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HelenLonging for a degree

Helen has lived in small prairie towns for most of her life. Helen is active in many different women's organizations and has also been a board member of the
Manitoba Human Rights Commission. Helen is 76 years old and has been married to Fred for 54 years. They have two sons and a daughter as well as 11 grandchildren and three great grand children. She knits and crochets for them all.

Helen says:

I grew up during the depression and had a stay-at-home mom who encouraged us every inch of the way to get as much education as we could. She was deprived of it in Scotland as her mother died when she was two and she was put out to service (housework) when she was 13. I wanted to go to University and I did get Grade 12 at St. John's High School but there was not enough money to go further and women's wages just did not suffice. Then marriage intervened and as my husband was transferred frequently, every time I felt I could get back to school, we moved.

I valued my work as we made moves. I taught our two boys and one girl in order for them to catch up with their school work. I considered my role as my job and I worked hard at it. My husband and I felt we were a team and as he worked long hours and worked shift work, I kept the family going. In that way, I felt my work was of value and valued. Not, however, by society. When Canada Pension was brought in to practice, I and my work were left out.

I know not all women valued their work. In the late 70's, I was enumerating for an election and I went to one house where a young woman answered the door. She gave me the information required for her spouse. When I started to ask for her own information she refused to give me any. She told me she didn't vote. I assured her that to do my job I had to get the information about her, whether or not she voted. When we got to Occupation, her answer was "I am a nothing." I pointed out to her that the child she was caring for and the work in her home made her SOMETHING.

I became very involved in the community and worked for improvements in legislation including birth control, loans for higher education and in later times, the Status of Women. I sought out like-minded women and we organized the Parkland Women's Society. We brought speakers into Dauphin and put on conferences to raise women's awareness. The first conference that we did, I thought we would be lucky to get 50-60 people out. We accommodated 120 women and turned the rest away. There was an obvious need. We had workshops on mental health (not mental illness), human rights, women's rights. One conference was titled "Violence against Women" which covered the whole spectrum of women's lives, physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.

At our meetings we brought in films, mostly NFB, and after showing them, we would have coffee and conversation. Our meetings have contained creative chaos, much laughter, magic and borderline hysteria.

Today there is a crisis centre in Parkland as well as an active women's group. The Friendship Centre is a busy place of support and learning used by the entire community. Young women today are more aware of their personhood which is fundamental to having a good quality of life. Hopefully, they will guard it well and actively. I must also add that our men have better lives too. One of my sons, the father of three girls, told me a few years back, "You can't expect women to be second-class citizens when they are 51/52% of the population."

In the meantime I still longed for a degree. When the University of Manitoba finally implemented a Distance Education degree program, I think I was first in line. My family encouraged me. They assisted me in every way possible and I must say I think they got as much pleasure out of my getting it as I did. In 2002, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Sociology.

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