At the provincial level, public debate in Ontario began among members of the Toronto Women's Literary Club, a screen for suffrage activities created 1876 by Dr Emily Howard STOWE, Canada's first woman doctor. She and her daughter, Dr Augusta STOWE-GULLEN, spearheaded Ontario's suffrage campaign for 40 years. In 1883 the club became the Toronto Women's Suffrage Association, then in 1889 the Dominion Women's Enfranchisement Association - a national group in name only.
Despite numerous petitions and bills, Ontario's lawmakers, confident that they had public opinion behind them, repeatedly blocked changes. Suffrage groups were thus forced to undertake long years of public education. Valuable support came in the 1890s from the WOMAN'S CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE UNION, whose leaders saw votes for women as necessary in achieving PROHIBITION. In 1910, the respected and influential NATIONAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN spoke out for suffrage.
The WCTU was also active in Manitoba, where women's suffrage had first been proposed in 1870 by the Icelandic community. Among Manitoba's early leaders were Mrs M.J. Benedictssen, Mrs A.V. Thomas, Dr Amelia Yeomans and Mrs J.A. McClung. McClung's daughter-in-law, Nellie MCCLUNG, later became the Prairie movement's dominant figure. Between 1912 and 1915 there was a sharp, concerted campaign. Then on 28 January 1916 Manitoba women became the first in Canada to win the rights to vote and to hold provincial office. They were followed by Saskatchewan on March 14 and Alberta on April 19. BC approved women's suffrage on 5 April 1917, and Ontario suffragists, after many years of struggle, celebrated their hard-won victory on April 12.
Meanwhile, pressure was mounting on federal politicians. In the controversial WARTIME ELECTIONS ACT of 1917, the federal vote was extended to women in the armed forces, and to female relatives of military men. At the same time thousands of loyal citizens naturalized after 1902 were disenfranchised. It was not an honourable victory for Canadian women.
On 24 May 1918 all female citizens aged 21 and over became eligible to vote in federal elections, regardless of whether they had yet attained the provincial franchise. In July 1919 they gained the complementary right to stand for the House of Commons, although appointment to the Senate remained out of reach until after the PERSONS CASE of 1929. Throughout the preceding debates, the compelling argument in women's favour was their service, sacrifice and proven competence during WWI - just as Prairie women had gained provincial rights largely on their record in helping to settle and build the country. Although democratic right did have a place in the argument, service was the keynote.
The provincial franchise for Nova Scotia women came on 26 April 1918, after a lacklustre campaign. The cause was even less popular in New Brunswick, which approved women's suffrage on 17 April 1919. PEI, with practically no popular agitation, changed its franchise Act on 3 May 1922, and Newfoundland women gained the vote on 13 April 1925. In Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland, the right to stand for provincial office accompanied voting rights, but New Brunswick avoided that radical step until 9 March 1934. In Québec, under the courageous leadership of Thérèse CASGRAIN, the struggle continued until 25 April 1940, when women finally achieved the provincial counterpart to the federal vote they had been exercising for over 20 years.
Author SUSAN JACKEL
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
First Women in Provincial and Territorial Legislatures
See biographies and related resources about distinguished women political pioneers in Canada. Produced in recognition of Women's History Month. From Library and Archives Canada.
The Famous 5
This website focuses on the Famous 5 and their struggle to advance the legal rights of Canadian women. From the Alberta Online Encyclopedia.
Are Women Persons? The “Persons” Case
An online feature about the legal implications of the "Persons" Case. From Library and Archives Canada.
Changing Women, Changing History: Canadian Women
This Library and Archives Canada site features biographies of women activists who have made substantial contributions to the lives of all Canadian women. Also offers teaching guides and reference sources.
“Give us our due!” How Manitoba Women Won the Vote
A fascinating story about the women who fought for, and won, the right to vote in Manitoba, the first province in Canada to grant women the right to vote. From the Manitoba Historical Society.
Towards Equality for Women: A Chronology of Change and Achievements
A chronology of milestones in the quest for equality for women in Canada. From the website for the Canadian Federation of University Women.
Ten Thousand Roses
An excerpt from "Ten Thousand Roses," a book about the "making of a feminist revolution." From Penguin Group (Canada.)
Constance E. Hamilton
A brief profile of Constance E. Hamilton, Toronto's first woman councillor. From the City of Toronto website.
Canadian Women's Christian Temperance Union Fonds
An overview of the history of the Canadian Women's Christian Temperance Union, an organization that fought to expand the role of women in Canadian society. From the Archives of Ontario website.
Manitoba: Life and Times
A great information source about Manitoba's history and its many noteworthy pioneers. Features an extensive online archive of newspapers, first-hand accounts from letters, memoirs and diaries, drawings, maps and photos - all of which record the early development of the province. From the Manitoba Library Consortium and its partners.
The Famous 5 Foundation
The Famous 5 Foundation honours the Famous 5 and other Canadian women. See their biographies of the "Famous 5" as well as the latest news about programs and events.