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

  • Biden to address the U.S. following Texas school shooting

    World News CTV News
    Washington - U.S. President Joe Biden prepared to address the nation Tuesday night shortly after returning to the White House from a five-day trip to Asia that was bookended by "horrific" mass tragedy. Biden was on Air Force One Tuesday afternoon when officials said a gunman acting alone killed at least 14 students and a teacher at a Texas elementary school. Source
  • Kemp, Perdue duel could end with Georgia's GOP primary

    World News CTV News
    Atlanta - Georgia's Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday could spell an end to the faceoff between Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, while Stacey Abrams was crowned the Democratic Party's nominee after running unopposed. Source
  • A look at some of the deadliest U.S. school shootings

    World News CTV News
    There have been dozens of shootings and other attacks in U.S. schools and colleges over the years, but until the massacre at Colorado's Columbine High School in 1999, the number of dead tended to be in the single digits. Source
  • Suspect under arrest in deadly New York City subway shooting

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK - A man suspected of abruptly pulling a gun and killing a stranger on a New York City subway train was arrested Tuesday, with police saying his motive for the unprovoked attack was “a big mystery. Source
  • Province bailing out Laurentian University with long-term loan

    Canada News CTV News
    The Ontario government is providing Laurentian University with a long-term loan as the school works to emerge from insolvency. Previously, Laurentian had to get what is known as a DIP loan from private institutions at a higher rate of interest. Source
  • Seoul: North Korea launches ballistic missile toward the sea

    World News CTV News
    A new billionaire has been minted nearly every day during the pandemic The COVID-19 pandemic has been good for the wallets of the wealthy. Source
  • Underwater rescue: Spanish divers free whale trapped in illegal fishing net

    World News CBC News
    In a gripping underwater rescue, Spanish divers have freed a 12-metre long humpback whale entangled in an illegal drift net off the Balearic island of Mallorca. One of the divers, 32-year-old marine biologist Gigi Torras, said last Friday's rescue and a little gesture of appreciation from the giant mammal were also a birthday present for her — the "best ever" in her words. Source
  • Mass shooting inquiry: Two senior Mounties exempted from cross-examination

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX - Two lawyers are criticizing a decision Tuesday to allow senior RCMP witnesses to avoid cross-examination before the inquiry investigating the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia. The lawyers, Tara Miller and Josh Bryson, represent relatives of some of the victims gunned down by a killer disguised as a Mountie and driving a replica RCMP cruiser on April 18-19, 2020. Source
  • 14 students and teacher killed in Texas elementary school shooting, governor says

    World News CBC News
    At least 15 people are dead after a shooting at a Texas elementary school, officials said Tuesday. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said 14 students and a teacher were killed in the shooting in Uvalde, about 135 kilometres west of San Antonio. Source
  • Shooter who caused Texas school lockdown in custody: police

    World News CTV News
    UVALDE, Texas - At least two hospitals were treating patients Tuesday after a shooter prompted a lockdown at a Texas elementary school. The nature and severity of those injuries wasn't immediately known, but the shooter was in custody shortly after 1 p.m, the Uvalde Police Department said. Source