A New Woman of the Canadian West: E. Cora Hind (1861-1942)

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By YUL89YYZ at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

By YUL89YYZ at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

By Tiffany Johnstone

 

“Those of us of the old new West [. . .] when we set out alone on ‘the longest trail of all’ will ‘go west’ with great content if the soft southwest wind brings to us the tang of wild sage and the prairie roses, of the beat of a thousand hooves as the herds go down to water, or the sibilant sigh of the wind through miles of ripening wheat.”

-E. Cora Hind’s self-written epitaph, qtd. in Dafoe.

When Winnipeg grain journalist E. Cora Hind died in 1942 at the age of 81, she was heralded internationally for her long career in journalism and her extensive knowledge of Western Canadian agriculture. In her day, she was “the most authoritative commercial and agricultural journalist in Canada” (Lang 43). Despite Hind’s extensive career and many awards from inter alia, the University of Manitoba, the Canadian Society of Technical Agriculturists, the Western Canada Livestock Union, the Wool Growers of Manitoba, and the United Grain Growers, she battled many gender barriers throughout her career. The Manitoba Free Press, where she would work for over four decades and make a name for herself as a journalist, initially denied her a job largely because of her gender. Not only did Hind rise above personal obstacles, she also made a point of publicly acknowledging and confronting gender discrimination and standing up for the rights of other women. Indeed, this pioneer journalist is best understood as an influential New Woman of her day, a cross-dressing figure who refused to accept any second-class status for herself or her sex.

When publishers in the early 1890s first tried to conceal her gender by reducing her first names to initials, Hind insisted that her name appear as “E. Cora Hind” out of respect to “other women writers” (Hind qtd. in Lang 43). When looking back on her career, she used her success not to set herself apart from others of her sex but to stand up for women: “The usual statement is that I am a remarkable woman because I can do it; the implication is that the average women is too dumb to succeed at a man’s task –and I resent that implication, for it is false” (Hind qt. in Heroines.ca). Such conclusions drove a life-long commitment to women’s rights.

Ella Cora Hind (she disliked the name Ella and preferred E. Cora Hind) was born in 1861 in Toronto to Edwin Hind and Jane Carroll. She and her two older brothers lost their parents at a young age and were raised by their grandfather Joseph Hind on a farm in Grey County, Ontario, the same fertile soil that produced her friend and sister suffragist Nellie Mooney (later McClung) in 1873. As a rural child, Hind was home-schooled by her aunt Alice and learned a great deal about agriculture from her grandfather. The family later relocated to Flesherton, Ontario, and Hind completed high school in nearby Orillia, where she lived with her uncle George, in a pattern familiar to many farm students. In 1882, she, her aunt, and two cousins joined the Ontario land rush to the Manitoba heartland just acquired, or as the March 2013 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada confirms, effectively stolen from the Métis. Their destination was Winnipeg, the prairie boomtown soon to be the marketing centre for Canada’s wheat economy. Here her aunt ran a dress shop and Hind planned to become a teacher. After failing the algebra part of her teaching exam, the twenty-one year old decided to try journalism.

Presuming on a family contact, Hind contacted W.F. Luxton, an editor at the Manitoba Free Press. Uneasy at the prospect of a female journalist, he turned her away. She nonetheless sent him an article, which he published without crediting her. Discouraged, Hind once again shifted plans, teaching herself to type, an innovative employment strategy seized by ambitious young women in this period before the skill became associated with dead-end employments. She was hired by the Winnipeg law office of the son of a former Conservative prime minister, Hugh John Macdonald. There Hind met clients who were farmers, and continued her self-education in agriculture. Eager to improve her situation, she started her own stenography business in 1893 but her eye remained on the prospects of prairie crops.

In 1901, the new editor of the Manitoba Free Press, John W. Dafoe recognized the self-taught grain expert and made her the agricultural editor, the first woman to hold that position. This post offered Hind highly unusual independence and authority. Equally attractive was the opportunity to don the non-traditional garb, often breeches and a stetson, which denoted a level of emancipation that was advanced by any standard, and very much so in the Canada of the day.

Hind continued to work as a reporter and editor for the paper until her death. Through the Free Press, she became known worldwide as “the oracle of wheat.” She was credited with the ability to estimate the coming crop with unprecedented and almost eerie accuracy (Dafoe). In the ‘dirty thirties,’ she made several highly publicized international trips to survey agriculture and was widely hailed as a farm celebrity (Dafoe; Lang). By the end of her life, she had become the star of the paper that had first refused her employment.

In 1904, she demonstrated the feminist lessons she had learned by championing and drafting the constitution of the Canadian Women’s Press Club, which was formed in response to the exclusion of women from the Canadian Press Club. Western journalists such as Hind were some of the Club’s most active participants. In 1906, she was a prominent figure in the much-publicized convention that took place in Winnipeg. After her death, her equally feminist friend and another CWPC member, Kennethe Haig would write an admiring biography that remains a key source on this still little known Canadian.

Even as Hind took up stenography and then journalism, she pursued her lifelong vocation as an activist. She and her aunt, in an example of kin solidarity that typified the feminist movement, became members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) after moving to Winnipeg. Founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1874 and in Ontario that same year, the WCTU (http://womensuffrage.org/?p=21211) invoked Christian and maternal feminism in order to combat the liquor industry, which it connected with alcoholism, poverty, and the degradation of women. Hind typed and wrote speeches and encouraged members to link their struggle to broader social reform (Gutkin and Gutkin). In 1894, eager to promote women’s suffrage, Hind joined with Dr. Amelia Yeomans, a physician and temperance and suffrage activist, to form the Equal Franchise Club (also referred to as the Manitoba Equal Suffrage Club). In 1912, she, along with feminist friends Lillian Beynon Thomas and Nellie McClung, started the Political Equality League. Unlike the more radical British suffragettes led by Emmeline Pankhurst, League members favoured an educational campaign of lectures, pamphlets, and petitions rather than public confrontation (Gutkin and Gutkin). That strategy sufficed in the hotbed of prairie radicalism. In 1916 Manitoba granted women the right to vote, becoming the first province in Canada to do so.

Hind was to have the last word. In a gesture fitting such a prominent woman of letters, she wrote her own epitaph. Indicating her life-long devotion to the professional study of western agriculture (Lang 133), she imagined her death as a journey into a utopian western wheat field: “Those of us of the old new West [. . .] when we set out alone on ‘the longest trail of all’ will ‘go west’ with great content” (Hind qtd. in Dafoe). Like so many western women activists and writers of the time, including Agnes Deans Cameron (http://womensuffrage.org/?p=21151) and Sui Sin Far (http://womensuffrage.org /?p=21215), Hind portrayed herself in familiar heroic terms as a western pioneer or explorer. Unspoken in this passage is Hind’s equal devotion to women’s rights. In fact, Hind walked into the proverbial sunset not just as a master or mistress of the western frontier, but as a New Woman. What allowed her to walk with satisfaction was not just her love of the landscape, but the shared political mobilization and community that produced a historic victory for women’s suffrage. In this image of Hind striding into the horizon, the New Woman was so ahead of her time that she symbolically liberated the west, rather than the reverse. And when she hailed “those of us of the […] West,” E. Cora Hind let everyone know that she stood shoulder to shoulder by a host of like-minded women (and indeed men) who helped to liberate Canada.

Bibliography

Dafoe, Christopher. “Agricultural Writer E. Cora Hind Gleaned her World-Famous Ability to Forecast Crop Yields the Hard Way—by Striding into the fields.” The Beaver 85.4 (2005): 50-51.
Dagg, Anne Innis. Feminine Gaze: A Compendium of Non-Fiction Women Authors and their Books, 1836-1945. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2001.
Forster, Merna. “Quotes.” Heroines.ca: A Guide to Women in Canadian History. Merna M. Forster. Web. April 20, 2013.
Gutkin, Harry, and Mildren Gutkin. ‘“Give us our due!” How Manitoba Women Won the Vote.’ Manitoba History 32 (1996): np. Web. Revised Jan. 3, 2013. April 20, 2013.
Haig, Kennethe M. Brave Harvest: the Life Story of E. Cora Hind, LLD. Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1945.
Lang, Marjory. Women who Made the News: Female Journalists in Canada, 1880-1945. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 1999.
Muir, Shirley, and Penni Mitchell. “Winnipeg Women Journalists Have Always Led the Way.” Manitoba History 70 (2012): 47. Web. April 20, 2013.