Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Happy International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day

(My schedule is booked solid tomorrow so, yes, I'm writing this one day early.)

I had the opportunity last weekend to M/C an event for IWD and so I had to do some research and put together some information on the history of the event and some fun facts about women's history in Lethbridge and southern Alberta. So I thought I would share some of those here:

The 2012 theme is Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures. What I love about International Women's Day is that it's the one day in the year when women from different continents and different walks of life, divided by national borders, religions, ethnicity, language, religion,etc -- forget those differences and come together to celebrate and support women.

I think one of the reasons that International Women's Day has so much power is that it is a recognition of the hope, wish and promise that women can and will make to make this world a better place for all children -- boys and girls. To make this a world where being equal, loved and supported is accepted as a natural part of everyday life.

There are four colours associated with International Women's Day. The first three colours have their origin in the Suffragist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century where women worked to get the right to vote -- purple, green and white.

Purple was chosen for dignity and represents justice, self-reverence and self-respect.

Green, the colour of spring, is for new life and new hope.

White was chosen for purity in public and private life. Over the past century the connotations of purity have become controversial so a fourth colour was added, gold.

Gold signifies enlightenment and represents a new dawn and a 2nd wave of feminism. Hopefully if you have the opportunity tomorrow you will wear some or all of those colours.

These colours, as I mentioned, had their origin in the struggle to get women the vote. How many know that women were voting in elections here in Lethbridge 100 years ago?

The Lethbridge Herald reported in its 1 November 1912 edition that 303 women had their names on the voting list for the upcoming Lethbridge municipal election (of approximately 3000 voters). Voting was based on property ownership so this gave quite a few women the right to vote. We have no record as to how many chose to vote. What I find particularly fun is that a lot of the madams in Lethbridge's red light district would have been property owners. It's fun to conjecture how many of those voters were from the red light district.

Most people believe that 1916, when women got the right to vote provincially, was the first opportunity for women to vote in Alberta. This is not the case and was different for each municipality (in 1918 voting was extended to women of all municipalities in Alberta). But some municipalities had women voting, as noted earlier, before this date. At the municipal level, the first woman to vote in Lethbridge was a Mrs. W.R. Barker. She was a widow and voted as head of family in 1897's municipal election.

The first women to run for office in Lethbridge was Mrs. Holmes Howell who in 1919 ran for a school board position (she was not elected). Mrs. Howell ran under the Labour party banner and believed in free equipment for all pupils; better medical and dental care for students; and a higher wage for teachers to ensure them a higher standard of life and to enable them and all other workers to combat the high cost of living. She also wanted to ensure a better relationship between teachers and parents.

The first woman in Alberta to be elected to mayor (it was actually called overseer at the time) was Gladys Palmer of Grassy Lake. She was elected in December 1926. Well, Lethbridge, we're only 86 years and counting behind Grassy Lake...

Many people know that Lethbridge's first mayor was Charles Magrath. But few know that his sister also lived here in Lethbridge for a while. Anna Godwin's husband was a bank manager at one of the banks here in town. Anna was a talented musician, pianist and singer and composed a song called the "Godwin Waltz" which was, by popular request, played at most of the early balls here in Lethbridge. I have had no luck trying to track down a copy of the music.

The McLeay sister were early entrepreneurs in Lethbridge. They built the McLeay Block on 3rd Avenue south for their own milliner company as well as to rent out space. The McLeay Block was the only business block in the downtown from the early 20th century built by women. Unfortunately, we lost this building to fire approximately 10 years ago.

Once again, happy International Women's Day everyone and I hope everyone, men and women, take the opportunity to get out to events tomorrow.

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