Newspaper study tracks Depression’s progress

University of Regina student looks at the content of The Western Producer’s Mainly for Women pages from 1925-37

It’s been nearly 70 years since Violet McNaughton edited the women’s pages of The Western Producer and encouraged farm women to make their voices heard.

But University of Regina student Brandi Adams said she thinks the sentiments expressed on those Mainly for Women pages still resonate today.

Adams studied a series of the pages, each October printing between 1925 and 1937, for a research paper in a history of Canadian women class.

“The aim was to try and find out what the ideals and values of the prairie woman during that time were,” she said in an interview.

Adams, who grew up in Rouleau, Sask., said she could see how the economic downturn affected women by the letters they wrote and the discussion that took place.

As the Women’s editor of the Western Producer McNaughton used her position to improve agricultural life through information delivery to producers. | WP archive photo

One woman wrote to ask how she could make ends meet even while receiving relief.

The woman said she couldn’t even feed her children.

“The woman who responded said, ‘I don’t have any advice for you because I worked it out that relief equals one-and-one-third cent per meal and even when you have people in the community helping you, you can’t make that stretch,’ ” Adams said.

Women used the forum to discuss their situations, offer tips and cheer each other on.

“The virtues of hard work, sacrifice, a cheerful demeanour, these all came through,” said Adams. “And the value of thrift. Even when things were good, they talked very much about stretching your dollar and making do without things.”

Those values are still in evidence in prairie women today, she said, as women focus on getting quality and a bargain.

Adams said the progression through the pages she studied showed that even as women tried hard to remain positive, they were also losing hope through years of poor or no crops.

McNaughton championed their rights, encouraging them to empower themselves and each other, and advocated for things like running water and sanitation.

“Will you co-operate with me in using this page for discussion of efforts that we can make to attack our share of economic problems and important social ones, too?” she asked in April 1925.

Today’s publication still provides information to improve farm life.

Adams said the pages are similar to today’s social media.

“What they were doing is kind of the olden days Twitter, if you will,” she said. “It was a community of people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to talk to one another otherwise, but were able to use the Mainly for Women section of the paper to vent or share ideas and there was back and forth.”

Adams’ paper was published in the winter 2019 edition of Alberta History. Her honours research and thesis looked at the home economics club of Regina.

She said she will be working on a master’s degree but hasn’t quite decided on a topic. However, she is fascinated by the 1950s and 1960s and the role of advertising messages during those decades.

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