not so nice people.

A lawyer advised her to become a typist and she rented a typewriter and taught herself how to use it. For more than a decade she worked as a typist, but she did not give up on journalism. She decided that on her own she would become knowledgeable in agriculture. By 1893 she had her first piece published: an article on dairy production. Twenty years after she had first applied to the paper, she was finally hired by the Free Press to do the job she had always wanted to do: report on agriculture.

Agriculture is such an uncertain business as far as how good the crops will be at harvest time. Having data from which to make educated guesses is what distinguished Cora Hind from everyone else. She was willing to go out in many parts of the province and check crops for herself conducting her own agricultural surveys. She dressed in her military style clothing with britches high boots. She drove herself all over the province where literally no man had gone before. The result was there was a level of confidence in her predictions.

In 1898 for example there were predictions of a crop failure Cora was able to predict an average harvest. She went right into the fields, rubbed and felt the wheat kernels in her hand and counted the kernels. In 1901 Cora was appointed agricultural and commercial editor for the Free Press. Her crop estimates became the standard by which this kind of work was done. She showed her abilities again in 1904 a year in which they Chicago experts predicted a crop of only 35 million bushels due to fear of black rust. Cora went out and checked things for herself and predicted a crop of 55 million bushels. The Chicago experts thought she was nuts till the crop actually came in at 54 million bushels. Her status as an expert was forged that season. In 1924 she travelled 10,240 km over 37 consecutive days making 30-50 stops a day to check crops.

Cora was front and centre in the women’s movement and worked on poverty issues with Amelia Yeomans and voting issues with Nellie McLung.

Her colleagues are said to have paid her the ultimate compliment. “The best newspaper man in Winnipeg is a woman: Miss E Cora Hind.” In 1935 she received an honourary degree from the University of Manitoba and the Free Press awarded her a round the world trip. In her 70s she took the trip and made a busman’s holiday by reporting on agriculture around the world. Cora Hind died of a stroke at age 82.

AGATHA WIEBE

Agatha Wiebe

The First Mennonite Registered Nurse

By George Siamandas

AGATHA WIEBE
Two Mennonite women pioneered health care: Agatha Wiebe is thought to be the first Mennonite registered Nurse in Manitoba, and Maria Dueck Ginter, Chiropractor. Agatha’s grandparents were amongst the early Mennonite immigrants to Manitoba. They arrived in 1875. Her brother Dr. Cornelius Wiebe from Winkler who died recently was one of the oldest Manitobans alive. He was also the first Mennonite MLA in Manitoba.

Agatha was born in 1887 one of 5 daughters and four boys to Peter P and Anne Wiebe at Weidensfeld near Rosenfeld. Agatha lost two of her young sisters to diphtheria. She left school at age 11 to help at the farm and by age 17 had become quite ill. Her doctor advised her to stop the strenuous farm work and to return to school, which she gladly did finishing grade 11.

At age 24 she decided to study nursing at St Louis Missouri Evangelical Deaconess Hospital. Her father who took her to St Louis and warned her that it would be the last time they could afford to see her till she graduated. In 1914 she completed her RN and returned to Winnipeg where she had to substantially re-qualify by meeting Canadian requirements at Winnipeg’s King George Hospital. After completing this period she began work at the Ninnete Sanatorium caring for TB patients where she rose to head nurse.

At age 40 she married Frank Thiessen a widower who had lost his first two wives and who already had 11 children. Nearing her mid forties Agatha proceeded to have two of her own children. Her nursing career was now over. They lived at Lowe Farm for the next 23 years. Agatha retired to Steinbach and later to Winkler were she lived to age 92. But where Agatha left health care in middle age another woman was just beginning.

MARIA DUECK GINTER: CHIROPRACTOR
Another Mennonite woman Maria Dueck Ginter pioneered as a female chiropractor. And she did so later in life starting in her fifties. She was the daughter of Deitrick and Agatha Dueck and the second of seven children. She was widowed at age 29 and left with three children. With the help of the community and a $45 per month social assistance allowance Maria kept her family going till she remarried four years later.

She learned the chiropractic art from her father who was a chiropractor, auctioneer, dentist and trapper. She was known as “the special woman with a special gift.” Her living room would be full of people awaiting her talents every evening. One of her popular treatments was a bear fat massage. She would relax her patients before working on them by using hand held vibrators and a vibrating chair.

Being unlicensed, Maria could not ask for a fee but many people would leave some meat, vegetables, or clothing and some nothing at all. It is said she helped a 12-year-old boy, who had not walked in 2 years, walk again after one of her treatments. Maria spent her entire life in Rosengart living to age 81. She died in 1990.