A century ago, a savvy campaign won Canadian women the right to vote

OTTAWA -- "We were young and vigorous and full of ambition. We would rewrite our history. We would copy no other country.

See Full Article

We would be ourselves, and proud of it." -- Nellie McClung.

It was the kind of savvy political strategy that politicians and lobbyists attempt to craft today: Stitch together a coalition of supporters from diverse communities, secure financial backers, mount a successful ad campaign, and earn some positive media coverage.

A group of women in Manitoba used it to win the right to vote a century ago.

The province was the first place in Canada to bring in women's suffrage, on Jan. 28, 1916. That triggered a wave of changes -- first in Western Canada and finally at the federal level in 1919. Indigenous people, it should be noted, did not get the vote federally until 1960.

The Manitoba movement was complex.

There were people who supported temperance, and the havoc they believed alcohol was wreaking on families. There were many journalists -- members of the Canadian Women's Press Club. Some unions supported women's suffrage, as did powerful farmers' groups.

Members of the Political Equality League, which included such notable members as Nellie McClung, Cora Hind and Lillian Beynon Thomas, as well as male supporters, helped recruit and rally those disparate voices with speeches, meetings and articles in the papers. They had paid organizers, and launched a major publicity blitz at the Winnipeg Stampede in 1913.

"I've always said that if (Beynon Thomas) had been running things today, she would have been running a strategy group that planned elections, because she was the plotter of the whole thing," said Linda McDowell, a retired Manitoba history teacher and expert on women's suffrage.

Businesswoman Martha Jane Hample, who would go on to become a member of the provincial legislature, helped bankroll the activities of the league. Outside Winnipeg, there were other hives of suffragist activity in Gimli and in the Roaring River district.

"Rural women in Manitoba by 1916 had telephones, good train service and good mail service, and people like Nellie McClung ... travelled to all these places; every little town had an auditorium or an opera house," said McDowell.

"Really, there was a big network, and they had a lot of support."

Social media and viral videos didn't exist, of course, but in 1914 the women created major buzz with a provocative play at the Walker Theatre in Winnipeg. Their mock Parliament parodied the intransigence of Manitoba Premier Rodmond Roblin, and imagined a parallel world where women were in power.

"Politics unsettles men and unsettled men means unsettled bills, broken furniture, broken vows and divorce.... Man's place is on the farm," McClung told the crowd, playing the role of Roblin.

Roblin's government fell the following year amid scandal, and the new Liberal government finally extended the vote to women in 1916.

Today, 29 per cent of the Manitoba legislature is composed of women lawmakers. Of the 14 MPs from the province, three are women.

"I thought in 100 years we'd be further along than we are, whether it's women in politics, women on boards, women running big companies," lamented Myrna Driedger, founder of the Nellie McClung Foundation and a Conservative member of the Manitoba legislature.

Still, Driedger said she's felt in recent years that there is a new energy among women in Canada, a conviction that they must have a seat at the decision-making table. Earlier this month, 600 women gathered in Winnipeg at a business networking event called "SHE Day."

"It seems that there is something happening," she said.

"We are taking more charge of ensuring that we can be leaders, and inspiring leaders, and inspiring the women who come after us."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • U.S. hits 70 per cent vaccination rate -- a month late, amid a surge

    World News CTV News
    The U.S. on Monday finally reached President Joe Biden's goal of getting at least one COVID-19 shot into 70 per cent of American adults -- a month late and amid a fierce surge by the delta variant that is swamping hospitals and leading to new mask rules and mandatory vaccinations around the country. Source
  • China flooding deaths triple to more than 300 after officials revise toll

    World News CBC News
    More than 300 people died in recent flooding in central China, authorities said Monday, three times the previously announced toll. The Henan provincial government said 302 people died and 50 remain missing. The vast majority of the victims were in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, where 292 died and 47 are missing. Source
  • Woman fatally mauled by bear in northern Alberta

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- Mounties say a female tree planter has been mauled to death by a bear in northern Alberta. RCMP told CTV News they received a call just after 3 p.m. on July 31 regarding an attack in a rural area northwest of Swan Hills. Source
  • Family of Black man fatally shot by police in Repentigny, Que., blame racism for his death

    Canada News CBC News
    The family of a Repentigny, Que., man who died after police shot him three times in the stomach on Sunday are blaming anti-Black racism in the city's police force for his death and are demanding justice. Marie-Mireille Bence, the mother of the victim, called police Sunday morning asking them to bring her son, Jean René Junior Olivier, 37, to the hospital because he was having a mental health issue. Source
  • Calgary woman felt 'humiliated' by Alberta sheriffs during a traffic stop

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY -- KumKum Roychowdhury says she was driving home to Calgary from her nephew's home in Airdrie, Atla., when she was pulled over by Alberta sheriffs and asked to take a breathalyzer. When she struggled to provide a proper sample after 17 attempts, she said that's when officers told her to remove part of her cultural outfit and open her clothing, an idea she was "insulted" by. Source
  • Calgary woman says she felt 'humiliated' by Alberta sheriffs during a traffic stop

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY -- KumKum Roychowdhury says she was driving home to Calgary from her nephew's home in Airdrie, Atla., when she was pulled over by Alberta sheriffs and asked to take a breathalyzer. When she struggled to provide a proper sample after 17 attempts, she said that's when officers told her to remove part of her cultural outfit and open her clothing, an idea she was "insulted" by. Source
  • Sixties Scoop survivors call for federal inquiry and apology

    Canada News CBC News
    WARNING: This story contains distressing details. Former Canadian senator Murray Sinclair and a group representing survivors of the Sixties Scoop are calling for a federal inquiry into the actions and policies of governments that led to thousands of Indigenous children being taken from their homes over four decades and placed with non-Indigenous families. Source
  • FBI used 'provocative photos' of female office staff to catch sexual predators, watchdog says

    World News CTV News
    FBI agents posted provocative photos of female coworkers online without formal authorization as part of sting operations against sex trafficking, according to a new watchdog report. The Justice Department's inspector general said in a report released Monday that some FBI agents "sometimes used photographs of young female support staff employees to pose as minor children or sex workers to entice sexual predators on various social media websites. Source
  • German court sets trial date for former Nazi guard, aged 100

    World News CTV News
    BERLIN -- A German court has set a trial date for a 100-year-old man who is charged with 3,518 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as a Nazi SS guard at a concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin during World War II. Source
  • Obama to host COVID-compliant 60th birthday party amid rising virus concerns, source says

    World News CTV News
    Former President Barack Obama will celebrate his 60th birthday this weekend with a party in Martha's Vineyard, with many COVID-19 safety protocols in place amid heightened concerns over the Delta variant, a source familiar with the planning told CNN. Source