A century ago, a savvy campaign helped Canadian women win 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

  • World's oldest person dead at age 117

    World News CBC News
    The world's oldest person, a 117-year-old Japanese woman, has died. Nabi Tajima died of old age in a hospital Saturday evening in the town of Kikai in southern Japan, town official Susumu Yoshiyuki confirmed. She had been hospitalized since January. Source
  • Man wearing MAGA hat shouts racist slurs, pushes man onto subway tracks: NYC police

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Police are looking for a man wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat and shirt who pushed another man onto New York City subway tracks while shouting anti-Hispanic slurs at him. The assault happened Friday evening at Manhattan's Union Square subway station. Source
  • World's oldest person dies in Japan at age of 117

    World News CTV News
    TOKYO -- The world's oldest person, a 117-year-old Japanese woman, has died. Nabi Tajima died of old age in a hospital Saturday evening in the town of Kikai in southern Japan, town official Susumu Yoshiyuki confirmed. Source
  • Road to North Korea's denuclearization is littered with failure

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of -- Bill Clinton offered oil and reactors. George W. Bush mixed threats and aid. Barack Obama stopped trying after a rocket launch. While Seoul and Washington welcomed Pyongyang's declaration on Saturday to suspend further intercontinental ballistic missile tests and shut down its nuclear test site, the past is littered with failure. Source
  • Mike Harris Jr., son of former premier, will run for Tories in Ont. election

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford has appointed candidates in nearly a dozen ridings ahead of the upcoming provincial election, and they include the son of a former premier. With Ontarians set to go to the polls on June 7, the PCs released a statement Saturday announcing 11 appointees for ridings where a nomination meeting hadn't been scheduled. Source
  • 17 killed as 2 dragon boats capsize in southern China

    World News CTV News
    BEIJING -- Seventeen people were killed after two dragon boats capsized in southern China, authorities said Sunday. The boats were practicing Saturday for a race in the Taohua River in the city of Guilin when the accident happened, said the fire department of the city of Guilin, capital of Guangxi region. Source
  • Child's body found in Ontario river downstream from where 3-year-old went missing during February flood

    Canada News CBC News
    Ontario Provincial Police say a fisherman has found the body of a child in the Grand River, 13 kilometres downstream from where a three-year-old boy went missing during a flood in February. Hundreds spend Easter weekend searching for missing boy swept away in currentDozens take part in Easter Sunday search for Kaden Young Source
  • Vancouver park closed after damage from 4-20 event: board chairman

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Parks Board says it has to close a popular park because of damage caused during an annual cannabis celebration, while pot advocates are disputing the blame. Parks Board chairman Stuart Mackinnon says staff will need about 10 weeks to repair the damage to Sunset Beach Park, which hosted about 40,000 people at the 4-20 celebration on Friday. Source
  • Child's body found in Ont. river near site where 3-year-old was swept away

    Canada News CTV News
    Ontario Provincial Police say a fisherman has found the body of a child in the Grand River, 13 kilometres downstream from where a three-year-old boy went missing during a flood in February. Police say the fisherman found the body at around 3 p.m. Source
  • Ohio mother accidentally shoots and kills 2-year-old daughter, police say

    World News CTV News
    WICKLIFFE, Ohio -- Police say a 2-year-old girl has been accidentally shot and killed by her mother at a hotel outside of Cleveland. Wickliffe police in a statement say emergency crews were called to an Econo Lodge around 11 p.m. Source