Socialist feminist Edith Hancox championed the poor and the dispossessed, and disrupted Winnipeg’s political establishment in the wake of the Great War.
Hancox was born an impoverished and “illegitimate” child in England. As a child servant, Hancox received only a rudimentary formal education. She arrived in Winnipeg in 1904; six years later she opened small hardware store at 1574 Logan Ave., which she managed until defaulting on her mortgage on the eve of the Great Depression.
Hancox emerged as a significant political figure during the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. She was the only woman known to address the massive pro-strike congregations in Victoria Park. Following the strike, Hancox gave sermons in the Labour Church, formed the Weston-Brooklands branch of the Women’s Labour League, and ran unsuccessfully for school board trustee.
By 1921, Hancox was active in the One Big Union (OBU); it was through her lobbying that the OBU voted to grant full affiliation to women. That same year, Hancox organized unemployed women and men and became the secretary of the Winnipeg Central Council of the Unemployed (WCCU); she retained that role when the WCCU expanded into a provincial organization in 1922. Soon after Edith joined the Communist Workers’ Party and became the most prominent Anglo-Canadian woman in the Communist Party in Manitoba. In November 1922, Winnipeg hosted unemployment activists from across the country to form the first national anti-poverty organization in Canadian history. Hancox held the position of national secretary in this organization until it dissolved in 1928.
“The time for winking at the class struggle has passed, for we are now at the commencement of a life or death struggle for our existence. Things cannot get better under the present existing order of production, and it is up to us to prepare ourselves to get those things that we need to live.”
–Edith Hancox, 1922
Hancox ran unsuccessfully as a city councillor under the banner of the Workers’ Party in 1923. It was not her political candidacy but her activism amongst the poor that earned her notoriety. Throughout the 1920s, Hancox organized numerous parades, relief strikes and public protests. She led delegations to city hall, the provincial legislature and to visiting federal officials. She also published more than 40 letters and articles in the local press, the OBU Bulletin, and the Communist Worker.
“I trust women will soon educate themselves to produce a system … [in which they] shall not be regarded as a commodity by the other sex.”
–Edith Hancox, 1921
Hancox combined an analysis of gender and ethnic discrimination with a socialist critique of economic inequality. In her activism, public speaking, and journalism, Hancox championed working-class women, children, immigrants, and the unemployed. Although Hancox won many small concessions to improve the welfare of the city’s most impoverished, her aim to eradicate poverty has yet to be realized. Hancox is an inspiration to all Manitobans who continue to fight against gender, racial and class exploitation.
Edith Hancox died in anonymity in 1954.