Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Moses Coady publishes Masters of Their Own Destiny

During the middle of the nineteenth century the co-operative movement was emerging in Rochdale, England. Outside of England the movement appealed to those who saw the potential to export the principles, known as the Rochdale principles, into their community. In the early part of the twentieth century Jimmy Tompkins and Moses Coady used the Rochdale principles in the means to develop the co-operative movement into Canadian society. Their pioneering work and practice of adult education was viewed as the approach that would improve the economic and social lives of ordinary citizens.

In 1939 Moses Coady described the work that went into developing the co-operative movement in Masters Of Their Own Destiny. Coady describes in great detail the role of the St. Francis Xavier University’s (SFXU) extension department to inform and educate ordinary citizens of their co-operative rights and obligations as members of society. Coady highlights how popular education and community organizing are the means by which individuals can improve their lives.

Throughout the book, Coady describes the role of Adult Education as being both pragmatic and political. Specifically, he states that social and individual action is the means by which change can occur within society. In essence, individual action sets the conditions for future change. However, one must learn how to recognize the need for change. In other words, individuals must be skilled, must ask questions, and must be willing to act on pressing issues. Coady outlines how the Antigonish movement emerged through the collaborative work with SFXU in order to inform and transform a community.

 Default of The People and Willingness to Change

Coady believes that individuals have difficult lives because they allow themselves to be taken advantage of, which he refers to as “The Great Default of the People.” In fact, Coady devotes an entire chapter on this topic. He contends that the main reason people are disadvantaged is because they stand still and do not take responsibility for their lives and the lives of others. As a first step for change, Coady argues, individuals do not have to feel as though they cannot control the impact of external forces on their lives. Coady also states that the improvement of the self and others can occur through improvements to their economic standing. Specifically, how they get their income and where they purchase their goods.

According to Coady, individuals become involved once they are educated and informed. He states that Adult Education is the means to inform and can lead the charge for personal and social change, and thus he enthusiastically adhered to the  the commitment of the extension department of SFXU to initiate a community development program geared to educating the people. For Coady, any newly developed skills and knowledge should lead to a putting ideas into action.

How would this mass education take place? Coady focused his efforts at the level of the community. He stated that education needs to come from a source that is accessible both to the people and to the community. The role of SFXU extension department was to go out into the community and provide an education to those that were unable to attend the University programs for various reasons.

In order to get the information out there and to begin the process, Coady organized meetings of the people, both larger and smaller groups in order to expose individuals to ideas of personal responsibility and to create opportunities for participation. At these meetings the issues which are discussed should be directly relevant to the people present. Additionally, he would listen to the nature of the hesitancy by the people to get involved. Coady stated that the meetings was meant to change attitudes and thinking of those present. 

What is the overall goal of the initiatives described above? According to Coady, the main goal is the creation of co-operatives. In a co-operative framework individuals decide where they spend their money and how their goods and services are regarded.

Change Through Economics: Growth of the Co-operative Movements

Coady indicates that personal transformation and growth leads to social transformation. For him, the social well being will be achieved and sustained through the process of education and of the co-operative movement. He suggests that to locate a problem politically requires the ability to ask important questions and the willingness to participate in social change. He states that individuals who locate a problem in the social order can initiate social action. Furthermore, the problem often points to inequalities in the social system.

The level of individual action will lead to the necessary changes at the social sphere. The co-operative movement is an example of the power one has or could gain through knowledge and education. This power is shown in the various ways that the citizens of Antigonish made changes to their livelihoods through co-operative action. According to Coady, the fundamental way that social change occurs is through economic co-operatives. Any change that has direct relevance to people’s lives, eventually will lead to personal and social transformation.

Additionally, Coady distinguished between ideologies that at that time were commonly known as communism and capitalism, and suggested that the co-operative movement should combine the best elements of each.

At the same time, the impetus of the co-operative movement was to reclaim and reframe the power that the industrialists have taken from the people. Coady suggests that the industrialists have the power because the workers gave it to them. He states that it is through cooperation that “we could take back what we have and take advantage of the resources that have been the mechanism that has exploited the people.” Coady believed that the key to the successful creation of co-operatives was to implement a program of education, which includes a well-defined role for Adult Education.

Mastering Destiny: Present and Future Relevance

The main point of the book is that individuals can be empowered through their actions. Furthermore, individual actions will lead to change at both the individual and social levels. At this point the main question is whether the strategies outlined by Coady could work today. The issues which are highlighted in the book resonate with what is happening in the world today. However, does Coady’s approach offer the learner of today the means by which to deal with the ills of modern society?

The implementation of the neo-conservative agenda and of the growing trend toward increased globalization has left individuals feeling powerless. In essence, society is beginning to develop a profound sense of learned helplessness. What could be done to empower society and to fight against unseen forces of control? One option is to revisit Coady and other pioneers of the Adult Education and the co-operative movements. The ideas espoused in this book are not meant to be prescriptive. The strategies worked for the Antigonish movement because they were developed within the community. What this book offers to the reader is the sense that there are options and alternatives to merely being complacent to the global changes. While the issues at the present time are far more complex and a lot more is at stake, meaningful and powerful change emerges from the grassroots. In this book Coady has described how individuals and groups became masters of their own destiny, and there is no reason why we cannot take their spirit and gather together today to discuss issues and coordinate efforts and become the masters of our destiny.


Coady, M.M. (1939). Masters of their own destiny. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Prepared by Jorge Sousa (OISE/UT)

May 2001

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