Helen (Jury) Armstrong – Canadian Human Rights Activist

Women’s contribution to the country and history are often forgotten when it comes to teaching history to the next generation as school books concentrate on the stories of white males. This is why I decided to highlight this Canadian woman.

woman-1601651_1920Helen (Jury) Armstrong was born in 1875. She was the eldest daughter of ten children. Her father was a tailor in Toronto, Canada.

In 1897, Helen married George Armstrong who would also become involved politically. Helen was first a working-class housewife and mother of four, but soon got involved in labour and activism.

In 1914, she campaigned alongside her husband in his unsuccessful bid for a seat in the Manitoba legislature. He served for a 2 year term.

factory-1386217_1920Helen became an outspoken and passionate advocate for all working women. In 1917, she aided to rejuvenated the Women’s Labour League and transformed it into an active vehicle for union organisation, political advocacy, and the education of women workers on the subject of their own rights. As president of the Women’s Labour League, she had become the only female delegate to the otherwise all-male Trades and Labour Council. In those years, it was rare for a woman to be prominent in trade-union affairs, but Helen had strong belief in the gender equality and was adamant about empowering women to fight for themselves.

Helen also presided over the Retail Clerk’s Union. During the First World War, Helen advocated on behalf of immigrants and she took the anti-conscription banner in the debate over the controversial Military Service Act.

woman-615421_1920In 1918, Helen was still very active in activism as a leading figure in the successful 1918 campaign for minimum-wage legislation for women in Manitoba.

Helen and her husband were imprisoned many times for their involvement in activism, but Helen sill continued to be an outspoken advocate for the oppressed populations of Canada.

During the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, one of the largest worker uprisings in Canadian history, Helen rose to the front ranks of labour leadership fighting for the plight of working girls and women. She used every means to campaign against the wage inequality and unhealthy working conditions that women faced as a minority presence in the industrial work force. She walked the picket line. She made her case in the provincial legislature. She faced the police court magistrate. She was one of the few women in this movement, yet she is not nearly mentioned as the male leaders.

After the strike, she continued to advocate for working women and in November 1923 ran unsuccessfully for Winnipeg city council.

She opened great many doors for women in the workforce. Her name and her contribution should be part of school curriculum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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