For International Women’s Day this year, Nose Creek Valley Museum would like to pay homage to the women who played a part in the establishment and settlement of Airdrie. Airdrie was established as a village in 1909 with a population of 164. Some of the first women in/of Airdrie included Mrs. Esther Annie Bowers, and Mrs. W.H. Croxford. Not a lot is recorded about these women, due to the times, but their role in Airdrie’s settlement is still relevant. Many of the women that came to Airdrie in the early 1900s came from Eastern Canada and Western Europe, some having never experienced farm life before. Women would also arrive after their husbands or male family members had ventured West, who would then write to their wives and families to join them, or the men would go back to get them. Neither women, nor men, had any true idea of what life in the new West would be like, and how much blood, sweat, and tears it would take to establish themselves.
An example of the classic women settler tales relates to the artifact shown in the photos above. These undergarments belonged to an immigrant woman from Denmark, who moved to Airdrie in 1926. Her future husband had ventured to Airdrie in 1922 to see if he could make a living, which he was successfully able to do, and returned to Denmark in 1926 to bring her back with him. This couple were not married straight away, as he wanted to support his fiancé and first see if she could adjust to experiencing life in Airdrie. This adjustment was huge when compared to her life in Denmark where she had electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing, as these amenities did not exist in early Western villages.
The undergarments pictured above were created by the woman while she waited for her fiancé back in Denmark. Since she had waited years for her fiancé, she had ample amount of free time to dedicate to her hobby, becoming an expert seamstress. The lace that adorns these garments is known as bobbin lace, which the woman handmade on a pillow, which was a firmly packed cushion on a wooden board. All of her undergarments were handmade with 100% cotton material and additional ribbons and buttons. When the woman finally immigrated to Airdrie, she never made bobbin lace again. She was too busy learning English, how to live on a farm, and adopting the western lifestyle and culture.
We are highlighting these artifacts to acknowledge and honour their hard work. Western Settlement history has often neglected the narrative and sacrifice of women. In Eastern Canada and other parts of the world, women were just being introduced to the right to vote, the right to employment, and the right to access to education. They gave up these new opportunities for women in order to join the western settlement and accompany their husbands and families. Here, women often lived in houses with no electricity, no furnaces, no sinks, no baths, no telephones, and very little contact outside of their homes. They were also stuck inside their homes during the many months of winter. These women were expected to have and take care of their children, take care of their husbands and any hired help, and take care of the house, the garden, and in some cases, they were involved in the care of livestock. Their labor was expected of them, and they were not paid for it, and are mainly ignored for their hard work in history. The housewife was essential to the Western settlement, but that settlement came from the sacrifice of women, whose lives became solely dedicated to their families, and were unable to enjoy the amenities experienced in urban society.
The women who joined the West are often coined as the “tamers” of the “Wild West”, as women often brought with them domesticity and their previous societal values. Women were essential partners to the men who created the foundation for the western frontier. Whether it was working on the farm, just as hard as the men were, or keeping the house warm in the winter, women on the western settlement were important, and so is their history. We dedicate this international women’s history month to all the women who have worked hard throughout history, who are not recognized for their sacrifices, or are entirely forgotten.
Airdrie 1909-2009- Celebrating 100 Years of History, Community, and Opportunity, Anna M. Rebus.
Karen Copely, Nose Creek Valley Museum Assistant Curator.
Story of Jenny Larsen by Betty Mammel
The Prairies West Historical Readings Edited by R. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer.