Rural women enjoyed many of the benefits from modernization but increased urbanization created new complications. Author Elma Schemenauer has explored the new realities facing women like her mother in her fictional book, Consider the Sunflowers.
“My mother Agatha often talked about the differences between her life before and after marriage,” says Schemenauer. “She had worked in Saskatoon and Vancouver as a young woman during the Depression of the 1930s. A lot of single Mennonite women worked in cities during those years, sending money home to their parents and siblings on the farms.
“Agatha enjoyed city life but felt lonesome for her boyfriend back in their small Mennonite community near Elbow and Loreburn, about halfway between Saskatoon and Regina. Eventually she returned, marrying him in 1940. However, she always missed city life, while my father loved farming and the wide-open spaces of the Prairies.”
From the historical foundation of her mother’s life, Schemenauer imagines different, but entirely plausible outcomes for women like her mother. “My characters Tina and Frank live on a farm 12 miles east of Dayspring, Saskatchewan based on my parents’ farm 12 miles east of Elbow. Tina realizes that Frank will never move to a city, so she tries to convince him to move closer to Dayspring.” He refuses.
“I was a child in the 1940s so I personally witnessed the situation [of the times]. I saw it play out in the lives of my Mennonite mother, grandmothers, aunts, great aunts, and neighbours. I have vivid memories of those years and drew on those. In the Mennonite culture I grew up in, marriage is seen as a reflection of Christ, the bridegroom’s loving relationship with his bride, the Church. The family is defined as a man and a woman and their children, a communion of persons committed to sharing self-giving love. Mennonites, being human, don’t always live up to these high ideals. However, I believe that having such ideals helps them navigate difficulty in relationships.”
Where Schemenauer’s personal experiences ran out, she did what every good writer does.
“My personal impressions weren’t wide-ranging enough and they were those of a child, not an adult. So I supplemented them with information from other sources. For example, I interviewed Mennonite relatives and acquaintances. I visited Mennonite museums and communities. I read autobiographies, family histories, community histories, and general historical works. I enjoy such research and continue it to this day.”