Violet McNaughton remains the best-known advocate for women’s suffrage in Saskatchewan. Also a defender of the co-operative and agrarian movements in the province, she worked closely with leaders in Alberta and Manitoba to advance rural reform.
Originally from Kent, England, Violet was introduced to the co-operative and suffrage movements there. She brought this knowledge with her when she immigrated to Harris. She married John McNaughton, who became her most loyal partner and supporter. As an agrarian feminist, Violet spearheaded many social reform strategies. These resulted in successes such as equal franchise, the recruiting of doctors, nurses and midwives for rural communities, the establishment of hospitals, libraries and schools, and improvements to the agrarian system.
Violet McNaughton became the first woman to sit on the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association Board of Directors. In 1914, she established the Women Grain Growers’ Association, becoming its first President. Violet’s executive included Zoa Haight, who was Vice President, and Erma Stocking as Secretary Treasurer.
In 1915, Violet created the Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board by uniting three organizations: the Women Grain Growers’ Association, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Political Equity League. Although these organisations represented very different urban and rural philosophies, they all believed in equal franchise. The Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board achieved this objective in Regina on March 1916, when Premier Walter Scott awarded the vote to Saskatchewan women.
Click here to listen to an interview with Violet McNaughton about the suffrage movement in Saskatchewan.
As the Women Grain Growers’ Association’s Vice President, Zoa Haight served alongside Violet McNaughton, who was President.
Zoa’s strong will and enthusiasm stood in contrast to Violet’s quiet demeanor, but the women developed a strong political partnership. Together, they helped to shape the provincial laws that bettered rural life for all.
Zoa was also the Vice President of the Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board, which Violet founded.
An active participant in mainstream politics, she ran for provincial office as a member of the Non-Partisan League in the district of Thunder Creek, in 1917. She was not, however, successful in winning her seat.
Erma Stocking served as the Secretary Treasurer of the Women Grain Growers’ Association until 1917. She was also the President of the Woodlawn chapter of the Women Grain Growers’ Association.
As Secretary Treasurer, Erma was responsible for publishing Women Grain Growers’ Association news in the women’s section of the Saskatchewan Grain Grower’s Association newspaper. Her columns included letters and submissions from farmwomen on subjects related to parenting, domestic practices, relief work and suffrage.
Erma was a strong supporter of the creation of rural libraries and believed that giving women access to literature helped to educate them and enrich their lives.
The Beynon Sisters
Journalism was another important tool used by Western Canadian suffragists to promote equal franchise across the prairies. The Beynon sisters of Winnipeg, whom Violet McNaughton considered her mentors, were both journalists and were heavily involved in the cause.
Francis Marion Beynon was the editor of the women’s section of the Grain Growers’ Guide from 1912 to 1917 — the first woman to hold this position. Her sister, Lillian Beynon Thomas, was the assistant editor of the Winnipeg Weekly Free Press, and published a popular women’s column.
Both Francis and Lillian were outspoken pacifists and strongly supported the rights of minorities and the disadvantaged.
Annie immigrated to Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, from Portsmouth, England in 1914.
Although it was unconventional at that time, Annie continued teaching after her marriage. Passionate about education, she helped to establish a school for the deaf in Saskatoon.
Annie joined the generations of women who furthered the Women Grain Growers’ Association’s philosophies.
Elected to the association’s executive in 1917, she continued advocating for women’s issues, even after the provincial vote had been secured.
The Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board was led by Alice Lawton, who was its first President.
The Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board brought together members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Women Grain Growers’ Association and the Political Equity League.
In February of 1916, Alice led the delegation that secured women the vote from Saskatchewan’s Premier Walter Scott.