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Feminist, Journalist, Activist
Violet Clara McNaughton (née Jackson) was born in Borden, Kent, England, on November 11, 1879. Her ambition was to be in the British civil service but, at 1.49 meters (4 feet 11 inches), she was 1.27 centimetres (half an inch) short of the minimum required height and instead became a teacher. This spunky little woman was poor in worldly goods but possessed many valuable qualities, including passionate determination, radicalism and skills as an educator. She also had deep respect for the Kent co-operators (members of the co-operative movement which promoted equality and fairness) and British feminists.
In 1909 she immigrated to Saskatchewan, bringing her piano and rolling pin, to join her father and brother on their homestead near Harris. The following year she married a neighbouring homesteader, John McNaughton, an immigrant from New Zealand. Violet and John were pro-feminist, scholarly, energetic and enthusiastic. As John was also short, neighbours often referred to them as "the Pony Pair" (MacEwan, p. 176). Their marriage of 55 years was a partnership of equals, and this equality facilitated Violet's involvement in public life.
Vi and Jack, as they called each other, worked together, gallantly enduring the rigorous hardships of rural life on the Canadian prairies. These difficult living conditions transformed her from an admirer of feminists and co-operators to an actual activist. In 1911, after a hysterectomy to treat a pelvic tumour left her unable to have children, Violet determined to make the world a better place for all children. She later went on to demand training for deaf children.
Jack McNaughton was an active member of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers' Association (SGGA) and Violet immersed herself in the work of the organization. She was an unrelenting agrarian feminist. At the 1913 SGGA convention in Saskatoon, she was secretary of the committee that established the Women Grain Growers (WGG) in Saskatchewan. She was president of the WGG for its first three years.
Violet McNaughton successfully led the WGG's crusade to have trained midwives, more nurses, and affordable doctors and hospitals in close proximity to all farm families. Thanks to her resolution, beleaguered women could obtain birth control information and aid, which was still illegal at the time, through underground channels. Legislation in 1916 provided for the founding of union hospitals, municipal nurses and municipal doctors. This was the beginning of the long journey to medicare in Saskatchewan and, eventually, Canada as a whole.
Violet was an avid supporter of the suffragette movement. As the first president of the Saskatchewan Equal Franchise League, she confronted the same issues in Saskatchewan that Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy and Henrietta Edwards did in neighbouring provinces. Always a popular speaker, she campaigned and crusaded throughout the province for political reform, women's suffrage, hospitals, and better library services in rural communities.
Violet McNaughton remained a pacifist feminist throughout the First World War. In addition to operating the farm, she wrote a weekly newspaper page for the Saturday Press and Prairie Farmer. She also became more politically involved: she helped draft the 1918 Canadian Council of Agriculture Farmers' Platform, as well as the platform of the post-war Progressive Party.
Violet was also instrumental in establishing farm women's groups in other provinces. She was president of the Interprovincial Council of Farm Women and the Women's Section of the Canadian Council of Agriculture from 1919 to 1923. In 1925, she became the first women's editor of the Western Producer farm weekly. She retired from this position in 1950 but continued to write a column in the paper until 1959. She was also one of the founding members of the Saskatoon branch of the Canadian Women's Press Club in 1929, and belonged to the organization until her death 40 years later.
In 1934, Violet McNaughton was honoured by King George V with the Order of the British Empire. She received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Saskatchewan in 1951 for her great contribution to public life within Saskatchewan and beyond. Violet lived in Saskatoon and Victoria, B.C., during her retirement. John McNaughton died in 1965. "Mrs. Mac" died in her sleep on February 2, 1968; she had no living relative left in Canada.
Described as the "Mighty Mite" (MacEwan, p. 175), this clear, decisive and eloquent diminutive leader worked tirelessly throughout her life to improve the lot of women and children. She was one of Canada's best-known advocates of rights for women, new Canadians and Native people. She fought vigorously for better social welfare for the elderly as well as in the farm, co-operative, reform and peace movements. An effective crusader and activist, Violet McNaughton always had the welfare of prairie people at heart.
[Ducie, Rose]. "Mrs. Violet McNaughton O.B.E. is congratulated by Dr. Hedley Auld, chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan, as, on behalf of the university, he confers on her the honorary degree of doctor of laws..." Western Producer. Vol. 28, No. 36 (May 17, 1951), p. 11.
[Ducie, Rose]. "To a Bonny Fighter." Western Producer. Vol. 28, No. 15 (December 7, 1950), p. 11.
"Editorial: Violet McNaughton." Western Producer. Vol. 28, No. 15 (December 7, 1950), p. 6.
MacEwan, Grant. "Violet McNaughton: The Mighty Mite." Mighty Women: Stories of Western Canadian Pioneers. 1st Greystone edition. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 1995, p. 175-180.
[McNaughton, Violet]. "The Flying Years." Western Producer. Vol. 28, No. 15 (December 7, 1950), p. 11.
"McNaughton, Violet." In Biographical Dictionary of Modern Peace Leaders. Editor-in-chief, Harold Josephson; associate editors, Sandi E. Cooper, Solomon Wank, Lawrence S. Wittner; regional editors, Donald S. Birn et al. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985, p. 618-619.
"McNaughton, Violet Clara (1879-1968)." Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan: A Living Legacy.
(accessed June 3, 2008).
"McNaughton, Violet Clara (1879-1968)." The Oxford Companion to Canadian History. Edited by Gerald Hallowell. Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 379-380.
"Mrs. Mcnaughton Dies at 88, Was Women's Editor 25 Years." Western Producer. Vol. 45, No. 27 (February 8, 1968), p. 1-2.
Roberts, Barbara Ann. "Violet McNaughton." "Why Do Women Do Nothing to End the War?": Canadian Feminist-pacifists and the Great War. Ottawa: Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women / Institut canadien de recherches sur les femmes, 1985, p. 15-20. An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association, May 1985, Université de Montréal (CRIAW papers No. 13).
Scowby, Christa. "'I Am a Worker, Not a Drone': Farm Women, Reproductive Work and the Western Producer, 1930-1939." Saskatchewan History. Vol. 48, No. 2 (Fall 1996), p. 3-15.
Steer, Sheilagh L. The Beliefs of Violet McNaughton: Adult Educator 1909-1929. M.A. thesis, University of Saskatchewan, 1979.
Taylor, Georgina M. Ground for Common Action: Violet McNaughton's Agrarian Feminism and the Origins of the Farm Women's Movement in Canada [microform]. Ottawa: National Library of Canada / Bibliothèque nationale du Canada, . Ph.D. thesis, Carleton University, 1997.
(accessed June 3, 2008).
Taylor, Georgina M. "'Let Us Co-operate': Violet McNaughton and the Co-operative Ideal." In Co-operatives in the Year 2000: Memory, Mutual Aid, and the Millennium. Edited by B. Fairbairn and I. MacPherson. Saskatoon: Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan, 2000, p. 57-78.
"Violet McNaughton: Women's Editor Active in Fight to Get Vote." Star-Phoenix, February 6, 1968, p. 16.