Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Early Ambitions

Nellie McClung is one of the most famous women in Canadian history. Her work toward getting the vote for women as well as her involvement with the Christian Women's Temperance Union suggest a woman with energy and drive. This was seen even when she was a young girl, growing up in southern Manitoba.

When she was fifteen years old, she took examinations to qualify her to be trained as a teacher. She went to Brandon for a number of days to write these exams. She was particularly worried about her algebra exam, and the possibility that it would be the reason she failed at her efforts. She expresses, in conversation with a friend from home who was also taking the test, a desire to have a different life than the one her parents had chosen.

I have something in me that will not let me rest. I want to give people release from their drab lives! This is not all of the life - this sowing and reaping, cooking and washing dishes. There is an inner life that can be deepened and widened ...
Wheat farmers are so intent on raising wheat they have no time to watch the sunset or raise flowers, plant trees, or do anything to make their homes beautiful. Beauty has a power to heal and comfort people and help them over the rough places in life.
(Clearing in the West, Nellie McClung, p. 234-235)
Her comments about providing release to people in their drab lives is, evidence of a bit of youthful hubris, but it this reveals Nellie's ambition, and is consistent with the energy and activity that she had in her adult life.

The reality was that farming at this time was very labour intensive. It still is. I was at my aunt and uncle's farm recently, and one of the things I discovered (to my great joy) is that not only does my aunt have day to day journals from her father and grandfather, but she, too, keeps a daily journal of the goings on at their place. She says she's been doing it only in the last ten years, since she doesn't remember as well as she used to. The journals are not really detailed, but they contain the happenings of their busy life. It is still a busy place, just as I always remember it. I am happy, though, to say that despite being a busy woman on the farm, she does indeed have a love for beauty, as her numerous flower gardens demonstrate. I think it is more possible today to work hard, enjoy beauty, and have a life of the mind.