Memorable Manitobans: Helen Jury “Ma” Armstrong (1875-1947)
Labour leader, radical.
Born at Toronto, Ontario in 1875, she came to Winnipeg in 1905 with her husband George Armstrong. Becoming leader of the local chapter of the Women’s Labour League, she was referred to as “business manager for the Women’s Unions” and later dubbed by eastern newspapers “the Wild Woman of the West.” In 1917 she intervened on behalf of “aliens” arrested for breach of contract, and mounted public platforms to demonstrate against conscription. In April 1918, she was elected president of the Hotel and Household Workers’ Union in Winnipeg.
Armstrong resigned as president of the Women’s Labour League in February 1919 when it supported the Minimum Wage Board. She was in charge of arrangements for the kitchen maintained by the Women’s League during the Winnipeg General Strike. Arrested several times during the strike for disorderly conduct, she was an ardent feminist as well as a socialist. In 1923, she ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Winnipeg City Council.
She and her husband had four children: Helen Armstrong (1899-?), Mary Armstrong (1901-?), Mabel Armstrong (1903-?), and Francis Alfred “Frank” Armstrong (1907-?). The family lived at 622 Spence Street, Winnipeg.
She died at Los Angeles, California on 18 April 1947 and was buried there. She was selected posthumously as a Manitoba Women Trailblazer.
Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.
“Mrs. George Armstrong,” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 April 1947, page 18.
“1919 strike leader dies in California,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 February 1956, page 21.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 15 April 2021