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Social Credit Women of the Right, Part I:
Conservatism in Action

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Part 1 of 3

The 31st Annual Convention of the Alberta Social Credit Women’s Auxiliaries (SCWA) was held at the Chateau Lacombe in Edmonton, Alberta on December 3, 1968. Those present first recited the “Creed” of the SCWA. Auxiliary members stated that they were “determined to stand shoulder to shoulder with our government in this great fight for financial freedom.”[1]

SCWA President Ruth Landeryou commented on the strength of the Auxiliary movement. Landeryou’s presentation revealed much about women’s ideology in the Social Credit Party (Socred or SC) in Alberta[2] at the time. She argued that the well-being of the individual was paramount in modern society.

Landeryou praised the Socred provincial regime in Alberta for its commitment to individualistic values, asserting that the province was “a living example of a Government and a people dedicated to the principles of true democracy.” Alberta was “making a sound and effective effort to the keep the light of civilization burning brightly.”[3] Speaking at the same convention, Landeryou’s comrade Ethel Smith, a prominent member of the Alberta Social Credit League, exhorted her fellow delegates, “ladies, let us hold high the banner of Social Credit!”[4]

Landeryou presented a vision of right-wing women’s discourse and ideology in microcosm. Her comment on the well-being of the individual reflected a key aspect of Socred thought. The party was strongly against the welfare state and the policies of left-wing parties like the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) – the New Democratic Party (NDP) as of 1961 – and the Communist Party of Canada (CP). Landeryou’s comment on keeping the “light of civilization” burning is also revealing. Many SC women subscribed to a manichean world view: they argued that a life and death struggle was taking place between the forces of free-market capitalism and the Communist nations. SC members asserted that the “free world” was in peril. Social Crediters had to save freedom from the depredations of the Soviet Bloc as well as domestic left-wing threats like the CP and CCF.[5]

Although an examination of women in a relatively isolated part of North America might seem like an obscure topic, contemporary traditionalists and reactionaries can learn much from the experiences of Alberta and British Columbia’s[6] Social Credit women during the period from 1945-1960. This article presents two main arguments. First, I contend that Socred women endorsed a reactionary, traditionalist, anti-modern viewpoint, one that was influenced by the “first-wave,” maternal feminist arguments of women like Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby.[7] Like first-wave Canadian feminists, SC supporters argued that women needed to come into politics and public life in order to bring their female virtues of caring and nurturance out of the home to “clean up” society. In doing so, women would save Canadian society from communists and those who believed in “modern” views like secularism and state intervention as well as from liberal men who had done a poor job of administering society and the economy.[8] Similarly, Canadian right-wing women argued that only white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant women were fit to lead the nation out of its stupor and back to traditional values, exemplified by the nuclear family, rural values, Protestant Christianity and, implicitly, whiteness.[9] Developments particular to the post-World War II period, notably increased urbanization, industrialization, and the rise in the numbers of working women, as well as immigration from non-white nations, represented a threat to the values of family, white nationalism, and Christianity.

Second, I argue that Social Credit women supported a vision of reactionary feminism. In calling for more women to participate in public life, supporting anti-war, “maternalist” arguments, and praising famous women in Canada and elsewhere, SC supporters played a role in furthering women’s advancement in Western Canadian society, albeit in ways that reinforced their traditionalist views.[10] This article joins with other writers, here at Counter-Currents and elsewhere,[11] who have shown that conservative women joined right-wing movements for their own reasons and contributed much to right-wing movements in both thought and action. Indeed, many women expressed much stronger and more vehement traditionalist views than rightist men. It was often left to Social Credit women to agitate for reactionary causes such as rural values and opposition to war and big business. The number of women in the SC movement was relatively small – perhaps thirty percent of the total membership of the party in Alberta and British Columbia, the two provinces where the SC Party came to hold power – but the Women’s Auxiliaries had an official status within the party and Auxiliary women had an inside view at party policy.[12] Thus, right-wing women have played a significant role in the shaping of rightist ideology and practice in various national contexts, including in Western Canada.[13]

The Social Credit Party: Background and Context

Social Credit ideology was not monolithic; indeed, the party’s perspective changed over time. From 1935-1943, Alberta’s SC government consisted of a combination of what we might see as economically leftist and socially conservative elements. Early SC administrations initiated a number of reforms to assist working people in the province – the unionization of Alberta’s teachers for one – and many in the elected Social Credit caucus expressed suspicions about private ownership of key industries as well as the banking and credit industries. Yet, there were signs that foretold a turn to the right. Alberta Premier, and Canadian Social Credit founder, William “Bible Bill” Aberhart, lost the fight to implement the twenty-five dollar social credit dividend – this promise was key to initially electing the Socreds in Alberta during the Depression. Aberhart also failed to institute banking reforms in the province, even though the promised reforms played a significant role in his electoral appeal. Aberhart borrowed heavily from the Scottish engineer, and founder of social credit monetary theory, Clifford Hugh (C.H.) Douglas.

Douglas argued for an end to usury and a transference of the responsibilities of banks to the local people in individual communities by means of local credit unions. Similarly, Social Crediters in different nations endorsed a national payment of money – a “dividend” – to be provided to the people by a local authority or central bank to provide the people with purchasing power.[14] Yet, Aberhart – significantly oversimplifying Douglas’s subtle views – believed that, if only more paper money could be printed, then this measure would solve all of Alberta’s economic and social problems. On August 17, 1937, the Canadian federal government declared that the legislation for Aberhart’s twenty-five dollar dividend lay outside the boundaries of provincial responsibility; the Supreme Court of Canada upheld this decision on March 4, 1938.[15] After this point, Aberhart’s views began to change: he came out against public ownership of major resources and refused to increase taxation on wealthy Albertans. In 1943, after the Federal Government’s disallowance of further SC legislation and Aberhart’s death, Ernest Manning took over the leadership of the party and the province.[16] Under Manning, the party jettisoned any pretence of liberalism and became a fairly conventional, pro-capitalist rightist formation, hostile to unions and intensely pro-capitalist and anti-communist. Many who subscribed to evangelical Protestantism gradually became more influential.[17] Yet, Manning’s version of the Social Credit Party was not reactionary, in practice. Manning also moved away from any support for C.H. Douglas’s Social Credit ideas and did nothing to attack usury or to get rid of large banks. Big business owners in the dam-building and oil business, in particular, came to dominate the party. In the end, “crony capitalist” business owners, dependent on the provincial and federal governments for capital and tax breaks, came to dominate the SC Party, and not the traditionalists.

Social Credit Women: Conservatism in Action

With the onset of the late-1940s and early 1950s, right-wing women increasingly began to play a substantial role in the party. Cornelia (Railey) Wood was perhaps the most colourful of the elected SC women in Alberta. The Railey family had come to Alberta from Missouri in 1906.[18] Cornelia Railey initially became involved in politics because the Alberta Liberal Party needed good public speakers. In 1933, under the influence of William Aberhart, she converted to Social Credit ideology.[19] Many women attributed their involvement with the party to Aberhart’s influence and personal charisma. SC women’s ideological orientation was heavily individualistic, particularly for those who remained in the party after Aberhart’s death.

Cornelia Wood subsequently helped to organize SC study groups in the Stony Plain area and was elected as an MLA in 1940. She would remain in the position until 1966, excepting a brief interregnum from 1955-1958. She ran, unsuccessfully, as an independent in the 1967 provincial election, arguing that Social Credit had strayed too far from its Douglasite heritage.[20] Wood was a strong anti-communist and a follower of C.H. Douglas’s views. Like Douglas, Wood believed that a small group of male financiers controlled the world’s banking system.[21] Unlike some male SC members, notably Patrick Ashby, and federal Members of Parliament (MPs) Norman Jaques and John Horn Blackmore, Wood did not suggest that the small group of men was Jewish.

The lack of attention to the role of Jewish elites in banking and finance was, in fact, a blind side among Social Credit women. Anti-Jewish and white nationalist sentiment was rarely spoken about publicly in Socred circles – although both of these trends existed in the party – likely to the detriment of the Social Credit Party. Yet, Cornelia Wood and John Horn Blackmore MP both owned many copies of American Nationalist, a racialist publication from the United States, which opposed federal intervention in black civil rights, the state of Israel, and pro-Jewish organizations of all stripes.[22] The white nationalist ideology was certainly present in the Alberta and British Columbia Social Credit parties, but it was not something that SC women or men spoke out publicly in any depth. The lack of attention to white nationalist themes likely related to the small amount of non-whites – especially outside of urban centers like Calgary and Edmonton – in pre-1960s Western Canada. White dominance and “separate-ness” was simply accepted and did not require defending. In 1948, Ernest Manning expelled the anti-Jewish faction in the party – in spite of their prominence as federal MPs both Ashby and Jaques were forced to leave the party – although anti-Jewish and anti-banking sentiment remained a significant ideological undercurrent among some Socred supporters, even into the 1980s.[23]

Cornelia Wood parlayed her anti-communist views into strong support for the anti-fluoridation cause. Many prominent Social Credit women opposed the fluoridation of Alberta and British Columbia’s water supply, arguing that it was contrary to the party’s individualistic ideology. At a 1966 SCWA convention in Calgary, the “Library” Auxiliary moved a motion regarding fluoride, which lost. The motion read, in part, “the prescribing of medicinal agents for the prevention of disease is a personal and exact procedure governed by medical authorities.” The Auxiliary argued that the protection of individual rights was “an essential element of Western democracy.” A provision might be made to introduce fluoride treatments into “specially marked commercially marketed milk and/or other liquid by choice of the individual” but the government should not legislate fluoridation into the country’s water supply.[24] The fluoride issue related to Social Crediters’ strong dislike of government intervention as well as to a fear of the effects that new kinds of science and medicine, as well as “expert” advice in the health and psychological professions, might have on individual lives.

Opposition to new forms of medicine had a long history in Europe and North America. Groups on various points of the ideological spectrum expressed concern over the effects of science and technology on the public. Social Credit women’s focus on individualism, and opposition to various aspects of modernity and globalization, was paramount here. SC members like Wood used the issue of fluoride to express their discontent with the bureaucratic and controlling aspects of modernism and globalism. Many people, of the right, left, and center, disapproved of the increasingly impersonal and atomistic atmosphere in postwar Canada. The image of a government bureaucrat in Edmonton or Ottawa putting something sinister into the province’s water supply loomed large. Social Credit desired a return to a “face-to-face” society, which, they argued, existed before the rise of impersonal, “mass,” society. Anti-modernism for SC women was thus connected to individualism and to a critique of the bureaucratization of society. SC women attacked the potential introduction of fluoride as an unwarranted attempt to extend the state’s control over the human body, echoing the views of anti-vaccination activists in nineteenth-century Britain.[25] In this sense, we can place SC women under the banner of the traditionalist, or reactionary, right. We can see Social Credit women as close ideological cousins to the American paleoconservatives.[26]

The anti-fluoridation campaign was closely connected to anti-communism and anti-statism. Cornelia Wood argued that fluoridation would make the people of Canada easy prey for a foreign power to introduce a mind-controlling substance into the country’s water supply. Members of the Edmonton branch of the Local Council of Women (LCW), of which Wood was a member, asked city council to hold off on fluoridation until more research had been done. Drawing on her conspiratorial view of the world, Wood stated that “the fluoridation movement” had a great deal of money, power, and influence.[27] In contrast, the opponents of fluoridation had little money, organization, or publicity. Wood drew an explicit link between the fluoridation of water and civil defense: the “mechanism for fluoridation of water supplies in any community would provide the perfect weapon for saboteurs.” More specifically, she commented, fluoride “is tasteless and odorless. The damage would be done before it could be detected.” Wood expressed her pride that “Alberta leads in civil defense.” To that end, the province should make “civil defense really work by keeping our water supply free from being used by saboteurs using fluorides.”[28] Opposition to fluoride became the cause by which SC women could put forward their anti-communist views.

Many SC supporters in British Columbia also opposed fluoride. SC Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Lydia Arsens was one such person. In a speech before the British Columbia Legislature, she argued that leaders of the community and the public were being misled into thinking that fluoride was a good idea. She cited expert advice to buttress her perspective. The Canadian Dental Association and Public Health Service had come out against fluoride while the United States Federal Security Agency favored it. In Arsens’s view, this occurred so that American elites could force their views upon an unsuspecting populace through “mind control.” “Poisoning” the country’s water supply was a means toward this end. Arsens later suggested that the “big aluminum companies” were in on the conspiracy for fluoride.[29] She expressed a belief in “purity,” and a return to the use of “natural” foods and spices, giving her ideas a connection to the environmental movements of the 1960s.

Women played an important role in shaping SC ideology and public policy on this issue. SC women’s opposition to fluoride, and their ability at galvanizing public opposition to it, assisted in the defeat of referendums on fluoridation. Women made anti-fluoridation part of SC’s public agenda, often against the wishes of Social Credit men. Fluoridation was not an issue for Ernest Manning or British Columbia Social Credit Premier W.A.C. Bennett; however, it was for Cornelia Wood and Lydia Arsens. While SC women often followed the views of men in their party, fluoride was one issue where they expressed a contrary opinion and where they were able to make their influence felt on the party platform and in the broader community.[30]

Notes

[1] Women’s Auxiliaries of the Alberta Social Credit League, “Social Credit 70,” pamphlet, 1970, Vera Gillespie Fonds, File 1, Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB.

[2] Alberta remains Canada’s most consistently right-wing province, notwithstanding its current social democratic government. Buoyed by the oil business, an ideology that espouses freedom from government control, and, until recently, a largely white population, Alberta consistently elected rightist governments. The Social Credit Party of Alberta was in power from 1935-1971.

[3] Report of the 31st Annual Convention of the Alberta Social Credit Women’s Auxiliaries, December 3, 1968, Vera Gillespie Fonds, File 1, Glenbow Archives.

[4] Ibid. The Alberta Social Credit League (ASCL), established in the spring of 1934 with William Aberhart as its leader, became the initial organization that advocated Social Credit principles in Alberta. It was the forerunner to the Alberta Social Credit Party, and existed alongside the party during its years in office. See Alvin Finkel, The Social Credit Phenomenon in Alberta (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), 167-201; Bob Hesketh, Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 81-88; Howard Palmer with Tamara Palmer, Alberta: A New History (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1990), 321-25.

[5] On the Cold War situation in the Canadian context, see Reg Whitaker and Gary Marcuse, Cold War Canada: The Making of a National Insecurity State, 1945-1957 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994).

[6] Although the Social Credit Party held political power in both of these provinces – from 1952-1972 and then again from 1975-1991 in British Columbia – I largely concentrate on Alberta in this paper for the sake of brevity.

[7] This article defines “feminism” as being an ideology that militates for the equality of some groups of women and, in general, supports wider roles for certain groups of women. I define feminism in this manner because many feminists, in Canada especially, did not favor increased equality for all women. Indeed, most first wave feminists in Canada held rightist views. These were views that many readers of Counter-Currents would approve, including an elitist ideology that working-class people should listen to those above them in society, a strong belief in Anglo-Saxon traditions, and racialist views regarding non-white women and men, including opposition to immigration from Africa and Asia. See Carol Lee Bacchi, Liberation Deferred? The Ideas of the English-Canadian Suffragists, 1877-1918 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983); Janice Fiamengo, “Rediscovering Our Foremothers Again: Racial Ideas of Canada’s Early Feminists, 1885-1945,” in Rethinking Canada: The Promise of Women’s History, 5th ed., ed. Mona Gleason and Adele Perry (Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2006), 144-62.

[8] “Modernity” refers to a way of ordering society based on values of rationality, scientific progress, expert knowledge, and risk management. Modernity was meant to inaugurate an orderly form of society that valued mastery over nature and control over all aspects of society. We can link this with globalism as well, since those who supported modernity also endorsed increased immigration, women moving out of the domestic sphere, as well as big business, corporate mergers, the end of small-scale farming, and increased international trade. In short, at least in Canada, advocates of modernity endorsed open borders. See Christopher Dummitt, The Manly Modern: Masculinity in Postwar Canada (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2007), 1-14; Tina Loo, “People in the Way: Modernity, Environment, and Society on the Arrow Lakes,” BC Studies 142/143 (Summer/Autumn 2004): 161-96.

[9] I say “implicitly” because SC women’s support for white nationalism was usually assumed and not stated publicly. There were very few non-white migrants or residents in Alberta during the 1940s and 1950s, so SC’s support for a majority white society for the most part did not need reinforcement. During these decades, the minority indigenous population in Western Canada mostly lived on isolated reserves and, thus, had little contact with whites. See Olive Patricia Dickason and William Newbigging, A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[10] See Alvin Finkel, “Populism and Gender: The UFA and Social Credit Experiences,” Journal of Canadian Studies 27:4 (Winter 1992-93): 76-92; Bob Hesketh, “From Crusaders to Missionaries to Wives: Alberta Social Credit Women, 1932-1955,” Prairie Forum 18:1 (Spring 1993): 53-75.

[11] Amanda Bradley, “How the British Constructed a New Woman’s Movement: Julie V. Gottlieb’s Feminine Fascism,” Counter-Currents.com, March 27, 2012, https://www.counter-currents.com/2012/03/how-the-british-constructed-a-new-womans-movement (accessed June 27, 2017). See also Julie V. Gottlieb, Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain’s Fascist Movement (London: I.B. Tauris, 2003).

[12] There were a number of women who might be termed “progressive” or “liberal populist” in the SC Party during the early years. In Alberta, libertarian populist Edith Rogers – later to join the CCF – expressed anti-monopoly and anti-banking views. Ethel Baker and Leona Barritt expressed similar views. By the end of World War II, both Baker and Barritt had drifted back to the, politically moderate and grassroots-oriented, United Farm Women of Alberta organization.

[13] See especially Paola Bacchetta and Margaret Power, eds., Right-Wing Women: From Conservatives to Extremists Around the World (New York and London: Routledge, 2002); Kathleen Blee, Inside Organized Racism: Women and Men in the Racist Movement (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001); Glen Jeansonne, Women of the Far Right: The Mothers’ Movement and World War II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Michelle M. Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).

[14] Kerry Bolton, “Breaking the Bondage of Interest: A Right Answer to Usury, Part 2,” Counter-Current.com, August 11, 2011, https://www.counter-currents.com/2011/08/breaking-the-bondage-of-interesta-right-answer-to-usury-part-2 (accessed July 3, 2017); Sandy Wolfe-Murray, “Social Credit & Association,” Counter-Currents.com, March 22, 2017, https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/03/social-credit-association, (accessed June 3, 2017).

[15] J.R. Mallory, Social Credit and the Federal Power in Canada, rev. ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), 69-90

[16] Finkel, The Social Credit Phenomenon in Alberta, 77-98.

[17] Robert K. Burkinshaw, Pilgrims in Lotus Land: Conservative Protestantism in British Columbia, 1917-1981 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995), 9-12; John G. Stackhouse Jr., Canadian Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century: An Introduction to Its Character (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), 3-17.

[18] Marriage certificate for Russell Edgerton Wood and Cornelia Lucinda Railey, December 24, 1912, Cornelia Wood Fonds, Box 24, Item 463, Provincial Archives of Alberta (hereafter PAA).

[19] Calgary Herald, October 1966; program for Stars in Time, a pantomime commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the vote for women in Alberta, 1966, Social Credit Women’s Auxiliary Papers (hereafter SCWA Papers), Box 1, File 18, PAA.

[20] Calgary Herald, October 11, 1966; Program for Stars in Time, a pantomime commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the vote for women in Alberta, 1966, SCWA Papers, Box 1, File 18, PAA.

[21] See Hesketh, Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit, passim.

[22] Glenbow Archives, Various issues of American Nationalist, 1963-65, John Horn Blackmore Fonds, Files 261, 300, 442, Glenbow Archives. During the course of my research on this topic, I found virtually no explicit statements of support for white nationalism, although there were some statements that could be read as implicitly endorsing an all-white Alberta and Canada, as we shall see later in this article.

[23] See Howard Palmer, Patterns of Prejudice: Nativism in Alberta (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982); Janine Stingel, Social Discredit: Anti-Semitism, Social Credit, and the Jewish Response (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000).

[24] Minutes of the 29th Annual Convention of the SCWA, Calgary, November 21, 1966, Cornelia Wood Fonds, Box 1, Items 129-149, PAA. I found almost no sources where SC men discussed the issue of fluoridation.

[25] On the history of new and different kinds of medicine and the opposition to it, see Nadja Durbach, Bodily Matters: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in England, 1853-1907 (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005), esp. chapters three and four. A Canadian perspective can be found in Catherine Carstairs and Rachel Elder, “Expertise, Health, and Popular Opinion: Debating Water Fluoridation, 1945-80,” Canadian Historical Review 89:3 (September 2008): 345-71.

[26] I draw on the categories for the conservative movement mentioned in George Hawley, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism (Emporia, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2016), 178-206.

[27] Edmonton Journal, February 21, 1952.

[28] Address on the Speech from the Throne in the Alberta Legislature by Wood, 23 February 23, 1952, Cornelia Wood Fonds, Box 14, Item 296, PAA

[29] “Fluoridation of Water,” pamphlet taken from speech made by Lydia Arsens in the BC Legislature, February 22, 1955, Cornelia Wood Fonds, Box 14, Item 304, PAA.

[30] Carstairs and Elder, “Expertise, Health, and Popular Opinion,” 370-71. More on the views of SC men can be found in Finkel, The Social Credit Phenomenon in Alberta.

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