The Millet Museum created the Millet's Pioneer Women exhibit to celebrate our own local women's contributions. As quoted by the CARMN project - "official" history all to frequently ignored the contribution of women. While the notion of the "hand that rocked the cradle ruling the world" is often citied, with respect to museum collections, the contextual material around the lives of girls and women is not generally collected. Domestic artifacts comprise a huge volume of community museum collections but the women who used them and gave them the patina of age are nowhere described or felt. Where women espouse "male" roles, as politicians and policy makers, they are captured in community histories. But all of those "nameless" and "faceless" women who are brides, mothers, sisters, aunts, teachers, nurses -- all of those ways in which women function in communities -- are frequently missing from the pages of history. The Exhibit begins to give these women their rightful play and makes them visible so that their stories can help us to understand the larger Canadian story.
Millet's Pioneer Women 2012
Ruth was born and raised on a small farm in West St. John, New Brunswick. The family home over looked the Bay of Fundy. Ruth and her sisters had to ski to school in the winters. Ruth attended school until grade 11 in New Brunswick. After completing high school, she attended St. John Vocation School where she studied office work.
Ruth held many types of jobs in her life. The most notable was when she joined the Air Force in 1952 as a Fighter Control Operator. Her job was to watch for planes on radar. She was stationed in Falconbridge, Ontario for two years, and one year in Lac St. Denny. In 1955, she left the Air Force and moved to Edmonton where she began work at the Canadian National Railway office.
In Edmonton, she met Lowell “Red” French and they were married on June 23, 1956. They lived in a small house on 96th street in Edmonton and welcomed two children, Grace and Neil. While living in Edmonton, Ruth opened her home as a foster mom. She fostered twelve babies at different times. Ruth and Red adopted one of the babies, Ronald, who became their third child.
In 1967, the French family moved to a farm west of Millet. This new home was a great adventure for the family, as luxury things like running water, was not yet at this new home. They learned to farm, and created a living, learning from the land outside of Millet.
As well as being a busy farm wife, Ruth was active in Millet organisations. She remained active in the CWL in Millet, and held the position of secretary for the Millet Legion for awhile. Ruth and Red were members of the Bigstone Community League, and enjoyed pancake suppers, farmers’ day picnics, ball tournaments and Christmas concerts. When Bigstone closed, they joined the Porto Bello Community.
Jean is a social butterfly. She is eager to learn and is involved in many different activities and organizations. She attributes her health and longevity to keeping busy. Jean has many talents; weaving, knitting, cooking and baking. She is never bored.
In 1943, Jean was fortunate to be one of the six women in Maymont to participate in a training course for weaving from Searle Grain. This is where Jean learned the fascinating art of weaving. She participated in the course, and has transferred the skills she learned to her future weaving projects. Jean utilized her skills until she and Alder moved to Edmonton. It wasn’t until they moved to Millet and she became involved with the Millet & District Arts & Craft Guild that she began weaving again with the Guild. The Guild has used her talent to create many beautiful creations.
Jean and Alder moved to various locations after they were married in 1948. Firstly, they lived in Edmonton for a couple of years; then settled east of Wetaskiwin on a farm for approximately 10 years. Then, they moved into Wetaskiwin, and finally settled in Millet in 1968. Jean and Alder were blessed with three children; Diane, Alan and Darlene. Jean is constantly involved with something.
Her contribution to the United Church is probably her most notable. Jean has been involved with the United Church for well over 50 years, and has been a member of both the Wetaskiwin and Millet United Church Women. Along with being a member of the Millet United Church for 42 years, her biggest contribution was organizing World Day of Prayer in Millet in 1970. She continues to organize this event each year, alternating with churches in Millet.
Whether it is the Royal Canadian Legion, Millet Seniors group, Millet Arts & Craft Guild, the Ag Society or the Harvest Fair organizations, Jean is active in the community with all the ongoing events. Also, she enjoys staying active with a friendly card game or a brisk walk along the paths of Millet. Jean is never far from the party
Flora Howes “was educated to be a lady,” as her son, Thomas Howes, wrote. She was the third child born to Dr. William and Elizabeth Hawley on February 26, 1860 in Watertown, New York. Her father was a Baptist and was fairly stern with Flora and her siblings. This discipline, though seemingly harsh, produced character which Flora later displayed in her uncomplaining, faithful roles as a wife, mother and pioneer woman of Western Canada.
Flora’s father wanted her to become a doctor, like him. She apprenticed under him learning the trade, specializing in homeopathic methods. When Flora was 18 years-old, her uncle arranged for her to teach at the Spruce Corner School in Massachusetts. While teaching at Spruce Corner School, Flora boarded in the home of Betsy Howes. This was where Flora first met, then 29 year-old Micajah. She didn’t teach at Spruce Corner School for very long, and returned home. However, Flora and Micajah’s connection was strong, and they had fallen in love.
The excitement of Micajah’s proposal was short lived since her father did not approve of their relationship and would not give his consent. Flora remained dutifully respectful to her parents and their wishes, until her 21st birthday, February 26, 1881, and married Micajah back in Spruce Corner in the home of his mother, Betsy Howes. Her Uncle Willard performed the ceremony.
Flora and Micajah welcomed their first son, Horace, on April 17, 1882; a ten pound baby! The family continued to grow welcoming Thomas, Mildred, Nathan, and Roger. They settled in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Micajah partnered with two of his brothers and bought a small grocery store. However, when the economy took a downward turn, they had to let some things go. At about this time, Micajah had developed severe arthritis. Under a doctor’s suggestion, Flora, Micajah and their family decided to immigrate to Canada to a drier climate.
The family immigrated to Millet by train in March, 1900. The family endured many hardships when they arrived in Millet but in 1901, the family moved into their new, fairly large, log house on the new homestead south west of Millet. Flora worked beside her husband to settle the land, and they called it Willow Farm. In 1902, Micajah helped head the effort for a new school district to allow separation from the West Liberty district. The meeting that voted to form the Hillside School district was held in Flora and Micajah’s home, and the school opened in the summer of 1903. Flora often welcomed teachers to Hillside, and would provide room and board. In April, 1907, Flora and Micajah welcomed their youngest daughter, Beth, to the family.
Flora’s medical background made her an essential addition to the Millet district. She would help out when residents were sick, or a new baby was being born. The family attended services in the early years at West Liberty School, when the United Church minister would come out from Millet. Flora would also teach Sunday school at West Liberty, and later at Hillside School. In the community of Millet, Flora organised a local, farm women’s club for the district ladies to get together and share stories. Flora and Micajah’s home was always open to their friends and family, often hosting many get-togethers and sharing their stories of Massachusetts.
On April 20th, 1907, Mary Elizabeth Howes was born on the family homestead southwest of Millet, Alberta. Beth, as she was more commonly known, was born to Micajah and Flora Howes. Beth had five older siblings: Horace, Thomas, Mildred, Nathan, and Roger. She enjoyed being out-doors and tending to the farm animals. After attending Hillside school through grade nine, she then took grades ten and eleven in Millet, where she worked for her room and board at the Leonard Grays’ and Mrs. Doane. Grade twelve was completed in Wetaskiwin where she again worked for her room and board; this time at the Chalmers’. After high school, Beth travelled to Camrose and attended Camrose Normal School where she earned a teaching certificate. Beth taught at Porto Bello, West of Millet, for 2 years from 1927-1929, and then for 3 years at Roseland, east of Wetaskiwin, from 1929-1932.
Beth began to develop a personal faith in Christ through the influence of her brother, Roger, when she was seventeen. She started directing her life towards Christian ministry and used her faith with her teaching of Sunday school at both Porto Bello and Roseland. Beth then trained for Christian ministry at Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills from 1932-1935.
Beth served for two summers in the Peace River country doing mission work where she met a young man named Walter McNaughton. In the spring of 1939, Beth and Walter became engaged and a little over a month later, they were married on June 7th, 1939. They had four children: Malcolm, 1940, Evangeline, 1943, Ruth, 1945, and David, 1946, all born in Sexsmith.
The new family of six lived in many different places over the years, and in 1975 to 1998, Beth and Walter retired in Millet, Alberta. With Millet being Beth’s home town, it was enjoyable for Beth to be near her brother, Thomas, and his wife, Ruth. In Millet, Beth was active in the Women’s Institute, and both she and Walter took part in the Millet Historical Society. They also helped establish the Evangelical Free Church in Millet, where Beth continued to teach Sunday school. She also led women’s Bible studies and prayed for, supported and corresponded with many missionaries.
Beth and Walter finished their retirement in Grande Prairie, close to where they had been married and had served for many years. In June of 2004, they celebrated their 65th Anniversary, and on April 11th, 2005, nine days after her 98th birthday, Beth passed away after a short illness. Walter died similarly nine months later on January 11th, 2006, less than three months before his 96th birthday.
Marjorie was born in January, 1902 at Battle River, Alberta. She was the only child of John and May West. The small family moved to Millet in 1903, and built a frame building with a store that had living quarters for the family upstairs.
“There was one rule in John’s store; a bag of candy was to be included in each box of groceries.” – Tales and Trails, p.191
Marjorie grew up in Millet and attended Millet School. She received her education, which included grade nine, in Millet school, and took her grade ten and eleven at Victoria High School in Edmonton. She attended Normal School in the spring of 1919 in Camrose. When she was teaching in 1920, a few of her students were Dick, Barney and Hong Yee when they first immigrated to Millet. At this time she also taught English as a Second Language to new immigrants to the Millet area.
Marjorie and Clarence Moen were married on April 5, 1926 in a “home wedding” by Rev. J.B. Howard. Both of their families were present for the wedding. The couple had 7 children; Joyce, Lois, Jack, Carol, Lawrence, Sandra, and Dianne. Marjorie and Clarence decided that farming was not for them. They moved into Millet, and worked for her father, in John West’s store. They worked there for 14 years before deciding to go into their own business. They opened “locker plants” in 1945, the newest method of preserving food by renting out cold storage lockers to people. However, as things evolved, people began buying their own freezers for cold storage at home.
Devastation hit when Clarence passed away suddenly with a “hemorrhage of the brain” in 1964, just before they were due to retire. Marjorie sold off the remnants of the store, and finally sold the building to the Legion. Growing up as an only child, Marjorie appreciated the company of people as she grew, and she wanted to be involved. As a member of the United Church in Millet, she taught Sunday School. Also, Marjorie and Clarence enjoyed the company of their friends and would get together for card parties. During retirement Marjorie enjoyed spending time with her family. She travelled, and included a trip to Europe, a cruise to Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Marjorie passed away in 1984. She was 82 years old.
Dorothy Yee was a quiet woman. She enjoyed watching Millet grow and change over time. Born and raised 3 miles west of Millet in 1929, she was fortunate to see many changes within the community.
Dorothy’s kind nature allowed her to befriend everyone she came in contact with. She became known for her hospitality to the community. Dorothy and Hong’s restaurant was like a second home to the residents of Millet. The home-like atmosphere within the restaurant was due to Dorothy.
Dorothy and Hong had five children while running the Rainbow Grill. The entire family lived in the back of the restaurant, along with Hong’s father, “Charlie.” They welcomed Zane, Chell, Mayne, Charlotte, and Darold into their exciting life. They offered their children a unique experience growing up in a multicultural family, a restaurant, and a small town.
Dorothy’s contribution to Millet may have been viewed as minimal; however, she had a huge impact on everyone she came incontact with. Her kind demeanor was accepted by everyone within the community. Along with owning and running a restaurant, and raising a family, Dorothy made time for volunteer commitments within Millet. Dorothy volunteered for bingos for numerous clubs in Millet. She was a member of the Rebekah Lodge, Friends of the Library, Arts & Craft Guild, and she was a Charter President of the Lioness Club. Her acts of generosity were contagious and everyone appreciated everything she did for the community.