Compelled to Act

Histories of Women's Activism in Western Canada 

Sarah Carter (Editor), Nanci Langford (Editor)


Compelled to Act showcases fresh historical perspectives on the diversity of women’s contributions to social and political change in prairie Canada in the twentieth century, including but looking beyond the era of suffrage activism. In our current time of revitalized activism against racism, colonialism, violence, and misogyny, this volume reminds us of the myriad ways women have challenged and confronted injustices and inequalities.

The women and their activities shared in Compelled to Act are diverse in time, place, and purpose, but there are some common threads. In their attempts to correct wrongs, achieve just solutions, and create change, women experienced multiple sites of resistance, both formal and informal. The acts of speaking out, of organizing, of picketing and protesting were characterized as unnatural for women, as violations of gender and societal norms, and as dangerous to the state and to family stability.

Still as these accounts demonstrate, prairie women felt compelled to respond to women’s needs, to challenges to family security, both health and economic, and to the need for community. They reacted with the resources at hand, and beyond, to support effective action, joining the ranks of women all over the world seeking political and social agency to create a society more responsive to the needs of women and their children.


Compelled to Act adds richness to what we know about women’s activism in Western Canadian agrarian, labour, socialist, and conservative politics in the early-to-mid twentieth century. It also provides much needed scholarship on women’s political activism at the state and grassroots level after 1960.”

Shannon Stettner, Department of Women's Studies University of Waterloo

"This is a wonderful collection about women’s activism in Western Canada. Connecting community and international politics, women played leading roles in all aspects of political organizing on the prairies. These inspiring stories should compel us to action!"

Nancy Janovicek, Associate Professor, Department of History University of Calgary

“For years, Canadian women have found themselves in the middle of community crises and responded to them, often challenging the status quo to change what they saw as wrong. In Compelled to Act: Histories of Women’s Activism in Western Canada, a variety of contributors tell the stories of women who have confronted a range of issues and helped influence the course of history and life in western Canada.”

Susan Huebert, Winnipeg Free Press

“This highly readable volume offers 10 original essays that explore diverse kinds of political engagements across the 20th century. Compelled to Act is an engaging read that inspires new questions. It is a wonderful addition to an important field.”

Kathryn M. McPherson, Alberta Views

"Compelled to Act is a fine contribution to women’s and regional history. Digging deep into particular places and people, the volume adds up to a powerful, on-the-ground investigation of twentieth-century women’s activism in all its messiness. It will hopefully inspire others to carry on, uncovering more stories about women’s roles in community building in all its diversity, breadth, depth and surprising twists and turns."

Sherry L. Smith, Canadian Journal of History

About the Authors

Sarah Carter FRSC is Professor and Henry Marshall Tory Chair in the Department of History and Classics and the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.

Nanci Langford is Academic Coordinator in the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program at Athabasca University. She co-chairs the Alberta Women’s Memory Project, an online resource on Alberta women for students and the general public.

Other contributors: Stephanie Bangarth, Sarah Carter, Erika Dyck, Laurel Halladay, Esyllt Wynne Jones, Cynthia Loch-Drake, Nanci Langford, Karissa Patton, Joan Sangster, Susan Smith, Allyson Stevenson, Georgina M. Taylor, Cheryl Troupe, Carol Williams

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 At Home and Abroad: Canadian Suffrage at the Crossroads of International Suffrage Movements
Ch. 2 From Kitchen Tables to Formal Organization: Indigenous Women’s Social and Political Activism in Saskatchewan to 1980
Ch. 3 “In the Forefront of the Affair”: Women and the Crowsnest Pass Strike of 1912
Ch. 4 Peace Activists and Public Health in Alberta: The Voice of Women against Chemical Weapons
Ch. 5 Violet McNaughton’s Influence on the Western Producer
Ch. 6 “Ann Nisei” and “Sue Sada”: Negotiating Race, Gender, and Family in the Nikkei Press of North America
Ch. 7 Mindel Cherniak Sheps and the Politics of Socialized Medicine in 1940s Saskatchewan
Ch. 8 Labour Progressive? Political Opportunist? Betrayer?: Necessary Contradictions in the Early Life of Ethel Wilson in Postwar Alberta
Ch. 9 Activists in the “Bible Belt”: Conservatism, Religion, and Recognizing Reproductive Rights in 1970s Southern Alberta
Ch. 10 Reproductive Self-Determination and the Persistence of “Family Values” in Alberta from the 1960s to the 1990s