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

  • 5 people pulled from waters off Tofino after catamaran sinks

    Canada News CBC News
    Five people have been rescued from the waters off Vargas Island, near Tofino, B.C. after the 28-foot catamaran they were on took on water and sank, says the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria. A distress call came in around 1:20 p.m. Source
  • Louis Vuitton takes on Ontario flea market over fake goods

    Canada News CBC News
    Luxury retailer Louis Vuitton is going after the landlord of a Toronto-area flea market over the alleged sale of knock-offs on its property. According to documents released on April 19 in Ontario Superior Court, the brand, known for its iconic purses and accessories, claims the owner of Dr. Source
  • Australian woman's arrest in Colombia aims light at foreign drug mules

    World News CTV News
    BOGOTA, Colombia -- The family of an Australian woman arrested in Colombia for trying to board a flight with almost 6 kilograms of cocaine is mounting a campaign to defend her against what they consider trumped-up charges. Source
  • Tornadoes, flooding kill at least 10 in parts of U.S. South, Midwest [Photos] [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    CANTON, Texas — Severe storms including tornadoes have swept through several small towns in East Texas, leaving a trail of overturned vehicles, mangled trees and damaged homes. Authorities believe at least four people were killed and dozens injured, though they were still assessing the damage from the storms that swept through an area about 50 miles (80 kilometres) east of Dallas on Saturday evening. Source
  • Promises on jobs, affordability at forefront of B.C. election campaign

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER - There's just over a week left in British Columbia's election campaign and the leaders are out on the hustings, trying to shore up votes. Liberal Leader Christy Clark is spending the day in the southeastern part of the province, where she's repeating her party's promise to protect jobs in resource industries like forestry and mining. Source
  • NDP campaign to save ERs hits snare after someone hijacks site

    Canada News CBC News
    A campaign to save Winnipeg ERs spearheaded by Manitoba New Democrats has left the party name off signs and social media pages. But it hit a snare Saturday after someone took over a campaign website, which now links to a story about a government scandal the NDP had while in power. Source
  • Federal court dismisses VIA Rail appeal on couples with mobility scooters travelling together

    Canada News CBC News
    The Federal Court has dismissed an appeal by VIA Rail of a decision that would make it possible for a Toronto couple who rely on wheelchairs and scooters to travel together on a single train. Source
  • 'The back of her leg was kind of missing'; Woman attacked by shark in California

    World News Toronto Sun
    CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A shark attacked a woman wading in the ocean with friends, tearing away part of her upper thigh off a popular Southern California beach, authorities and witnesses said Sunday. The attack occurred Saturday near San Onofre State Beach in northern San Diego County. Source
  • 'Devastated': Canadian Rangers refuse to give up on members lost in Alta. woods

    Canada News CTV News
    Three of the four hunters who went missing in the northern Alberta wilderness last weekend were members of the Fort Chipewyan Canadian Ranger Patrol. The Canadian Rangers have been identified as Walter Ladouceur, Andrew Ladouceur and Keith Marten, according to a statement from the Department of National Defence. Source
  • Sleeping Edmonton man wakes up to truck crashing through bedroom

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    A 25-year-old Edmonton man snoozing on what should have been a lazy weekend morning woke to the sound of twisting metal and concrete after a truck crashed through his bedroom wall. "I woke up panicked," said Kyle Roach, noting it happened around 8 a.m. Source