Gladys Strum, who made an exceptional contribution to political life in Canada, joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) two years after the first convention in Regina in 1933. A down-to-earth farm woman from Windthorst in southeast Saskatchewan, she became a CCF candidate in seven elections, when women politicians were “vastly out-numbered,” between feminism’s first and second wave. In 1945 Strum became the first woman to be the president of a Canadian political party when she was elected to that office in the provincial CCF. She became the first woman Member of Parliament (MP) to sit for the CCF, sitting for the Qu’Appelle constituency from 1945 to 1949, as Canada’s fifth woman parliamentarian. She memorably summed up sitting alongside 244 men as supplying the pork “in a can of pork and beans.” Service in Ottawa was followed by four years (1960-4) as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in Saskatchewan, the fifth woman member in its history. A long-time advocate of better health care services, she voted for the Medical Care Insurance Act in 1961. She described this moment, which established medicare in Saskatchewan, North American’s first universal health care program and the model for later Canadian initiatives, as the high point in her political life. (See Taylor, “Mothers of Medicare” on this site.)
What created this political dynamo? Gladys was born to Sarah and Luther Lamb on a Manitoba farm “almost in the hen house.” Chores were a way of life. A bright diligent student, she was hired in 1922 to teach all eight grades in a one-room rural school near Windthorst. In November of 1929 she married Warner Strum, a farmer who chaired the local school board. This intelligent appealing man was raising his five orphaned brothers and sisters. Warner, who was often very ill with pleurisy and pneumonia, was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) when Gladys was a bride of three months. Over the years he faced periodic stays in the sanatorium and recurring surgery. She became his advocate and an avid supporter of the superintendent of the Fort Qu’Appelle Sanatorium and the Anti-tuberculosis League in Saskatchewan.
Because Gladys was very busy with domestic work, including caring for their infant daughter Carol (born 1930), and outside farm work she did not join in the frequent discussions of politics between Warner, whose family had supported the left-wing Non-Partisan League in North Dakota, and their neighbour who was an advocate of Fabian socialism. During the 1930s, however, as their family battled dust storms and barely managed economically, while their neighbours were forced onto relief, she began to show an interest in politics. Much of her activism was channelled through the local Homemakers’ Club, the equivalent of the Women’s Institutes in other provinces. In 1935 when CCF missionary Louise Lucas came to Gladys’s district for a Homemakers’convention she was billeted with the Strums. The Lucas family, who also lived in southern Saskatchewan, faced eight successive crop failures during the 1930s. Regarded by many as the provincial “mother of the CCF,” Lucas toured tirelessly speaking and urging voters to put “Humanity First” by voting for the CCF. An agrarian socialist, she spoke in hundreds of rural school houses and was reputed to have made more speeches than any CCF speaker in Canada. Lucas was so impressed by Strum that she predicted a great future for her. She proved an extremely effective political mentor who taught Strum the “ABCs of socialism.” Later Strum recalled that it was only with this basic knowledge that she could understand Warner’s discussions of socialism. Well before Lucas died of cancer in 1945 she had groomed Strum to contest male-dominated politics.
With Lucas’s mentorship, aided and abetted by Warner, Gladys became a key CCF speaker and organizer in three constituencies. An assertive, forthright, country woman, she never learned to flatter men in the party hierarchy. Some of the organizers were paid, but she was not. In 1941 she told the CCF provincial executive it was “slowly dawning” on her that she was:
practically a full time CCF organizer – without pay…. This morning I am about to do the family wash – which I couldn’t do last week because I spent the entire week in Souris-Estevan … God knows what I am going to talk about [at the meeting in Highview]. Perhaps I’ll warn women to stay out of politics … Somebody is crazy – I’m beginning to suspect its me … I must get busy at the washing – the water’s hot. I’m eating breakfast and interspersing these paragraphs with toast and coffee…. I have … two solid weeks and two days of CCF meetings ahead. I’ll have to be put on as an organizer or quit. After all I have a husband and a family. Yet. Does the CCF ever contest divorce suits as correspondent?
Eventually the executive paid her expenses, but such confrontations offended some male party leaders.
The former teacher was a formidable CCF educator, undertaking youth work, teaching in CCF organizational schools, and speaking frequently. In 1938 Gladys lost as a sacrificial candidate for the CCF against the Liberal premier W.J. Patterson in the Cannington constituency. Warner’s health was so bad they contemplated moving to New Zealand so they cashed in an insurance policy to finance an exploratory trip by Gladys. While there she interviewed MPs and officials in the Labour government, which was establishing a comprehensive welfare state. With the prospect of the Japanese advancing in the Pacific, the Strums decided to stay put, but the experience left Gladys more enthusiastic than ever about democratic socialism.
During the 1944 provincial election Strum toured the province with T.C. (Tommy) Douglas, the CCF’s popular new leader. She also ran against Patterson again, losing by a mere six votes, but her party won in a resounding victory forming Canada’s first democratic socialist government. Strum’s moment to be provincial party president came in 1945 when most of the leading men in the party were in the legislature and the party constitution prohibited MLAs from holding this office. That year she also contested the federal election in a close three-way race in the Qu’Appelle constituency against Ernest Perley, the long-standing Conservative MP, and General Andrew McNaughton, the charismatic Second World War general and the federal Liberal Minister of Defense, who had been parachuted into the riding. Strum later recalled that when she won McNaughton said that he “would rather deal with an atom bomb” than with her.
In Ottawa Strum, the sole female MP, was immediately hailed by the press as a mother and, contradictorily, as a “maid with a million men.” Rejecting the idea that women should go “back to the kitchen” when the war was over, she told the Commons “no one has ever objected to women working. The only thing they have ever objected to is paying women for working.” (Commons Debates, 4 October 1945.) The CCF had anticipated a breakthrough, but Ontario proved a disappointment. There were, however, 28 CCF MPs, 18 from Saskatchewan where strong riding organizers like Strum made a difference. In Ottawa Strum was welcomed by M.J. Coldwell, the CCF federal leader, her caucus generally treated her well, and she was highly visible at party functions. She often spoke on behalf of Canadian women, from whom she received many letters, and she was the CCF MP who met delegations of women lobbying on the Hill. Strum also had support from Yukoner Martha Black, a Conservative MP from 1935 to 1940, who had replaced her husband while he was ill. During Strum’s term he was back in the House and Martha was free to befriend Gladys and give her valuable advice. Strum went down to defeat in 1949 when only five CCF candidates won in Saskatchewan.
She returned to the farm and teaching, attending university when she could to up-grade her credentials thereby increasing their family income. In 1952 the Strums moved to British Columbia where the climate was better for Warner. There she lost again as a sacrificial candidate. She could not find a job teaching in BC, likely because of her politics, so the Strums ran a motel. In 1955 they returned to the farm near Windthorst. Gladys resumed teaching locally and attending university at times in Saskatoon, while operating a boarding house to finance her education.
In 1960 Gladys ran for the CCF in Saskatoon, a three member constituency where each elector could vote for two men and still have a vote left for a woman. This was the only time she was nominated in a seat the CCF thought it could win. She was elected, but her term in Regina was not as pleasant as her term in Ottawa. In 1945 in Ottawa most of the CCF MPs were new and willing to welcome a woman, but 15 years later in Regina most of the caucus had been there a long time and were more rigid and misogynist. Strum was compared unfavorably to Marjorie Cooper, the only other woman in the caucus, who was elected in1952 when a new conservatism was fashionable. Douglas, who had been the premier for 16 years, and the other men in the caucus preferred Cooper’s lady-like accommodation and treated Strum like an intruder. Focused on establishing medicare, they saw Strum, who insisted on raising uncomfortable questions about inequality, as an annoying, trouble-making feminist. Not surprisingly Strum was not given a cabinet post by Douglas or by Woodrow Lloyd, who replaced him as the premier.
The medicare legislation passed in November 1961, provoking a divisive battle between the government led by Lloyd and the medical doctors who opposed medicare and the Liberals. The doctors withdrew their services and Saskatchewan split into two warring camps. After a bitter battle the doctors grudgingly returned to work at the end of July 1962. In 1961 the federal party had joined with unions to form the New Democratic Party, although the provincial party continued to call itself the CCF until 1967. Douglas, who had resigned as the premier a few days before medicare passed, became the NDP federal leader. During the 1964 provincial election campaign, the CCF was on the defensive so Strum spent time outside of her riding speaking on behalf of desperate CCF candidates. The Liberals led by Ross Thatcher were victorious and Strum went down to defeat after a suspense-filled recount. She was soon scapegoated by the Saskatoon CCF in a blame game that drove her out of politics. The Strums returned to the family farm, new drugs having cured Warner’s TB. Gladys, who by then had a Bachelor of Education and a Bachelor of Arts degrees, was hired as the principal of a nine-room school in a nearby town. In 1968 the Strums retired to Penticton, the home of their daughter and her family.
In 1981 I taped a lengthy interview with Gladys and talked to her and Warner over numerous cups of tea. Feeling unfairly treated in part because she had criticized Douglas, often regarded as a saint, she used the opportunity to tell her side of the story. Gladys had seen herself as a “socialist” during her years as a politician, but by 1981 second-wave feminism helped her identify strongly as a feminist. She concluded that she had been “born too soon.” Warner continued to support Gladys wholeheartedly until his death at the age of 84, just short of their sixtieth anniversary. On February 4th 2004, in celebration of her 98th birthday, Gladys was recognized in the House of Commons for her strong advocacy of women’s equality.
Saskatchewan Archives Board, Women in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Collection, 32 taped interviews by Georgina Taylor R-5827 to R-5874, R-8130 to R-8166. See in particular the interviews with Anne Blakeney, Frank Coburn, Marjory Cooper, Elsie Gorius, Eloise (Lucas) Metheral, I.C. (Toby) Nollet, Gladys Strum, Pemrose Whelan, and Thora Wiggens.
Unless otherwise noted the direct quotations are from this eight hour interview with Strum or from Taylor, “Equals and Partners?”
Taped interview with T.C. Douglas, 15 June 1982, in possession of the author.
Evelyn Eager, Saskatchewan Government Politics and Pragmatism (Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1980).
“Gladys Strum,” Library and Archives Canada, <http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/women/030001-1341-e.html>, retrieved 20 December 2015.
Stuart. Houston, R.G. Ferguson: Crusader Against Tuberculosis (Toronto and Oxford: Hannah Institute & Dundurn Press, 1991).
David McGrane, “A Mixed Record: Gender and Saskatchewan Social Democracy,” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes, 42 (1) Winter 2008, 179-203.
Thomas H. McLeod and Ian McLeod, Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1987).
Brett Quiring, “The Social and Political Philosophy of Woodrow S. Lloyd,” Saskatchewan History 56(1) (Spring 2004).
Joan Sangster, Dreams of Equality: Women on the Canadian Left 1920 -1950 (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1989).
Georgina M. Taylor, “Equals and Partners? An Examination of How Saskatchewan Women Reconciled Their Political Activities for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation with Traditional Roles for Women,” M.A. Thesis, University of Saskatchewan, 1983.
—, “Gladys Strum: Farm Woman, Teacher and Politician,” Canadian Woman Studies 7(4) (Winter 1986): 89-93.
—, “Homemakers’ Clubs and Women’s Institutes,” The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, ed. Patrick Douaud, ((Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center University of Regina, 2005): 460-461. <http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/homemakers_clubs_and_womens_institutes.html>, retrieved 20 December 2015.
—, “Mothers of Medicare, ” on this site.
—, “‘The Women Shall Help to Lead the Way’: Saskatchewan CCF‑NDP Women Candidates in Provincial and Federal Election, 1934 – 1965” in Building the Co‑operative Commonwealth Federation, ed. J. William Brennan (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1984), 141-160.
A transgender is like a refugee without citizenship. S/he is without rights until a court grants them by categorizing him/her as either male or female. While outside of these categories, the transgender is most vulnerable and most likely to find him/herself without basic human rights (Bird 2002, quoted in Couch et al. 2008: 281).
Participatory models of citizenship and democracy involve just that – participation. However, trans* people face numerous impediments to their ability to participate as citizens in the democratic process. Trans* people rightly emphasize the potential contribution we could make to society; if we could gain access to fundamental rights, we would be as loyal and model as other citizens (Monro 2003: 438). At present numerous formal and informal barriers impede trans* peoples’ ability to be engaged participatory citizens. The difficulty in securing legal identification is a case in point.
Trans* people who change their legal name and/or sex need to amend dozens of documents and pieces of identification, including, for example, birth and citizenship certificates, credit cards, electoral rolls, house titles, naturalisation papers, passports, and police security data (Couch et al. 2008: 283). Requirements are complex, varying from one jurisdiction to another and are in regular flux.
Some jurisdictions require sex reassignment surgery as the condition for legal gender change (Adams Porter 2011; Couch et al. 2008: 284; More 1998, 320). Nor is this all: in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, for example, surgery is insufficient; individuals must also be unmarried (Hines 2009: 93). That is, married trans* people must be divorced before legal recognition is granted. Depending on the jurisdiction, the couple may need to remarry as a same-sex couple, or have their relationship ‘demoted’ to a civil union (Hines 2009: 93).
The surgical requirement itself is problematic. In 2012, Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal “found that requiring a person to have ‘transsexual surgery’ before they can change their sex designation on their birth registration is discriminatory (OHRC).” Two years later, a similar demand was removed from the B.C. Vital Statistics Act. However, the surgical prerequisite persists in various Canadian provinces and in the UK. Nor is this the only indication of the power of the medical profession: even in those jurisdictions with no surgical requirement, the trans* person is still required to have a physician’s or psychiatrist’s signature to authorize their legal sex change. At the moment, only those trans* people willing and able to receive medical approval can amend formal documents and pieces of identification.
Although the difficulty in securing the range of identity documents increasingly necessary in modern states also leaves some trans people with mismatched documents, the image of a trans* citizen actively claiming official recognition is a positive alternative to the longstanding (at least in the western culture) tendency to pathologize them (Monro 2003: 438-439). Indeed the fact that equality for trans* people is even being debated is an important advance in human rights.
Yet, even if progress has clearly occurred in certain jurisdictions, not everyone is an equal beneficiary of this progress. Although the research remains to be done, intersectional analysis suggests that negatively racialized or classed trans* people are likely to bear the special burden of prejudice. Assimilation is after all commonly the preferred path to inclusion in discourses of human rights and citizenship, and “those who remain ‘different’ are frequently constructed as ‘difficult’ and become further marginalized (Hines 2009: 95, 98-99).” The most marginal trans* people, including homeless, street-active people, and sex workers are particularly at risk (Sabsay 2011). Ironically, as well, the recurring emphasis on the potential of those trans* people who are able (and willing) to conform to the requirements of citizenship, may further stigmatize other members of the community who are not willing or able to make concessions to gender norms.
Full and active trans* citizenship requires fundamental changes to the way gender is understood and legalized (Monro 2003: 435), as well the “development of structures concerning participation [that] would include legislative change, community development, consultation and equal opportunity initiatives (Monro 2003: 449).” With the emphasis on effective assimilation, however, disenfranchised trans* people may find citizenship discourses unappealing, and see democratic participation as beyond their reach or unrelated to their current position and plight (Monro 2003: 446).” This tension between radical and assimilationist approaches to inclusion and citizenship remains a key for trans people, as indeed it does for communities singled out by gender, race, or class as somehow resisting the social (and economic and political) status quo.
Illustration credit: Emma Darling McMahon
Adams Porter, Chamonix. 2011. “Reproductive Rights beyond the Binary: Mandatory Transgender Sterilization.” Broad Horizons: A Feminist Magazine at Yale, November 10. Retrieved January 13 2015 (http://broadrecognition.com/politics/reproductive-rights-beyond-the-binary-mandatory-transgender-sterilization/)
Couch, M., Pitts, M., Croy, S. & Mulcare, H. (2008). Transgender People and the Amendment of Formal Documentation: Matters of Recognition and Citizenship.
Hines, S. (2009). A Pathway to Diversity?: Human Rights, Citizenship and the Politics of Transgender. Contemporary Politics – Special Issue: The Global Politics of LGBT Human Rights, 15(1), 87-102.
Moran, L. J. & Sharpe, A. (2004). Violence, Identity and Policing: The Case of Violence against Transgender People. Criminal Justice, 4(4): 395-417.
Monro, S. (2003). Transgender Politics in the UK. Critical Social Policy, 23(4), 433-452.
More, Sam Dylan. 1998. “The Pregnant Man – An Oxymoron?” Journal of Gender Studies 7(3): 319-328.
Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2012, April 20). Important Victory for Transgender Persons in Ontario. Ohrc.on.ca. Retrieved online January 14 2015 (http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/important-victory-transgender-persons-ontario)
Sabsay, L. (2011). The Limits of Democracy: Transgender sex work and citizenship. Cultural Studies, 25(2), 213-229.
On Valentine’s Day in 1916 Saskatchewan suffragists converged on the Legislative Building in Regina. They had been invited to attend the Legislative Assembly by Walter Scott, the besieged Premier, who apparently hoped his invitation would be seen as chivalrous. Scott’s Liberal government, which had been stalling, was doing an about-face, in part because it was in a race with the governments in Alberta and Manitoba. It wanted Saskatchewan to be seen as the most “progressive” province in Canada. Violet McNaughton, who was the leader of the suffrage movement in Saskatchewan, later recalled that when she and the other leaders of the provincial suffrage alliance, arrived at the Legislature they were shown to “the ‘Seats of the Mighty’ by the venerable Sergeant-at-Arms.” The galleries were full of suffragists from many areas of the province who had gone to Regina to present petitions with thousands of signatures in support of women’s suffrage to the Premier.
Scott told the assembled suffragists that he was committing the government to passing a suffrage law giving women a provincial franchise equal to the men’s franchise. In her study of the suffrage movement in Saskatchewan one historian concluded that, even though Alice Lawton, the President of the suffrage alliance, “fluttered her handkerchief facetiously and trilled ‘this is so sudden,’ the event was in fact an anti-climax.” Lawton appears to have been a bit of a romantic, it being Valentine’s Day and the premier being a handsome fellow. McNaughton saw the day differently. Having worked so hard for an equal franchise for women, she experienced the day as neither romantic nor anti-climactic. For her it was an important historic occasion. She had emigrated from England where the franchise for working-class men had been extended four times during the nineteenth century because the elites feared disorder and violence if they did not do so. In 1909 when she left Britain women were campaigning for the franchise, but the intransigent government would not grant it to them, even though some of them had used violence to get attention. Before 1916 the only countries to have granted national universal suffrage were New Zealand in 1893, Australia in 1901, Finland in 1906, and Norway in 1913 so for McNaughton this Valentine’s Day was a day of triumph. What had McNaughton and other suffragists done to push the Premier to issue the invitation when he had refused to grant women’s suffrage a few years before?
W.R. Motherwell, a prosperous farmer who was the Minister of Agriculture and a friend of the Premier, had claimed that women did not really want the vote because “they endure no wrongs which are not removed under the present system.” In 1912 when the question of women’s suffrage had been debated by male Members of the Legislature Assembly amid disparaging remarks and laughter, Motherwell had summarized the government’s case. He said women had a “right” to the vote, but until a “considerable number of women approached the government urging the extension of the franchise to women” the government would not consider it. The Grain Growers’ Guide, an agrarian paper widely read in Saskatchewan, graphically depicted the premier’s attitude in a 1913 cartoon showing the government’s stalling tactics and its distain for the suffragists. It showed Premier Scott saying “Speak!” as he held a card labeled “Votes for Women” above the head of a woman begging like a dog. McNaughton, who refused to beg, sent a letter to the editor of “The Guide” in which she said the Premier’s handling of the petitions and the letters she and other farm women had gathered and presented to him had caused them a great deal of “useless trouble.”
McNaughton, an agrarian feminist with a strong belief in the co-operative ideal, was the president of the Women Grain Growers (WGG). She worked closely with Zoa Haight, the Vice President, and other farm women in the WGG. After they were rebuffed by the government McNaughton realized that in order to get the vote the WGG needed to form an alliance with other suffragists who were willing to work hard in order to gather signatures on more petitions. This was not easy in a province where most people lived in primitive conditions on homesteads, but McNaughton and the suffragists who were working with her believed in using constitutional methods so they persisted. From February 1914, when she and other farm women brought the pro-suffrage WGG into being, she had worked tirelessly to forge a suffrage alliance. She had convinced the evangelical feminists in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and equal rights feminists who formed Political Equality Leagues in the cities to set aside their differences and to work with her and other agrarian feminists in the WGG. Together they launched the Provincial Equal Franchise Board (PEFB), which then co-ordinated a concerted drive for signatures.
Powerful conservative opponents like George Exton Lloyd, an influential Anglican clergyman who was the principal of the Church of England college at the University of Saskatchewan, opposed an equal provincial franchise for women. Because he had a life-long hatred of booze, he and his supporters wanted women to be granted a temporary franchise so they could vote for prohibition in a plebiscite and then he wanted the franchise to be taken away from them. This infuriated the suffragists in the WCTU and therefore with McNaughton’s encouragement they had thrown themselves into collecting signatures on the PEFB petitions. She later estimated that there were 21,000 signatures in total on all of the petitions the suffragists presented to the government during the campaign.
Once the suffragists had won the provincial franchise McNaughton reorganized the PEFB to fight for the dominion, municipal, and school board franchises and for other feminist goals. The first provincial election in which Saskatchewan women could vote was in 1917 when Zoa Haight was the first woman to run for a seat in the Legislature. McNaughton gave Haight her whole-hearted support. The dedication of suffragists across Canada, such as McNaughton, Haight, and Lawton, and triumphs like the one on Valentine’s Day 1916 mean that today Canadian women can stand for election and they can vote in federal, provincial, municipal, and school board elections.
Catherine L. Cleverdon, The Woman Suffrage Movement in Canada (1950. Reprint. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1974).
Elizabeth Ann Kalmakoff, “Woman Suffrage in Saskatchewan.” M.A. Thesis, University of Regina, 1993.
Georgina M. Taylor, “Coming ‘Together On Common Ground For Common Good’ During The Suffrage Campaign,” chapter six in “‘Ground for Common Action’: Violet McNaughton’s Agrarian Feminism and the Origins of the Farm Women’s Movement in Canada,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Carleton University, 1997, 229-280. <http://amicus.collectionscanada.ca/s4‑bin/Main/BasicSearch?coll=18&l=0&v=1>, 21 February 2015.
—, “‘Let us co-operate’: Violet McNaughton and the Co-operative Ideal,” in Co-operatives in the Year 2000: Memory, Mutual Aid, and the Millennium, ed. Brett Fairbairn and Ian MacPherson (Saskatoon: Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan, 2000), 57-78.
—, “Organized Farm Women in the WGG, the UFC, the SFU, and the NFU,”in The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, <http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/organized_farm_women_in_the_wgg_the_ufc_the_sfu_and_the_nfu.html>, 21 February 2015.
—, “Violet McNaughton,” in Veronica Strong-Boag, “Women Suffrage and Beyond: confronting the democratic deficit,” <http://womensuffrage.org/>, 21 February 2015.