Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Manitoba Women Get the Vote: A Centennial Celebration

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Manitoba Women Get the Vote: A Centennial Celebration

Article excerpt

Manitobans are immensely proud that their province holds the distinction of being the first to give some women the right to vote. In this article, the author recounts how early suffragists waged a successful campaign to extend the franchise and profiles famous suffragette Nellie McClung's role in the battle. She concludes by outlining some of the celebrations held in honour of the centenary in 2016 and by calling for everyone to ensure we continue the work of these pioneer women by striving for full equality for women in our democracy.

Hon. Myrna Driedger

On January 28, 1916, Manitoba was the first province to grant some women the right to vote. One hundred years later Manitoba celebrated this centennial in a grand way. I was very honoured to be part of these celebrations in 2016. It was extra special for me because 2016 was also the year I became only the fourth female Speaker of the Manitoba Legislature.

Getting the vote for women was a human rights milestone--a step towards women's equality. This enfranchisement of some Manitoba women can be regarded today as the first in a series of sweeping changes that ultimately allowed women to take their rightful place in our democratic society. Other provinces and the country soon followed in Manitoba's footsteps.

Not all women were given the right to vote in Manitoba in 1916. Indigenous women in Manitoba didn't receive the vote until 1958 and it wasn't until 1960 that indigenous women were able to vote in Canada. There were many others that had to wait years to get the vote.

Manitoba's suffrage movement was waged over 30 years, involving hundreds, perhaps thousands of Manitobans, mostly women. It began with the Women's Christian Temperance Union who believed that alcohol was destroying families and leaving women and children abused and penniless. Prior to that, in the early 1880's, a mother and daughter team of physicians (the Yeomans) brought to the attention of the temperance movement the horrible plight of poor women and those in jail. By 1910, the movement was in high gear.

The Earlier Efforts

Although we think mostly of Nellie McClung when we talk about women getting the vote, there were many groups who helped Manitoba to get there:

* Icelandic women's suffrage groups

* Women's Christian Temperance Union

* Manitoba Equal Franchise Association

* Canadian Women's Press Club

* Grain Growers Association

* Trades and Labour Council

* University Women's Club

* Young Women's Christian Association

* Many other men's and women's groups

The Suffrage Struggle

One of the groups that played a large role in the historic Manitoba decision was the Political Equality League of Manitoba. The League had a brief existence--from 1912 to early 1916. These early feminists believed that if women were able to vote it would solve many of society's ills. Although the League's most famous member was Nellie McClung, an earlier suffragist named Margaret Benedictsson made a significant contribution. An immigrant of Icelandic descent, Benedictsson led the fight in Manitoba's Icelandic community, the largest of its kind in Canada. In 1908, she founded the Icelandic Women's Suffrage Society.

Journalists dominated the core group of members of the Political Equality League. Although there were also many men involved, the majority of members were professional women with good education. They strictly forbade the use of any violent or unlawful acts, unlike what was occurring with the British and American suffragettes. They believed in maintaining society's laws and norms while at the same time trying to reform the status quo.

The League used satire, suffrage literature and speeches as its main weapons. The most famous example of their satirical tactics is the highly successful mock parliament, staged in 1914. In the play Nellie McClung played the role of the Premier of the day, Sir Rodmond Roblin, who is famous for saying nice women don't want the vote during a heated debate with McClung. …

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