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

  • LIVE UPDATES: Testimony to resume at Christopher Garnier's murder trial

    Canada News CTV News
    A Nova Scotia prosecutor focused yesterday on differences between what a man accused of murdering an off-duty police officer told police, and what he's told the jury. The Crown alleges Christopher Garnier punched and strangled 36-year-old constable Catherine Campbell after they met at a Halifax bar. Source
  • Winds, dry conditions expected to hamper efforts to tame California wildfire

    World News CBC News
    Powerful gusts of wind and dry conditions remain overriding concerns for Californian firefighters on Wednesday as they seek to tame a huge blaze that has destroyed hundreds of homes. The so-called Thomas Fire has travelled 43 kilometres since it began on Dec. Source
  • Palestinian president says no role for U.S. in peace process after Trump's Jerusalem declaration

    World News CBC News
    The Palestinian president said Wednesday his people won't accept any role for the United States in the Middle East peace process "from now on," following U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Source
  • 'Nobody saved us': Man describes childhood in abusive 'cult'

    World News CTV News
    SPINDALE, N.C. -- Jamey Anderson vividly recalls being a skinny kid trembling on the floor of a dank, windowless storage room, waiting in terror for the next adult to open the door. He was bruised and exhausted after being held down while a group of Word of Faith Fellowship congregants -- including his mother and future stepfather -- beat him with a wooden paddle, he said. Source
  • Palestinian president says no role for U.S. in peace process

    World News CTV News
    ISTANBUL -- The Palestinian president said Wednesday his people will not accept any role for the United States in the Mideast peace process "from now on," following President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Source
  • Tillerson says U.S. open to talks with North Korea 'without preconditions'

    World News CBC News
    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has softened the U.S. stance on possible talks with North Korea, calling it "unrealistic" to expect the nuclear-armed country to come to the table ready to give up a weapons of mass destruction program that it invested so much in developing. Source
  • Analysis: Trump bets on Moore and suffers stinging defeat

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Rarely has a sitting president rallied behind such a scandal-plagued candidate the way Donald Trump did with Alabama's Roy Moore. And rarely has that bet failed so spectacularly. Moore's defeat Tuesday in Alabama -- as stalwart a Republican state as they come -- left Trump unapologetic and his political allies shell-shocked. Source
  • 'Trump is not a kingmaker' as Doug Jones defeats Roy Moore in Alabama

    World News CBC News
    Doug Jones made an appeal for "decency" to prevail over partisanship. Deeply conservative Alabama apparently listened, overturning a quarter-century of voting habits to elect him on Tuesday night in a stunning rebuff of the president, of an anti-establishment insurgency and of sexual harassment in Congress, Alabama politicos said. Source
  • EU says 'no turning back' for Brexit commitments

    World News CTV News
    BRUSSELS - European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Wednesday there will be "no turning back" for Britain on commitments made during an initial divorce deal between the two, after his U.K. counterpart insisted it was merely a "statement of intent. Source
  • Equalization not working for Newfoundland and Labrador, says finance minister

    Canada News CBC News
    Newfoundland and Labrador's finance minister says the province should get a better equalization deal from the federal government. "When you see other provinces with a smaller geography and a much larger population and are receiving a large portion of equalization payments, I challenge anybody to explain to me how Newfoundland and Labrador is still considered a 'have' province," Tom Osborne told CBC's Here and Now on Tuesday evening. Source