Mentor role a natural fit for columnist Oddie

REGINA, Sask. -Emmie Oddie, reflecting on a 50-year writing career with The Western Producer, credits two women for leading her to the path she followed.

One is her mother, Emma Ducie, who was active in the homemakers’ clubs and the other is Edith Rowles, an extension worker who later was dean of the home economics college at the University of Saskatchewan.

In an interview in her Regina home where she and her husband now live, Emmie recounted youthful memories of reciting poetry while washing dishes on the Ducie farm near Dundurn, Sask. She took high school by correspondence course and her mother, a former teacher, and older sister Rose, were always there to prompt her. She went to live in nearby Saskatoon with her sister who was teaching English at a business school and who later joined The Western Producer editorial team.

Emmie sold piano lessons at 50 cents apiece and remembers, “you’d soon starve at that rate.” So she went to the U of S and got her bachelor’s degree in household science, then followed up with a masters in nutrition in Washington state in 1943.

Looking around for a job, she worked as a nutritionist for the Red Cross in Toronto. Her role was to hold clinics to teach new mothers about raising healthy babies. It wasn’t an “uproarious success” Emmie forthrightly admits, saying she would do it differently today.

That experience of working in groups undoubtedly helped Emmie when she returned to Saskatchewan in 1944 to work at the U of S extension department as supervisor of girl’s clubs, the forerunner to 4-H. She travelled the province and resumed a long distance relationship with Langford Oddie, a fellow she had met in university who was now the agricultural representative in Assiniboia, Sask. They married in 1946 and Emmie quit her job and moved to Assiniboia.

Among the congratulations on her marriage came a letter from Gertrude Telford, then organizer of CCF clubs, the predecessor of the New Democratic Party. It’s a letter that Emmie pulls out of her room crammed with files that is just as relevant today. Telford’s advice:

“Do try to carry on with as much as you can in the line in which you are educated. It is one of the grave problems of today for we women to know how to co-ordinate our work as the makers of homes and our rights as citizens to independent employment and income.”

Emmie didn’t stay idle. She became active in Women’s Institute work and started writing the occasional article for The Western Producer then becoming a weekly columnist in 1949.

Life on the farm continued throughout Emmie’s other career. She and Langford started farming at Milestone on his dad’s land, then moved 100 kilometres to Tregarva. For a time they farmed in both places. Emmie laughs when she recalls that “it always worked out that when we got to Milestone, it rained.” After early ventures with pigs and cattle they settled into straight grain. They have two children, Will who now runs the farm and Rosemary, a librarian in Regina.

Emmie was also an activist, particularly with the Saskatchewan Women’s Institutes, again due to family ties.

“Mother was a feminist, so one had this influence always.”

The WIs brought fellowship, education and fun to isolated prairie women. Emmie rose through the ranks, serving as president of her branch, then the district and the province, the latter from 1973-75. She became national president from 1979-82. But WI membership is falling now. Emmie said that’s partly because WI tended to avoid taking issues by the teeth.

“This was a sorrow to me. I can recall going to meetings and saying they should concern themselves with issues of the day. They would smile at me.”

Of course Emmie notes even the farm women’s network that does take on issues is facing shaky membership. So perhaps a decline was inevitable for the WIs too.

It’s maybe a function of TV she muses, since it’s so easy to sit down and just be entertained at home.

“Plus, it takes two incomes to support a family farm. Looking at Tregarva, the young women are all working off the farm. … People in my old farm area hardly know one another. There’s no visiting with off-farm work and larger farms.”

A busy life

Activities:

  • Saskatchewan Arts Board 1953-61.
  • Saskatchewan Milk Control Board 1964-80.
  • Sat on Saskatchewan Advisory Council for the Status of Women, 1976-77.
  • Sat on the Senate of the University of Regina.
  • Served as a faculty member of the University of Saskatchewan home economics college 1969-73.

Awards and honors:

  • 1982 honor award from the Canadian Home Economics Association.
  • 1983 she received the Saskatchewan Consumer Award of Merit, also named to the Saskatchewan Order of Merit and to the Saskatchewan Hall of Fame.
  • 1984 received the Order of Canada.

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