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First woman president of a Canadian political party
First woman president of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, Saskatchewan
First woman member of the CCF elected to the House of Commons
Saskatoon's first elected woman representative of the provincial legislature
Only woman member of the 20th Parliament
Born in Gladstone, Manitoba, on February 4, 1906.
Died in Penticton, British Columbia on August 15, 2005.
Political Affiliation: Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF)
Memberships: National CCF Council; Canadian Authors Association; NDP; United Church; Business and Professional Women's Club; Women's Institute; Zonta International.
"I submit to the House, that no one has ever objected to women working. The only thing they have ever objected to, is paying women for working."
Gladys Strum, M.P., CCF, Qu'Appelle, said in a Commons Debate, October 1945.
Gladys Strum never intended to have a political career. It was actually a combination of difficult circumstances, including the dismal years of the Depression, the drought years, the "dirty thirties" and her husband's six-year struggle with tuberculosis that encouraged Strum to become involved in politics. As a mother and farmer's wife, she understood the issues facing women and rural residents in Saskatchewan and focused much of her efforts on laws that would improve their social position. Mrs. Strum fought relentlessly for public housing projects, social health care, family allowances, equal pay for women, superior pension plans, and improved access to education in rural areas.
Gladys Strum was of Scottish and United Empire descent, daughter of Luther Powell Lamb and Sara Jane Loggins. She grew up in a religious atmosphere and spent most of her free time participating in church-related activities. As a child, together with her four sisters and two brothers, she also worked on the family farm. Gladys began to distinguish herself academically at a young age. Promoted twice to the grade above in country school, at age 16 she was hired to teach all eight grades in a rural one-room schoolhouse. She later qualified and enrolled in Normal School to improve her teaching qualifications and as a mature student earned two university degrees; a Bachelor of Education and a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Saskatchewan.
While teaching in Windhorst, Saskatchewan, Gladys met her future husband and Chairman of the School Board, Warner Strum. The couple married on November 16, 1929, in Vanguard, Saskatchewan. They had one daughter, Carol Elaine, and a happy marriage just short of sixty years. In the first years of their marriage, however, Warner suffered from tuberculosis and spent most of his time in a sanatorium. In the late 1930s, the Strums decided to move to New Zealand to take advantage of its warm climate and progressive health scheme. Gladys travelled alone to New Zealand and spent three months observing its socialist government. Although Gladys ultimately returned to Canada, she claimed that her visit to New Zealand gave her "new energy and an unquenchable enthusiasm to keep on crusading for a new Saskatchewan".
Strum's 26-year crusade in Saskatchewan politics did not pass without a struggle. Before becoming a Member of Parliament, Mrs. Strum was defeated in the 1938 and 1944 elections in Cannington, the provincial constituency where the Strums lived and farmed. Although Premier William Patterson defeated her both times, the second time was by a mere six votes. Unfortunately, there was no recount. Despite political disappointment for the second time in a row, Gladys' political career was far from completed. After a short time, she became the first woman president of the CCF party and the first woman president of a political party in Canada. With high-energy speeches and smart organization skills, she campaigned and prepared herself and the CCF party for the next federal election.
In 1945, she defeated the Minister of Defence, General A.G.L McNaughton and was elected CCF Member of Parliament for Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan. The 20th parliament consisted of 244 men and one woman: Gladys Strum. Gladys was the voice for women across the country and subsequently labelled "Mother" by the media. M.J. Coldwell, leader of the CCF party, publicly supported her efforts in Parliament. In the June 21, 1949, edition of the Leader-Post newspaper, he stated: "Mrs. Strum has taken her job seriously and presented Canadian problems as seen from the human viewpoint of mothers everywhere. Hers has been a good and useful influence on Members of Parliament." The only Member of Parliament to enroll in courses, Mrs. Strum used to catch the early bus, attended morning classes in political science, economy and law at Carleton College (now Carleton University) and be back in her office before being on duty for committee meetings. Gladys portrayed an admirable work ethic throughout her career and was especially motivated to make a difference as the sole female parliamentarian.
After four years in Parliament, Gladys was defeated in the 1949 election and returned to her teaching career in rural Saskatchewan. In 1952, again seeking a temperate climate to support Warner's health, the Strums relocated to British Columbia and Gladys returned to school in Victoria, where she obtained a British Columbia teaching certificate. In 1953, she accepted a federal nomination in the electoral district of Vancouver-Burrard. Although Gladys already had several years of experience in Saskatchewan politics, she was just starting out in Vancouver and was easily defeated by the dominant opposition.
The Strums returned to their farm in Windhorst, Saskatchewan and Gladys began teaching in Regina as a principal's assistant. She studied in Saskatoon, improved her credentials, and accepted an offer as principal of a six-room school in Uranium City, Saskatchewan. After the school term was finished, at age 55, she began her dual-degree program in Education and Arts at the University of Saskatchewan. She then taught in Fort McMurray, Alberta for one year in order to pay for her second year of university. In 1960, while still in school, she was nominated and elected Member of the Legislative Assembly representing Saskatoon. Her colleague in this two-member seat was Art Stone.
Gladys re-entered the political scene before Saskatchewan introduced their universal healthcare system, the first province in North America to do so. As a Member of the Legislative Assembly representing Saskatoon, Gladys describes voting for the bill that brought in Medicare a great privilege and the high point of her political career. The Saskatchewan Medical Care Act passed in the Regina legislature in 1962. However, most of the doctors disapproved and responded by striking. During the controversy, Gladys wrote open letters to Saskatchewan newspapers, describing her own hardships when her husband suffered from tuberculosis. In an attempt to identify with the public, she wrote: "I learned the hard way what it meant to have a baby, a mortgage and a sick husband with no provision for paying either grocery or doctor bills. This could not happen to you now, but it did happen to me, and it is the reason why I am in politics." Her conviction that a universal healthcare system was exactly what Saskatchewan needed was unwavering. After voting in its favour, she declared to her husband: "If I should die tonight I have not lived for nothing. Today we brought in the bill that will cover everybody who needs care." Mrs. Strum finished her political career when the Liberals took power in 1964.
The Strums returned to their farm and once again Gladys resumed teaching. Her degree in education and years of work experience provided an improved salary and she was able to retire with a good pension. The Strums travelled extensively and retired near their daughter's home in Penticton, B.C. Warner Strum passed away at the age of 84. Gladys, not wanting to be alone, moved to a nearby retirement home. There she relaxed and enjoyed visits with her extended family, including grandchildren and great grandchildren.
In celebration of Gladys' 98th birthday during the February 4, 2004, House of Commons debate, Parliament was reminded of Mrs. Strum's strong advocacy for women's equality. Her name was mentioned in hope of inspiring the 2004 government to take action on women's issues.
Cross, Austin F. "Parliamentary Personalities." Canadian Business. Vol. 19, no. 1, (January 1946), p. 8, 10+.
Pechey, Dorothy. "Mrs. Gladys Strum: Lone Woman M.P. in Dominion Parliament." Saturday Night. Vol. 60, no. 44, (July 7, 1945), p. 22-23.
"Saskatoon's First Woman MLA Returns to Love of Her Life." Star-Phoenix. (June 11, 1960), p. 8.
Strum, Gladys. Sorry, I'm Early. [Penticton, B.C.]: G. Strum, 1991.
Taylor, Georgina M. "Gladys Strum: Farm Woman, Teacher and Politician." Canadian Woman Studies. Vol. 7, no. 4, (Winter 1986), p. 89-93.