Academic journal article Alberta History

A Hundred Years of Women Having the Vote-Well, Some Women

Academic journal article Alberta History

A Hundred Years of Women Having the Vote-Well, Some Women

Article excerpt

There is often an assumption that when women received the right to vote provincially in 1916, that it was the first time women in Alberta had ever voted. This certainly was not the case. As early as the late 1800s, some women were permitted to vote municipally under very strict conditions.

For example, the first woman to vote in Lethbridge was Mrs. W.R. Barker who voted in 1897. She was a recent widow and voted in municipal and school board elections as the head of household. In 1910, the municipal franchise in Alberta was extended to all widows and spinsters (but not to married women). (1) A woman's right to vote municipally often was dependent on how much property she owned. Married women were usually denied the vote as the property was often her husband's. In some cases, if a couple's combined property was more than twice the amount necessary to be able to vote, then both spouses could vote. In some communities, women (including married women) could vote municipally depending on their municipality and if they met the conditions that, usually related to property rights. At the municipal level, women who owned property could make the case of "no taxation without representation" as the reason they had the right to vote. Since they had to pay taxes on the property they owned, it was felt they should have the right to help determine who made the rules as to how the community was run.

In 1912, the Lethbridge Herald noted that the names of more than 300 women were included on the voting list for the upcoming municipal election. Considering the fact that there were only about 3,000 voters on the entire list, this was approximately 10 per cent of the eligible voters. The Herald noted, though, that it could not be certain how many would vote. Flaving the right to vote did not always translate into actually voting. (2)

Not until 1918 (after Alberta women won provincial suffrage) did women in all municipalities in Alberta have the right to vote at the municipal level. Commented the Lethbridge Herald,

   In all cities in Alberta everyone over
   twenty-one years and who has the
   requisite residence qualifications shall in
   the future have a right to vote in any
   municipal election except an election
   called to pass upon a money by-law
   according to a decision reached by the
   municipal law committee of the legislature
   Friday morning. (3)

Also in 1918, the right to vote was extended to renters, who, not being property-owners, had previously been banned. The extension of voting to women was also part of a larger fight for a more general extension of voting rights to more than just well-to-do white men.

In the West women first earned provincial suffrage rights in three provinces in 1916--Manitoba (January 28), Saskatchewan (March 14) and Alberta (April 19). Other provinces followed (for example British Columbia and Ontario in 1917) but not until 1940 did Quebec women earn provincial suffrage.

While the three prairie provinces passed women's suffrage laws in quick succession, getting the right to vote had been the product of years of concerted work by various groups and individuals. In the years after 1910, a real push for the franchise to be extended to women at both the provincial and federal levels was being made by women's groups across Canada. In this matter, Canada was part of a larger movement taking place in England and the United States. (4)

In 1913, some 150 Alberta women organized by the Edmonton Equal Franchise League arranged to meet with Arthur Sifton. The meeting was not a welcome one. Sifton informed the women that he would not extend franchise to women and teased them that he hoped they had finished up the dishes before coming down to the Legislature. (5)

That response did not deter the group. They were back the following year when, on 10 October 1914, a large group of both women and men arrived with a petition at the Legislature. …

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