Social Credit Women of the Right, Part III:
Anti-War Activism & Conclusion

2,540 words

[1]Part 3 of 3. Part 1 here [2]. Part 2 here [3].

Social Credit Women’s Anti-War Activism

Perhaps surprisingly, given most SC men’s support for Cold War anti-communism,[1] [4] 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, as well as introducing non-white migrants into Alberta. In particular, SC women used “maternalist”[2] [5] 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, they should use their maternal natures to reform the public world of foreign policy and international relations. 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. Some SC women took this several steps further and argued that all war and violence was immoral and contrary to Christian conservative principles.

Prominent SC women expressed these kinds of views on peace and international issues. Cornelia Wood, as a traditionalist 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?”[3] [6]

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. 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. In the new, traditionalist order, most women would remain in the home to raise children.[4] [7] Wood argued that war and modernity destroyed older kinds of values, including female submission.

E. 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.”[5] [8] 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.

The maternalist 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. In fact, Muriel Manning rarely spoke out on public issues. She played a “behind the scenes” role and supported her husband in his political career. 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.”[6] [9]

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”[7] [10] 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, militarism was weaker. Indeed, Social Credit women were effectively “localists” and based their reactionary ideology in part on a rejection of the Canadian federal government in Ottawa’s power over provincial and local matters. Western Canadian conservatives viewed – and still view to some degree – Central Canada as a kind of “Sodom and Gomorrah” where big business, modernity, and globalism, as well as communism and social democracy ruled. [8] [11] It was in the West where true rural, white people, unaffected by modernity, lived.

Social Credit women in British Columbia also expressed anti-war views, reflecting the similar orientations of the two provincial chapters. Lydia Arsens, in particular, endorsed an anti-war viewpoint. 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.[9] [12] 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 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.”[10] [13] 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 expressed a libertarian perspective in 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.”[11] [14] Arsens’s support for purity in food and water went alongside her suspicion of all kinds of technology, including nuclear power.

Arsens endorsed a reactionary perspective; her views were indicative of those of other traditionalist SC women. She opposed war because it went against her religious morality. Arsens also expressed suspicions 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. Indeed, SC women’s opposition to war came from a reactionary place. 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.[12] [15] 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.[13] [16]

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 members 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, and the expansion of big business at the expense of traditionalism. Similarly, with the exception of the twenty-five dollar dividend – which men in the party downplayed after William Aberhart’s death in any case,[14] [17] male party members did not endorse true social credit – C.H. Douglas’s vision of the economy and society – policies. In fact, Social Credit 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.[15] [18]

The role that women have played in right-wing movements is one that writers have disputed. Some have suggested that women are less extreme in their views than right-wing men.[16] [19] 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.[17] [20] Some have even suggested that right-wing women were able to carve out space for female-led spheres of influence within traditionalist or fascist movements.[18] [21] 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 a Canadian rightist vision. If anything, the lack of attention paid to racial issues, and the downplaying of racialism and white nationalism within the Canadian Social Credit movement was an unfortunate, if understandable, trait. More attention to racial issues, and specific advocacy for a white homeland might have helped SC women to more effectively challenge, and perhaps defeat, 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 rightist 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, and communism. Even today, we still struggle with the effects of modernity. Thus, Social Credit women have much to say to present-day traditionalists and reactionaries.


[1] [22] For more on the views of SC men see Thorn, From Left to Right, chapter four.

[2] [23] 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).

[3] [24] Mrs. C.R. Wood, “Canadians Must Awake,” pamphlet with speech by Cornelia Wood, June 8, 1945, Cornelia Wood Fonds, Box 1, Item 227, PAA.

[4] [25] Ibid.

[5] [26] CSC, Vol. 7, No. 1, April 1955.

[6] [27] Busy Bee, Vol. 3, No. 1. January 1959.

[7] [28] Ibid.

[8] [29] Local control has been a key aspect of the Canadian reactionary tradition, much like “states’ rights” were, and are, for a certain generation of American conservatives. Thorn, From Left to Right, passim. See also 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).

[9] [30] Lydia Arsens, “Fluoridation of Water,” pamphlet, taken from a speech by Arsens, February 22, 1955, Cornelia Wood Fonds, Box 14, Item 304, PAA.

[10] [31] Ibid.

[11] [32] CSC, Vol. 8, No. 2. February 1956.

[12] [33] 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.

[13] [34] Justin Raimondo, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, 2nd ed. (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2008), 173-220.

[14] [35] Although, in 1967, Ernest Manning proposed giving all citizens of Alberta a “dividend” to increase their purchasing power, an echo of Aberhart’s views. See Hesketh, Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit, 212-13.

[15] [36] Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition (1918), trans. Charles Francis Atkinson (New York: Vintage Books, 2006). There is no evidence that any SC woman actually read Spengler. Nonetheless, SC women’s views went along well with those of Spengler and other reactionary pessimists.

[16] [37] Blee, Inside Organized Racism.

[17] [38] Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism; Thorn, From Left to Right.

[18] [39] Gottlieb, Feminine Fascism.