The Rise of Motherhood: Maternal Feminism and Health in the Rural Prairie Provinces, 1900-1930
This article examines the rise of maternal feminism and the concept of motherhood in the Prairie West from 1900 to 1930. White, middle-class, British women (and male allies) adopted the rhetoric of moral reform, social decline, and Mothers of the Nation to argue that as mothers, their positions allowed them to contribute to the regeneration of the British race in Canada. Further, they justified their claims to political and social rights by referencing their maternal role, arguing that because they were the people responsible for regenerating the British-Canadian population, and providing care for these children, they ought to be awarded equality in the political arena as only mothers would know the best legislation for the well-being and development of children and, by extension, the nation. This conservative ideology of motherhood helped women gain support in the West, to integrate themselves in the public discourse of rights and responsibilities, and advocate for increased medical services in the rural areas of the Prairies. The Grain Grower’s Guide was an important platform for the female voice, and many maternal feminists and their opponents contributed their opinions to the publication, including an extensive campaign for heath and medical care for both mother and child in rural areas of the region. While maternal feminists gained significant success in their fight for medical and health services, these gains applied to a specific, narrow group of women. Women of color, of non-Protestant beliefs, and of the working class were not included in this group. This paper argues that the concept of motherhood became a political category of nation-building in the early 20th century promoted by the state, which maternal feminists employed to gain support from opponents of radical feminism and to advocate for advancements in both political and domestic spheres in the rural Prairie West.