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“Ladies, Let Us Hold High the Banner of Social Credit!” Reaction, Tradition, and Localism in Right-Wing Canadian Women’s Ideology   

The 31st Annual Convention of the Alberta Social Credit Women’s Auxiliaries (SCWA) was held at the Chateau Lacombe in Edmonton, Northern Alberta, Canada, 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] and by extension in Canada, at the time. Landeryou argued that the well being of the individual was paramount in modern society. She 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 colleague 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 stood 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), both of which had played important roles in Canadian politics and political culture from the 1930s to the 1960s. 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 Communist-led 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 a fairly small group of women activists in an isolated part of North America might seem like an obscure topic, contemporary traditionalists and conservatives, and followers of Eric Voegelin,[6] can learn much from the experiences of Alberta and British Columbia’s[7] Social Credit women during the period from 1945-1960.[8] 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 earlier Canadian feminists like Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby.[9] Like most first-wave Canadian feminists, SC supporters argued that women needed to come into politics and public life in order to bring the “traditionally” feminine virtues of caring and nurturance out of the home to “clean up” society. In so doing, women would save Canadian society from Communists and those who believed in “modern” views like secularism and state intervention as well as from liberal, and even mainstream conservative, men who had done a poor job of administering society and the economy.[10]

Similarly, Canadian right-wing women argued that only white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant women were fit to lead the Canadian nation state out of its stupor and back to traditional values, exemplified by the nuclear family, rural life, limited government, Protestant Christianity[11] and, implicitly, whiteness. I say “implicitly” because SC women’s support for white superiority, as well as racialism, was usually assumed and not stated publicly.[12] There were very few non-white migrants or residents in Alberta during the 1940s and 1950s,[13] so SC’s support for a majority white society did not need reinforcement, in the view of SC women at the time. During these decades, the minority indigenous population in Western Canada mostly lived on isolated reserves and had little contact with whites.[14] SC women’s groups supported what we might call a traditionalist, reactionary viewpoint. Indeed, Socred women argued that developments particular to the post-World War II period, notably increased urbanization, industrialization, and the rise in the numbers of working women, represented a threat to the values of family, rural independence, 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 in 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.[15] This article joins with other writers, with varying ideological views[16] 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 SC women expressed much stronger and more vehement traditionalist and localist views than rightist men. It was often left to Social Credit women, rather than men in the movement, to agitate for causes such as maintaining farms and rural communities, 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 held office[17] – but the Women’s Auxiliaries had an official status within the party and Auxiliary women had an inside view at party policy.[18] Thus, right-wing women played a significant role in the shaping of conservative ideology and practice in various national contexts, including in Canada.[19] For scholars of local traditions, community, small farms, and opposition to big business, war, and foreign entanglements, the views of Social Credit women in previous decades still retain relevance today. This “human scale,” localist ideology is a relatively understudied one, especially in the Canadian context, but it remains an interesting and vital tradition of thought among the “left” and “right” in contemporary North America. Social Credit women certainly contributed to this way of thinking.[20]

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 but 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 and misgivings about the power of the banking and credit industries in the province. Yet, there were signs that foretold a turn to the right from early on. 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 Great 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.

As was well-known in social credit circles, 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.[21] Yet, Aberhart – oversimplifying Douglas’s views – argued 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.[22]

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.[23] Under Manning, the party jettisoned any vestige of liberalism and became a fairly conventional, pro-capitalist formation, hostile to unions and intensely anti-communist. We might see Manning’s Social Credit as being similar to the British Conservative Party of the time, or to conservative Republicans in the United States, in the past and present.[24] Many who subscribed to evangelical Protestantism gradually became more influential in the party.[25] Yet, Manning’s version of the Social Credit Party was not reactionary or traditionalist, in practice. Similarly, Manning moved away from 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 subsidies and tax breaks, came to dominate the SC Party, and not the traditionalists. SC women, as we shall see, largely subscribed to the “traditionalist” or “populist” wing of the party, against the party elite and hierarchy, the latter mostly, if not exclusively, comprised of men.[26]

Social Credit Women: Traditionalism in Action

With the onset of the late-1940s and early 1950s, women increasingly began to play a significant role in the SC 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.[27] 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.[28] 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, AB area – at the time, a rural community outside of the provincial capital, Edmonton. Wood was elected as an Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA)[29] 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.[30] 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.[31] Unlike some male SC members, notably Patrick Ashby, and federal Members of Parliament (MPs) Norman Jaques, John Horn Blackmore, and Solon Low, Wood did not suggest that the small group of men was Jewish.

None among the small group of prominent Social Credit women expressed racist or anti-Semitic views. Anti-Jewish and white racialist sentiment was rarely spoken about publicly in Socred circles – although both of these trends certainly existed in the party. 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.[32] The lack of attention to racial 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. Indeed, World War II veteran Ron Gostick, son of SC MLA Edith Gostick, wrote for racist, anti-Jewish newsletters such as the Canadian Intelligence Service and On Target from the 1940s to the 1980s. During the 1980s, Alberta high school teacher James Keegstra, a prominent Social Credit member during the party’s dying days, used Gostick’s writings in teaching classes. The Alberta Department of Education fired Keegstra for expressing what it saw as racist views.[33] All of this suggests that strong undercurrents of racialism and anti-Semitism existed in the SC Party; however, these views rarely came to the surface and none of the women mentioned here subscribed to overtly racist ideas.

In one very particular area related to race – the treatment of Aboriginal people in Alberta and Canada – SC women and men did speak out. Ruth Landeryou, mentioned in the introduction to this paper, lived and worked in the rural and strongly conservative community of Lethbridge, in the southern portion of the province. Landeryou spoke out in favor of increased autonomy for Aboriginal people, arguing that the Canadian federal government should have far less say over affairs on Native reservations in the province. As part of a tribute to her advocacy for Aboriginals, Landeryou became an “honorary Indian Princess of the Pegein Tribe,” and received the name “Princess Blue Bird.”[34] Landeryou’s advocacy for Aboriginal autonomy came from a conservative viewpoint: she argued that the federal government should not intervene in the affairs of local communities, including Native reservations. Mormon John Horn Blackmore, Social Credit MP for Lethbridge, also advocated for indigenous people in southern Alberta in limited ways. In 1945, the Blood Indian Tribe named Blackmore an honorary chief, a title given to whites only rarely at the time.[35] Blackmore and Landeryou, like other reactionaries, argued in favour of limited Aboriginal rights since they saw indigenous people as fighting against the modernizing, industrializing trends in Canadian society.

Traditionalist, conservative whites have sometimes advocated for the rights of other, non-white people who fought to keep their traditions in the context of the onslaught on capitalist modernity and globalism.[36] Although not explicitly stated, this minority SC viewpoint on Native peoples hearkened back to Edmund Burke’s criticisms of British colonialism in the Thirteen Colonies, and especially in Ireland and India.[37] Landeryou and Blackmore did not argue for an end to reserves: indeed, they implied that separation of whites and indigenous peoples would better serve the interests of Albertans and Canadians.[38] Yet, even this fairly limited commentary on Aboriginal affairs was rare for SC women and men. Still, we can see the firm traditionalist and localist focus of SC women here, in women’s limited advancement of Aboriginal land claims.[39] The localist focus of SC women went strongly against the support for the federal government and federal welfare programs that many Canadians, especially in centralist Ontario and Quebec, expressed at the time.[40]

SC Women’s Opposition to Modernity and Science

In the main, SC women’s political focus lay elsewhere. In particular, 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, anti-statist and populist 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.[41] 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 of postwar Canada. The image of a government bureaucrat in Edmonton or Ottawa putting something sinister into the province’s water supply loomed large and seem like a sensible image interpretation of government excess for Western Canadians. 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.[42] 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.[43]

Thus, SC women’s anti-fluoridation campaign closely related 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.[44] 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.”[45] Opposition to fluoride became the cause by which SC women could put forward their anti-communist and anti-modern views.

Many SC supporters in British Columbia, Canada’s Western-most province and a region with a strong leftist presence on the coast and on Vancouver Island and a conservative-leaning interior, also opposed fluoride. In particular, SC MLA Lydia Arsens made a number of public pronouncements against fluoridation. 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.[46] She expressed a belief in “purity,” and for a return to the use of “natural” foods and spices, giving her ideas a connection to the environmental movements of earlier and later decades. Both leftist and rightist movements expressed concern with the negative impact that technology and increased economic growth had on rural communities.[47]

Women, then, 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 several referendums on fluoridation during the 1950s and 1960s.[48] 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 Western Canadian community.[49]

Social Credit Women: Anti-Modernism and Christianity

Elsewhere, SC women used different ideological openings to attack modernity and communism. In a 1945 speech, Cornelia Wood reflected that there always had been two ways of life in the world: “democratic or totalitarian, Christianity or Paganism,” as well as two forms of government: democracy or dictatorship. Wood related this to SC’s ideology: “freedom of the individual,” she argued, “is the cornerstone of democracy.” Under a dictatorship, like that of the Soviet Union, Wood asserted, “the individual is a slave to the state.” SC members used the idea of the “world slave state” to critique socialism, liberalism, the welfare state, secular modernity, and, perhaps most vehemently, communism and the Soviet Union. In the modern world, communism, secularism and the slave state threatened Christian and individualistic values; the idea of the “World Slave State” served all factions of the SC Party in its challenge to the regimented welfare state and modern values that, the party argued, destroyed the family and church.

Wood borrowed her views from C.H. Douglas’s ideas about the primacy of Christianity in the world, especially Douglas’s belief in individualism as the source of societal virtue and his opposition to state power and banking.[50] Thus, traditional Christianity, Wood suggested, elevated women “to a place where they have been cherished and protected by men.” In the post-World War II years, however, she saw “a deliberate attempt to lower women by obscene movies” and “trashy novels.” Like other traditionalists, Wood criticized modernity because “Christianity has been ridiculed and scorned. Planners of the slave state know that to kill a democracy, Christianity must be killed because the two are inseparable.”[51] Here, we can see where thinkers like Eric Voegelin brought forth ideas that became increasingly influential: in their critique of utopian ideals like socialism and communism, SC women, if unknowingly, echoed Voegelin’s criticisms of “gnostic movements” like progressivism and Marxism.[52] SC women’s views existed in the context of post-World War II conservative, anti-communist ideologies.

Social Credit MLA Ethel Wilson, the only woman to achieve cabinet rank during the SC years in office in Alberta, offered a further criticism of modernity. Commenting on the Cold War, Wilson, formerly an Edmonton city councilor and a union activist with the Packinghouse Workers, argued that the Soviets were “undermining national unity, destroying moral and social standards, and damaging faith in the democratic process and Christian principles.” Implying that ideas connected to secularism, relativism, and equality led to disorder, Wilson remarked that, “of the 22 civilizations that have existed so far in world history, 10 have fallen from within.” This fact could be easily adapted to support SC women’s traditionalist ideology: “history tells us that people of those eras became lovers of pleasure, taking no personal responsibility for moral standards or political ethics.” Wilson suggested that Western capitalist society was in jeopardy because of lax moral standards that resulted from the breakdown of traditional values after the Second World War.[53] She implied that a return to conventional moral values of family and traditional Christianity was necessary to forestall the end of capitalist society.

Social Credit ideology was sometimes contradictory and various factions emerged within the party. We might think of the main division in the party as one between the “traditionalists” or “populists” and the “modernizers” or “elitists.” As Leonard Kuffert has noted, many Social Credit leaders and members distrusted urban life, and the secularism and modernity that they argued went with urbanity. They longed for a return to rural, “island communities”[54] of a pre-industrial society where communism, atheism and, implicitly, non-white migrants could not trouble them. This branch of the party consisted of “traditionalists”; their views borrowed heavily from evangelical Christianity. Most of the women discussed here fell into the “traditionalist” faction, their support for women’s advancement notwithstanding. Another, probably larger, group, influenced by the prosperity that came to Western Canada in the post-World War II period, was composed of technocrats or “modernizers.” These individuals – notably party leaders like Alberta Premier Ernest Manning, federal SC leader Solon Low, and prominent members like Orvis Kennedy – favored economic modernization in the form of bank and corporate mergers, technological development, and, rhetorically, a laissez-faire approach to capitalism.[55]

There were also SC members who had a foot in both camps, notably British Columbia SC cabinet member Phillip “Flying Phil” Gaglardi, who supported an aggressively pro-business capitalism while also favoring a return to traditional Christianity as an antidote to the problems of modernity.[56] Ironically, many rightist men failed to see that rampant capitalism, an aspect of the modernity that they deplored, assisted in destroying the small town and white, European, and rural values that they upheld.[57] SC women endorsed a particular vision of society: one based around a Jeffersonian ideal of free farmers, small business owners and local communities. We might see this view as a prelude to more recent decentralists like Bill Kauffman and Wendell Berry.[58]

SC Women, Maternal Feminism, and Female Advancement

Perhaps ironically, given their traditionalist perspective, many SC women offered qualified support for female advancement. In suggesting that women needed to come into the public sphere to “clean up” politics, SC women demonstrated their ties to first wave, often known as “maternal,” feminism. Pre-World War II women’s organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)) and the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) expressed hope that women’s maternal nature could change society.[59] A statement by Rose Wilkinson, a Calgary MLA from 1944-1963, shows the Socred view on a woman’s role in society. Wilkinson warned delegates at an SCWA convention that a national crisis existed. Arguing that the world was “suffering from the want of women’s brains,” she urged women to work together to “obtain a wider knowledge before accepting public office.”[60] On the surface, this seemed like a statement that supported women’s roles in the wider world. What followed was more appropriate to a traditionalist mindset: Wilkinson argued that the world needed women to go back to their traditional roles as wives and mothers if communism was to be defeated.

Elizabeth Robinson, MLA for the rural constituency of Medicine Hat, expressed a similar opinion on women’s advancement. In a 1955 speech, she addressed the women present at the gathering and noted that “there are only two women in the legislature to represent 135, 500 in the province,” referring to herself and Rose Wilkinson, since Cornelia Wood had been defeated in the previous election. Robinson cited a statistic that, in the 1948 Alberta provincial election, women polled 43.6% of the total vote. She used this statistic to argue that Alberta needed more women representatives. Women might lose the privilege of voting through indifference. To fight against this possibility, they should “value this fundamental right and responsibility of citizenship.” Robinson stated that women were capable of accomplishments beyond the imagination: “there is a feeling that women should be playing a more active life in public affairs.”[61]

In a later speech, Robinson asked whether women had forgotten the example of Emmeline Pankhurst and the early suffragettes in Britain, invoking a feminist cause that often endorsed racialist and elitist ideas.[62] Drawing a direct line between first-wave feminism and SC women, Robinson celebrated the “Famous Five” Canadian women activists, particularly Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, and Louise McKinney, all strong proponents of a white Canada and a strong British Empire.[63] Robinson argued that Social Credit women were ideological descendants of these earlier maternal feminists. Robinson asserted that there was still a strong connection between Canadian conservative women and Britain: the “best known and loved woman in the world today is our own Queen Elizabeth II,” she remarked.[64] SC women valorized earlier groups of reactionary and racialist women and feminists, showing their implicit tie to a traditionalist and maternalist mindset.

Indeed, Socred women looked to Britain as a place that reflected their values. British patriotism was thus an important element of Canadian right-wing women’s thought. A resolution passed at an Auxiliary convention in 1954 suggested that the Federal Government invite Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – known as possibly the most right-wing member of the Royal Family – to serve as the next Governor-General of Canada.[65] The resolution asserted that the Queen Mother had “set an outstanding example in world affairs.” According to SCWA women, this qualified her to become the country’s representative to the British Crown. Similarly, the Women’s Auxiliary started all of their annual conventions with an appeal to the Queen: they pledged to be her servants and promised to always support the British Crown. In a sense, SC women’s upholding of British values was hardly surprising: many Canadians, of various ideological stripes from the far right to the moderate left, paid tribute to Canada’s British connection. The idea of “mother Britain” was an integral part of white, English-speaking, Canadian identity, at least until the 1960s. Conservative, and even more moderate or centrist, Canadians often valorized Victorian Britain as a place to draw from in terms of traditions and ideas.[66] SC women used a particular image of a pro-monarchist, rural, and all-white Britain, emphasizing Canada’s ties to the monarchy, to buttress their traditionalist views.

For example, in 1957, SC member Irene Arnason of Calgary reflected on the ideal of British patriotism and Canadian loyalty to the mother country. Commenting on a recent visit by Queen Elizabeth II, she remarked that the Queen “symbolized the glory and greatness of Canada and the unity of our country where men and women work together in harmony and peace.” Arnason commented on the Queen’s appearance, noting that she looked “lovely” in a tailored suit and jacket. The Queen later met with Alice and Solon Low MP; Solon was then the leader of the Federal Social Credit Party. Irene Arnason portrayed Alice Low and the Queen as paragons of female virtue and beauty. Alice Low, she noted, wore a “full-skirted empire dress” in red with satin. Arnason’s remarks tell us much about the SC ideal of femininity. Ideal right-wing women were white, composed, and loyal to the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth II and Alice Low fit nicely with this model. SC women implied that women could take a role outside of the home but only in support of conservative, white, ideally British, values. Even in the Alberta of the 1950s, Canada’s connection to Britain remained strong and Canadian traditionalism retained a connection to British values.[67]

Social Credit Women’s Anti-War Activism

Perhaps paradoxically, given most SC men’s unwavering support for Cold War anti-communism,[68] a significant number of Socred women expressed opposition to war and violence. The anti-war perspective was an extension of SC women’s adoption of maternal feminist goals. First-wave feminists and Social Credit women portrayed wars as something started by men who were willing to send husbands, brothers, and sons to fight in useless conflicts that would break up families and destroy rural and small town communities. SC women’s anti-war views also implied that imperialist wars would lead to the introduction of large numbers of immigrants into Alberta, although, again, rightist women downplayed this aspect of their anti-war perspective. In particular, SC women used “maternalist” language to oppose certain aspects of war and violence. Maternalism suggested that women, as the mothers and wives of children, possessed innate qualities of care and nurturance; therefore, women should use their maternal natures to reform the public world of foreign policy and international relations.[69] Conservative women’s actions would regenerate society and lead it to a place of moral and social purity by bringing the values of the private sphere out into the public.[70] Some SC women took this several steps further to argue that all war and violence was immoral and contrary to conservative Christian principles.

Prominent SC women expressed these kinds of views on peace and international issues. Cornelia Wood, as a traditionalist, populist conservative, opposed scientific rationality, modernity, and war. During the course of a speech made directly after the Second World War, Wood suggested that Canada needed peace and prosperity. Having won the franchise during the First World War, Canadian women had followed men in allowing the world to spin out of control and become impoverished and war torn. Wood argued that women needed to unite in order to “demand the abolition of want and poverty and war.” Wood posed the question: “who is affected more by war than women, who give their sons, husbands, sweethearts, fathers, and, in the last war, their daughters?” Women had an obligation to challenge war. “Ladies,” Wood asked, “do you notice that women are called upon to do much toward winning the war, but no one calls upon us to prevent war?”[71]

For Wood, the answer to the world’s ills was three-fold: first, allow women to come out of the home in ever-greater numbers to attempt to “clean up” society and do away with modernity and corporate business. Second, Canadians should elect Socred governments at the federal and provincial levels to inaugurate an economic system predicated on the anti-banking, individualistic views of C.H. Douglas. Finally, the world needed to return to traditional, small town values of Protestant Christianity, the nuclear family, and conventional morality; implicitly, this was a world founded on what SC women viewed as Western values. In the new, traditionalist order, most women would remain in the home to raise children.[72] Wood argued that war and modernity destroyed older kinds of values, including female submission.

Vera Hattersley – wife of prominent SC theorist and English immigrant Marshall Hattersley – also expressed opposition to the spread of nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear destruction. She asserted that SC women’s maternal duties lay with “our home . . . our church, and . . . our community,” reflecting the SC focus on Christianity, and on small communities. Hattersley argued that SC women should support local communities by opposing war and nuclear weapons. She remarked that, “the world in which we live in is very sick.” It was up to SC women to “cure the world of its ills” – including war and violence – for the sake of future generations. Discussing the future of the world’s children, she asked how future generations would live: “is it to be a lifetime spent under the shadow of the hydrogen bomb, or of some other weapon of mass destruction more terrible still?” She expressed skepticism over the ideology of the Cold War, with its atmosphere of fear, paranoia, control and attacks on the civil liberties of rightists and liberals. In the future, she wondered if people would live out their lives in “a world where, for the sake of security, all individual liberty of thought, word or deed has been destroyed.” This statement reads like that of a civil libertarian and, in a sense, it was.

The solution, for Hattersley, was for Canadians to uphold Christian values, and support SC: “only Social Credit offers a future that can be faced without horror. Only Social Credit has the answer. Let us help to spread the Good News of the Bible and Christianity.”[73] Hattersley saw war as a consequence of an immoral, materialistic, secular society. Everyone in Canadian society needed to return to the family and church to hear the “good news” and to escape from materialism and atheism. Conservative opposition to the Cold War was not uncommon; reactionary John Lukacs also criticized the fundamental assumptions of both the Soviet Union and the United States, seeing both as empires intent on world conquest.[74]

The conservative, maternalist, anti-war viewpoint extended to the highest sectors of the SC movement. Muriel Manning, wife of Alberta’s Premier, also expressed opposition to war from a traditionalist perspective. Significantly, Muriel Manning rarely spoke out on public issues. She played a “behind the scenes” role and supported her husband in his political career. Thus, her rare public statements on war offer a remarkable look inside Social Credit women’s views. In a 1959 speech, Manning espoused the conventional, anti-communist view, arguing that, “to save the world we must have greater knowledge” of scientific and military technologies. She suggested that the West’s knowledge “must equal Russia’s.” This was standard issue, Cold War anti-communism. What followed was different. Commenting on war, Manning stated that it was a “horrible word to mother, wife, sister, sweetheart.” Men, Manning argued, “think that their scientific knowledge applied to perfection and bigger bombs is the way to peace. Women know deep down that this is not so. Their understanding of human nature tells them that this is only increasing international tension, which leads to war. There must be another way.” She went on to condemn “economic insecurity” as a cause of war, both of which resulted in family breakdowns and emotional problems for children.

Chastising men for focusing too much on technological advancement and material wealth, Manning argued that women had a stronger understanding of what would lead to a good life for families: “freedom” and “opportunity for cultural development and spiritual growth.” These elements would help both the nuclear family and the Canadian nation. Moreover, women and men had to work together in order to eliminate “trade wars,” which engendered economic insecurity and led to genuine “bombing wars.”[75]

Manning did not advocate government intervention, or any sort of collective response, to war. Instead, she presented a reactionary response to warfare, suggesting that ideas of “freedom and cultural and spiritual liberty”[76] would save the day. Her solution to the problem of war and violence was a return to an older, rural, and Christian, vision of Canada, when the federal state and, consequently, in her view, militarism was weaker. Indeed, Social Credit women, as we have seen, were “localists” and based their reactionary viewpoint in part on a rejection of the Canadian federal government in Ottawa’s increasing power over provincial and local matters.[77] Western Canadian conservatives viewed Central Canada – the provinces of Ontario and Quebec – as a kind of “Sodom and Gomorrah” where big business, modernity, and globalism, as well as communism and social democracy, ruled. [78] It was in the West where true rural, genuine people, less influenced by modernity, lived. Local control has been a key aspect of the Canadian reactionary tradition, much like “states’ rights” were, and are, for certain generations of American conservatives.[79]

We can also see a stronger anti-imperialist and anti-communist tradition among grassroots SC women. In 1966, three female Socred partisans addressed an open letter to all party members, arguing against war and overseas intervention on the part of Canada. Lois McDearmid, Ivy Bourcier, and Verna Cole wrote that “the iron hand of socialism seems to have gripped the very heart of Alberta and the pulse of individual liberty and Christian principle grows even more faint.” The women expressed disillusionment with the direction that the Socred government in Alberta had taken, alleging that it was “no longer greatly concerned with the teachings of its founder, Major C.H. Douglas.” The three women argued against Communist governments in nations like Russia, China, Cuba, and Poland. Yet, they also expressed opposition to “bombing wars” overseas and interventionism. The women used maternalist and patriotic rhetoric, arguing that men had died during two world wars, and in Korea, and Vietnam for “one reason only . . . to ensure the freedom of choice as opposed to state compulsion and” in favor of “fundamental and god-bestowed rights.” The letter asserted that Canadians and Albertans must return to traditional Christian belief to forestall future wars, but also to hold back any increase in liberal and leftist thought in Canada. It was a return to Protestant Christianity and to individualistic values and freedom that would lead to the end of Communism, not going to war.[80] It is impossible to know whether or not this letter reached many members of the SC Party. Yet, its existence suggests that, even in 1966, many SC women held to a strong, and unrelenting traditionalist, anti-war and anti-imperialist, ideology. We might see these women as similar to anti-war and anti-Communists in the United States, such as the John Birch Society, and to other, more mainstream, anti-war conservatives such as Senator Robert Taft.[81]

Social Credit women in British Columbia also expressed anti-war views, reflecting the similar, if not identical, political orientations of the two provincial chapters. Lydia Arsens, in particular, endorsed an anti-war vision. Arsens even made common cause with left-wing women on one occasion, voting in favor of a 1955 resolution in the BC Legislature, submitted by the Communist-led BC Peace Council, which advocated nuclear disarmament.[82] Arsens connected her anti-war and anti-nuclear stance with her support for natural foods and her opposition to fluoride. She linked these ideas with support for a conservative libertarian ideology. No state, government, or group of individuals, she argued, had the right to force citizens to take medicine, or fight in wars, without consent. Forced wars were “totalitarian” and “contrary to the will of freedom-loving people.” Arsens spoke out against the possibility of a Third World War, stating that communism was “rapidly spreading because millions are still starving, naked, and dying of disease.”[83] The solution to this was not more war, but instead, a move to Douglasite economics and SC governments. She offered that, “our economy is suffering because our federal government has not yet had the intestinal fortitude to regain the control of credit and currency from the banking institutions so it can inculcate enough purchasing power to balance the demand and output.”

She proceeded to argue that, as an alternative to war, Social Credit supporters should “form a solid army of men, women and children such as was never known before.” This army would not seek to “kill or slaughter”; rather, it would seek to “feed the hungry, clothe the naked and restore life and joy into the hearts of men.” Later, Arsens continued with her libertarian statements, suggesting that soldiers had died in previous wars “for our right to live a free life. We have an inherited right to enjoy pure air, pure food and pure water, free from contamination of any kind. Those whose religious beliefs oppose medication of any kind also have a right to demand pure water.”[84] Arsens’s support for purity in food and water went alongside with her suspicion of all forms of technology, including nuclear power.

Arsens endorsed a reactionary perspective; her views were similar to those of other traditionalist SC women. She opposed war because it went against her religious morality. Arsens also expressed suspicion toward modern technologies and medicine. Opposition to war was one area that was unique to SC women. No SC male expressed opposition, or even skepticism, surrounding the possibility of war. SC women’s views looked backed to American “Old Right” thinkers during the 1930s and 1940s. Wars destroyed older kinds of rural communities, led to increased secularism and immigration, and fostered the breakdown of traditional values, and the end of the nuclear family. This sort of worldview was common among isolationist and traditionalist conservatives in the United States as well; thus, the views of the traditionalist right in Canada dovetailed with those of their American counterparts.[85] Support for laissez-faire economic policies also contributed to SC women’s views. Wars meant higher taxes, crackdowns on civil liberties, and increased state intervention.[86]

Conclusion: Social Credit Women’s Activism and Language

Social Credit women presented a discourse of reaction and traditionalism; their views were fundamentally anti-modern. A number of prominent SC women also expressed support for women’s advancement in some areas. Borrowing from first-wave, maternal feminism, SC supporters argued that white women should use their particular female virtues to clean up politics and save it from unscrupulous communists, socialists, and bankers who propagated modern values like secularism and welfare statism.  SC supporters argued for women’s increased participation outside of the home, especially in electoral politics. They praised prominent, white, traditionalist women in Britain and Canada whom they admired, most notably the “Famous Five” suffragettes. A significant minority of SC women also opposed war and violence using anti-modern and libertarian arguments.

SC women endorsed a return to traditional religion, with the home and family as the locus of society. They espoused a manichean worldview that posited a “clash of civilizations” between the forces of democracy and Christianity and “Godless materialism” and communism. Yet, most SC men were modernizers and favored war, the welfare state,[87] and the expansion of big business at the expense of traditionalism and rural communities. Similarly, with the exception of the twenty-five dollar dividend – which men in the party largely downplayed after William Aberhart’s death[88] – male party members did not endorse C.H. Douglas’s original Social Credit vision. In fact, as implied earlier, SC women were often more traditionalist, and vehemently reactionary, than their male counterparts. Women working outside of the home, juvenile delinquency, and the perceived threat of communism led Social Credit women to the conclusion that their world was falling apart.

In a manner similar to Oswald Spengler, Canadian reactionary women sought to forestall the end of their vision of Canadian, Christian civilization.[89] We can also see the, unknowing, influence of Eric Voegelin here, with his opposition to “gnostic” views, and those ideas that would attempt to meddle too much in human nature. SC women also subscribed to a localist view: they focused on the province and their local communities, seeing them as under threat by corporate businesses, the state, war, and imperialism. We might see SC women as similar to “Old Right” thinkers like John T. Flynn, Rose Wilder Lane, and Isabel Patterson.[90] The “Old Right,” localist ideology had a North American, and not simply an American, influence.

Scholars and writers have disputed the role that women have played in right-wing movements. Some have suggested that rightist women have less extreme views than right-wing men.[91] Others have argued that women have played key roles in reactionary movements and have often expressed views that went beyond those of men in their movements.[92] Some have suggested that right-wing women were able to carve out space for female-led spheres of influence within traditionalist or rightist movements.[93] Here, we can see that Canadian rightist women’s views and actions often went further than men. We can also see that reactionary, traditionalist, anti-modern ideology was a key part of the Canadian rightist vision, one that is worth reclaiming for current and future Canadian conservatives, at least in its anti-war, anti-imperialist view. In the end, the Alberta Social Credit Party lost power in 1971 to the much more mainstream and pro-business Progressive Conservative Party, which focused on residents of new suburbs in the major cities of Calgary and Edmonton as its electoral base. This commenced a long period of decline for the party, which it never recovered from.[94] Thus, truly reactionary, localist views declined in the province of Alberta and with this decline came the downfall of reactionary SC women. Some reactionaries emerged as members of the federal Reform Party of Canada, established in 1987, but Reform represented a relatively muted response to federal government power, big business and social liberalism.[95]

If anything, SC women might have pushed for a stronger movement against war, imperialism, and big business, issues that affected all Albertans, and indeed all Canadians. A stronger focus on localism and anti-war issues might have helped to attract Albertans and Canadians who subscribed to a traditionalist mindset as party members. A larger traditionalist membership would, in turn, have allowed traditionalist, populist SC women to more effectively challenge, and perhaps defeat pro-war and pro-business modernizers in their party.

Socred women often suggested that their organization was not simply a political movement but, instead, an entire worldview: the Social Credit “Way of Life.” In spite of their faults, Social Credit women fought for a role for conservative, populist women inside and outside of the home. In short, they fought for a vision of “reactionary feminism.” Women had to come out of the home, with the intention of saving public society from modernity, globalism, war, and communism. Even today, we still struggle with the effects of modernity and capitalism on traditional communities. Thus, Social Credit women have much to say to present-day traditionalists and localists.



[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. Buoyed by the oil business, an ideology that rhetorically espouses freedom from government control, and, until recently, a largely homogenous and rural population, Alberta has consistently elected rightist governments. The Social Credit Party of Alberta held office 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), 321-325.

[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] To my knowledge, no one in the Social Credit Party ever read or referenced Voegelin. Yet, in their criticisms of utopian ideas like Communism, socialism, social democracy, and liberalism, we can see how SC women’s ideas dovetailed with Voegelin’s ideas of “gnostic movements.” SC women embraced limits, along with the concept of “place,” and this could be seen as going along with Voegelin’s notion of opposition to movements that attempted to change the human condition suddenly and quickly. See Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics, and Gnosticism (Chicago: Henry Regnery and Company, 1968), 83-114 passim.

[7] 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 concentrate on Alberta in this paper for the sake of brevity.

[8] This decade and a half represented the high point on women’s involvement in the party.

[9] 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 – women active in feminist politics during the period from roughly 1870-1930 – held right-wing and racialist views. These views included 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.

[10] “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, secularism, and increased international trade. See Christopher Dummitt, The Manly Modern: Masculinity in Postwar Canada (Vancouver: UBC 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.

[11] In this paper, when I refer to “Western” values and traditions, I mean support for the nuclear family, rural cultures, limited and localized government, and support for Protestantism as a primary mode of thought. With their positive view of rural life, open space, and local cultures, we can see SC women’s viewpoint as similar to that of Wendell Berry in many senses. See especially Berry’s The Work of Local Culture (Great Barrington, MA: E.F. Schumacher Society, 1988), 3-5.

[12] In this context, I define “racialism” as the idea that different races of people exist, and that biological inheritances partially, if not exclusively, explain the differences among the races. See, for example, Richard Lynn, Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis (Washington, DC: Washington Summit, 2006). To be clear, the author does not support the genetic, and implicitly racialist, approach of scholars like Lynn. Social Credit women implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, assumed the dominance of white, Western, Christian values over those of non-whites. Thus, SC women subscribed to what would now be seen as a “racist” viewpoint, if not a strictly “white nationalist” view, since Social Credit women never advocated separation between whites and non-whites. See Betty A. Dobratz and Stephanie L. Shanks-Meilem, “White Power, White Pride”: The White Separatist Movement in the United States (New York: Twayne, 1997); George Hawley, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2016), 196, 246

[13] This point is developed more fully in Palmer and Palmer, Alberta: A New History, 300-301 and passim. The Jewish population of Alberta, for example, numbered about 5000: fewer than 1 percent of the province’s entire populace during the 1940s and 1950s. In Canada as a whole, Jews only numbered 1.5 percent of the population, a figure that remains unchanged today. See Janine Stingel, Social Discredit: Anti-Semitism, Social Credit, and the Jewish Response (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000), 25.

[14] Olive Patricia Dickason and William Newbigging, A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[15] 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.

[16] See especially Julie V. Gottlieb, Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain’s Fascist Movement (London: I.B. Tauris, 2003); Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics (London: Routledge, 2014); Margaret Power, Right-Wing Women in Chile: Feminine Power and the Struggle against Allende, 1964-1973 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002); Brian T. Thorn, From Left to Right: Maternalism and Women’s Political Activism in Postwar Canada (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2016).

[17] It is hard to give an exact number of the women in the Social Credit Party. Like many political organizations, party membership in SC – male and female – fluctuated over time. From a peak membership of forty-one thousand in 1937 in Alberta, the numbers dropped to only eight thousand in 1944, only to rise again in subsequent decades. The grassroots membership stood at thirty thousand just prior to the 1971 provincial election in Alberta. See Finkel, The Social Credit Phenomenon in Alberta, 89, 196; Thorn, From Left to Right, 49.

[18] 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 centrist and grassroots-oriented, United Farm Women of Alberta organization. See Thorn, From Left to Right, 63-66.

[19] 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, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).

[20] Many texts could be cited here. See especially Allan Carlson, The New Agrarian Mind: The Movement Toward Decentralist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 2000); Ron Dart, The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes (Dewdney, BC: Synaxis Press, 1999); Hawley, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, 74-101; Bill Kauffman, Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006); Peter Kolozi, Conservatives Against Capitalism: From the Industrial Revolution to Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017); Philip Massolin, Canadian Intellectuals, the Tory Tradition, and the Challenge of Modernity, 1939-1970 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001); Jeff Taylor, Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013); Paul M. Weyrich and William Lind, The Next Conservatism (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2009). See also many essays at and

[21] Finkel, The Social Credit Phenomenon in Canada, introduction and passim.

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

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

[24] On the modern British Conservative Party see Louise Hadley and Elizabeth Ho, eds, Thatcher & After: Margaret Thatcher and Her Afterlife in Contemporary Culture (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). On the Republican Party, many texts could be cited. See, in particular, Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Donald T. Critchlow, The Conservative Ascendency: How the GOP Right Made Political History, revised ed. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2011).

[25] 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.

[26] For more on the distinctions among “populist” and “elitist” conservatives, see Thorn, From Left to Right; Taylor, Politics on a Human Scale.

[27] 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).

[28] 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.

[29] A member of the provincial legislature of, in this case, Alberta. An MLA is analogous to a state-level representative in the U.S.

[30] 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.

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

[32] 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, I found virtually no explicit statements of support for white racialism, although there were some statements that could be read as implicitly endorsing an all-white Alberta and Canada.

[33] See Howard Palmer, Patterns of Prejudice: Nativism in Alberta (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982); Stingel, Social Discredit, 194-202.

[34] Women’s Auxiliaries of the Alberta Social Credit League, “Social Credit 70,” pamphlet, 1970.

[35] Stingel, Social Discredit, 194-95.

[36] For instance, members of the secessionist League of the South have advocated for significant amounts of land to be transferred to Indian tribes, who would then become self-governing entities, in the event of Southern States succeeding from the Union. See Bill Kauffman, Bye Bye Miss American Empire: Neighbourhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and Their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America’s Political Map (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010), 209.

[37] Indeed, some scholars, of the left, centre and right, have argued that Burke’s anti-colonial arguments could be used in support of maintaining the traditions of Indigenous peoples in North America. See especially Anthony J. Hall, The American Empire and the Fourth World: The Bowl with One Spoon, vol. 1 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003), 36-37; David Schneiderman, “Edmund Burke, John Whyte and Themes in Canadian Constitutional Culture,” Queen’s Law Journal 31 (2006): 595.

[38] Women’s Auxiliaries of the Alberta Social Credit League, “Social Credit 70,” pamphlet, 1970.

[39] In addition to the works cited in fn 18, we might also see SC women as sympathetic with views expressed by Robert Nisbet. See especially Nisbet’s The Quest for Community, background ed. (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2010).

[40] Many texts could be cited on the “statist” focus of many Canadians. See especially James Struthers, The Limits of Affluence: Welfare in Ontario, 1920-1970 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994).

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

[42] 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.

[43] I draw on the categories for the conservative movement mentioned in Hawley, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, 178-206.

[44] Edmonton Journal, 21 February 1952.

[45] 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

[46] “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.

[47] Concern over the environment and nature was, and is, by no means simply a leftist concern. See Philip M. Coupland, Farming, Fascism, and Ecology Nature: A Life of Jorian Jenks (New York and London: Routledge, 2017); James G. Krueger, The Disfiguration of Nature: Why Caring for the Environment is Inherently Conservative (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2018).

[48] Carstairs and Elder, “Expertise, Health, and Popular Opinion,” 370-71.

[49] 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.

[50] See Hesketh, Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit, chapter 11.

[51] Cornelia Wood, speech published by the Canadian Social Crediter [hereafter CSC], June 8 1945, Cornelia Wood Fonds, Box 1, Item 227, PAA.

[52] Voegelin, Science, Politics, and Gnoticism, 83 and passim.

[53] Ethel Wilson, Canadian Broadcasting Association (CBC) Provincial Affairs Telecast, June 29 1966, SCWA Papers, Box 1, File 22, PAA.

[54] Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), xiii.

[55] For more on the divisions within Social Credit in Canada, see Thorn, From Left to Right, chapter two.

[56] Gaglardi’s views pre-figured those of writers such as Guillaume Faye. See Faye’s Archeofuturism: European Visions of the Post-Catastrophic Age (London: Arktos, 2010).

[57] Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), chapter four.

[58] Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2002); Kauffman, Look Homeward, America.

[59] Veronica Strong-Boag, The New Day Recalled: Lives of Girls and Women in English Canada, 1919-1939 (Markham, ON: Penguin Books, 1988), 192-94; Katie Pickles, Female Imperialism and National Identity: Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009).

[60] Report of the 8th Annual Provincial Convention of the SCWA, December 4, 1945, Calgary, SCWA Papers, Box 1, File 9, PAA. On Wilkinson see Gladys A. Willison, Stars in Time: A History of the Alberta Social Credit Women’s Auxiliaries (Edmonton: The Women’s Auxiliaries of the Alberta Social Credit League, 1973), 53-4.

[61] Mrs. J.L. Robinson, speech at the 18th Annual SCWA Convention, Calgary, November 29, 1955, SCWA Papers, Box 1, File 10, PAA.

[62] Patricia Romero, E. Sylvia Pankhurt: Portrait of a Radical (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).

[63] For more background on the conservative and racialist nature of early Canadian feminism, see such works as Bacchi, Liberation Deferred; Mariana Valverde, “ ‘When the Mother of the Race Is Free’: Race, Reproduction, and Sexuality in First-Wave Feminism,” in Gender Conflicts: New Essays in Women’s History, Franca Iacovetta and Karen Dubinsky, eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), 3-26.

[64] Busy Bee, Vol. 2, No. 3. December 1957.

[65] See William Shawcross, Queen Elizabeth: The Queen Mother: The Official Biography (New York: HarperCollins, 2010). Particularly as they aged, both King George VI and Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, increasingly subscribed to a rightist worldview.

[66] C.P. Champion, The Strange Demise of British Canada: The Liberals and Canadian Nationalism, 1964-68 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010); Jose Igartua, The Other Quiet Revolution: National Identities in English Canada, 1945-71 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007).

[67] The quotations are from resolution passed at the 17th Annual Convention of the SCWA, Edmonton, November 22, 1954, SCWA Papers, Box 1, File 10, PAA; Busy Bee, Vol. 2, No. 2, November 1957. See also Philip Buckner, “Canada and the End of Empire, 1939-1982,” in Canada and the British Empire, ed. Philip Buckner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 116; Don Nerbas, “Howard Robinson and the ‘British Method’: A Case Study of Britishness in Canada during the 1930s and 1940s,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 20:1 (2009): 140-1. Canada’s British tie was a key part of individual Canadians’ sense of ethnic identity for many decades even to this day, although it has faded somewhat in recent years. The present author’s mother, for instance, was born in London, UK in 1943 and came to Canada as an infant.

[68] For more on the views of SC men see Thorn, From Left to Right, chapter four.

[69] Seth Koven and Sonya Michel, eds., Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States (New York: Routledge, 1993); Joan Sangster, Girl Trouble: Female Delinquency in English Canada (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002).

[70] See Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism; Thorn, From Left to Right, chapters three and four for more background on conservative visions of maternalism.

[71] Mrs. C.R. Wood, “Canadians Must Awake,” pamphlet with speech by Cornelia Wood, June 8 1945, Cornelia Wood Fonds, Box 1, Item 227, PAA.

[72] Ibid.

[73] CSC, Vol. 7, No. 1, April 1955.

[74] Lukacs blamed Stalin and the Soviet Union for the start of the Cold War, but shifted blame to the United States for not de-escalating the Cold War after Stalin’s death in 1953. See John Lukacs, A New History of The Cold War (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 324-413.

[75] Busy Bee, Vol. 3, No. 1. January 1959.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Thus, Social Credit women would have been comfortable with many of the ideas expressed by Bill Kauffman in Look Homeward, America, chapters three and four.

[78] David Laycock, Populism and Democratic Thought on the Canadian Prairies, 1910-1945 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990); Thorn, From Left to Right, chapter two and passim.

[79] Many sources could be cited here, of course. See Hawley, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, 74-101; Paul V. Murphy, The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

[80] The quotations and ideas come from Lois McDearmid, Ivy Bourcier, and Verna Cole, “Open letter to the Members of the Social Credit Party,” April 16 1966, Cornelia Wood Fonds, Box 14, Item 301, PAA.

[81] See Gary Allen with Larry Abraham, None Dare Call it Conspiracy, revised ed. (orig. 1972; San Diego, CA: Dauphin Publications, 2013); Justus D. Doenecke, Not to the Swift: The Old Isolationists in the Cold War Era (Cranberry, NJ: Associated University Presses Inc., 1979).

[82] Lydia Arsens, “Fluoridation of Water,” pamphlet, taken from a speech by Arsens, February 22, 1955, Cornelia Wood Fonds, Box 14, Item 304, PAA.

[83] Ibid.

[84] CSC, Vol. 8, No. 2. February 1956.

[85] Andrew L. Johns, “Doves Among Hawks: Republican Opposition to the Vietnam War, 1964-1968,” Peace and Change: A Journal of Peace Research 31:4 (October 2006): 585-628.

[86] See, in particular, Wayne S. Cole, Roosevelt and the Isolationists, 1932-45 (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1983); Doenecke, Not to the Swift, 21-32; Bill Kauffman, Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble Tradition of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008); Ronald Radosh, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975); Justin Raimondo, Reclaiming the American Right: Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, 2nd Ed. (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2008), 173-220.

[87] The province of Alberta, for example, in spite of being right-wing in many ways, has many social programs for permanent residents of the province. See Palmer and Palmer, Alberta: A New History, 330-333.

[88] Although, in 1967, Ernest Manning proposed giving all adult citizens of Alberta a “dividend” to increase their purchasing power, an echo of Aberhart’s views. See Hesketh, Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit, 212-213.

[89] Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition, trans. Charles Francis Atkinson (orig. 1918; New York: Vintage Books, 2006). I found no evidence that any of the prominent SC woman actually read Spengler. Nonetheless, SC women’s views went along well with those of Spengler and other reactionary pessimists.

[90] For background, see Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 119-123, 125-129; Raimondo, Reclaiming the American Right, 109-128 and passim.

[91] Blee, Inside Organized Racism, introduction and passim.

[92] Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism; Thorn, From Left to Right.

[93] Gottlieb, Feminine Fascism.

[94] For background, see Finkel, The Social Credit Phenomenon in Alberta, 177-201.

[95] See Faron Ellis, The Limits of Participation: Members and Leaders in Canada’s Reform Party (Calgary, AB: University of Calgary Press, 2005); Trevor Harrison, Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995).


Also see “‘Traveling Bags for Their Trip To Russia’: Canadian Right-Women and International Relations during the Cold War: Expressing Dissident Views.

Brian ThornBrian Thorn

Brian Thorn

Brian Thorn teaches North American history and English at Nipissing University in Canada. He is interested in various modes of North American and European conservative thought, localism, populism, the "Old Right," and gender politics. He is the author of From Left to Right: Maternalism and Women's Political Activism in Postwar Canada (University of British Columbia Press, 2017).

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