Saskatchewan Women's Institutes: The Rural Women's University 1911-1986
Strathy, Kerrie A.
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This thesis is the first major attempt to document the accomplishments of Saskatchewan Women's Institutes - Saskatchewan's largest and longest surviving adult education movement for rural women which was known as the Association of Homemakers' Clubs of Saskatchewan prior to 1971. The purpose of the study ls threefold. The primary purpose is to make up for the lack of scholarly work on Saskatchewan Women's Institutes by documenting the organization's history as an adult education movement. A secondary purpose is to critically examine the relationship between SWI and the University which organized Homemakers' Clubs as a vehicle to provide extension services for rural women. The third purpose is to provide insight into the role rural women played in Saskatchewan's development. The study increases understanding about this important movement by documenting its growth and decline and its educational and other accomplishments from its establishment in 1911 to its 75th Anniversary in 1986. The University connection was crucial to the rise and transformation of the Rural Women's University, as the Association of Homemakers' Clubs of Saskatchewan was known, because of its close relationship to the University. Four distinct phases were identified. During the first two phases the number of clubs grew rapidly because the University employed staff to organize clubs and provide direction. Rural women were anxious to join these clubs because they provided much needed social contact and educational opportunities. Membership peaked during the third phase, but began to decline after 1941 because the University cutback the delivery of educational programs through the Clubs, and because it no longer employed staff to mobilize clubs. The fourth phase was characterized by continued cutbacks in University support and funding. This, combined with rural depopulation, improved transportation and communications networks, and other educational opportunities for rural women contributed to the gradual, but steady decline of members and clubs. An examination of club activities dispels the myth that SWI was merely a social club. Through Homemakers' Clubs rural women learned how to cope with their harsh environment and broadened their interests beyond the home. Homemakers' established libraries, community centres and health clinics which provided a foundation for governments to build on in later years. The University had a significant impact on the organization's activities, particularly its focus on education and the avoidance of political and controversial issues. It appears that the era of the "Rural Women's University" has come to an end in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan Women's Institutes 75th Anniversary was celebrated in a serious state of deterioration. The majority of members were over 60 years of age, and prospects for attracting new members were not good. University support and direction in the early years encouraged SWI to become dependent and discouraged the development of strong leadership amongst members. The withdrawal of University support prevented SWI from developing and delivering quality educational programs that could have attracted young rural women. With a declining membership base, withdrawal of University support and uncertain core funding from the provincial Department of Agriculture it is unlikely that SWI will continue for much longer. Although there is still a need for a rural women's organization it appears that Saskatchewan Women's Institutes does not have the financial or human resources necessary to revitalize itself to meet the need.
DegreeMaster of Continuing Education (M.C.Ed.)
DepartmentCommunications, Continuing and Vocational Education