Welcome to the final installment of Nellie McClung week! This post is written by both Resa and I. As Resa explained in her wonderful post two days ago, Nellie was pivotal in Manitoba being the first Canadian province to grant women the right to vote. The momentous date was January 28, 1916. After this important day, Nellie continued to fight for women’s right to vote in other provinces.
When Were Women Granted the Right to Vote in Other Canadian Provinces?
On March 14, 1916, just two months after Manitoba amended its legislation, women in Saskatchewan gained the legal right to vote. One month later (April 19), Alberta followed suit. The following year, on April 5, 1917, British Columbia changed its laws about women’s right to vote. Just one week later, on April 12, Ontario did the same.
The next province in which women gained the right to vote was Nova Scotia; the momentous day was April 26, 1918. Almost exactly one year later (April 17, 1919), New Brunswick amended its election act to include women. One month passed (May 20) before Yukon made the same change to its electoral legislation.
It was on May 3, 1922, that women residing on Prince Edward Island gained the legal ability to vote. Newfoundland and Labrador followed soon after on April 3, 1925. Women in Quebec and the Northwest Territories had to wait longer; Quebec granted women the right to vote on April 25, 1940, and it was a decade later on June 12, 1951, that Northwest Territories became the last province to make the change.
Nellie in the Alberta Legislature
From the Famous Five monument in Ottawa. Nellie holds up declaration that “Women Are Persons.” Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
In 1921, Nellie was elected as an MLA for the Liberal Party, representing Edmonton in the Alberta provincial government.
During her time in the legislature, Nellie fought for many social reforms from children’s health & dental care, to safety in the workplace, old age pensions and more. Unwavering, she always stood and fought for women’s rights.
During her tenure as an MLA, one member attempted to have all married women dismissed from their jobs. It was to make way for unmarried, unemployed women.
Mrs. Parlby, (also, later part of the Famous Five) a member of the opposition, joined forces with Nellie to thwart this sexism.
“whether or not a woman was married was her own business and that no woman should be penalized because of marriage” (p.123 – The Stream Runs Fast by: Nellie McClung)
In 1926 Nellie ran for re-election, and lost.
The Influence of Nellie McClung & the Famous Five
Statue of the Famous Five. Photo via Adolf Galland, Flickr.
The “Famous Five,” as a group of five Canadian women became known, fought for political equality. The five women were Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards, and Louise McKinney.
Specifically, the Famous Five sought for women to be legally identified as “persons” in Section 24 of the British North America Act of 1867, which also governed Canada. The Famous Five filed a petition on August 27, 1927, to the Supreme Court to have the legislation wording changed so that it would include women; in the document when it referred to one person the word “he” was used. The Supreme Court decided that “persons” excluded women.
It was not until October 18, 1929 that the Privy Council of Great Britain, which was at the time the top court in Canada, overturned the decision. On this day, women achieved personhood under British Empire Law. This decision was a landmark one as it ensured that by law women could be appointed as judges and senators by law; ultimately, it acknowledged the right of women to hold public offices.
The Famous Five are still honored today by the non-profit Famous Five Foundation, which was established on October 18, 1996, which was 70 years after the famous decision. Their efforts changed life for women in Canada and Commonwealth countries, and their achievements are not to be forgotten.
Nellie McClung on Canadian Currency
Image © Resa McConaghy.
In 2011, the only women ever to be on a Canadian banknote, besides Queen Elizabeth II on the twenty-dollar bill, were erased and replaced with an icebreaker. Yes, a boat. From 2004 until 2011, the Ottawa Monument of the Famous Five, along with Casgrain, graced the back of the fifty-dollar bill. This lead to a very successful petition to put a woman on a Canadian monetary bill.
Now, one Canadian woman will be depicted on a banknote in 2018.
Nellie won the votes of the people. Yet, although the winner in the online voting to be the first woman on our Canadian currency, Nellie is not on The Bank of Canada’s shortlist. On November 8, 2016, as reported by The Globe & Mail and other news sources, Viola Desmond will grace the front of Canada’s ten-dollar bill.
The deed may be done, but some are yet fighting for Nellie to be on the banknote!
Consolation: In August, 1973, Nellie was honored on an 8 cent postage stamp. I have seen pictures of this stamp, but cannot find any image with the rights to use it.
What Nellie Means Personally to Us
Nellie holds a special place in my heart. She was a strong-willed woman who divided her time between her passions for writing and for advancing the rights of women. Interestingly, I have a similar division that is expressed by my two blogs (this blog for women and Poetic Parfait for writing).
I admire that Nellie McClung fought for women’s voices to be heard and shared her views unapologetically at many speaking engagements. She questioned the traditional female roles and did so with a combination of charm, sense of humor, and a gift for giving speeches well.
Of course, it is not to be overlooked that Nellie McClung is Canadian, like Resa and I. Also great is that there are two local libraries in the city where I live that are named after her. There is the Nellie McClung Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library and also Nellie McClung’s library at the University of Victoria. Before writing these posts with Resa, I did not understand the full significance of these literary tributes. Nellie passed away in Victoria, BC on September 1, 1951.
Painted Nellie. Photo © Resa McConaghy – Artist: Mandy van Leeuwen.
When I read Christy’s last words, “Nellie passed away in Victoria, BC on September 1, 1951”, I got teary eyed.
Before I was born, Nellie’s life’s work entitled me to a life wherein I can vote, speak freely and have rights. I can have a career or be a mother. I can have one or the other, or both.
Christy, I, all Canadian women and all Canadian people have rights that Nellie, among others, fought for.
Human rights are human rights. Nellie got it. She advocated for the rights of Japanese Canadians to vote prior to WWII, and advocated allowing Jewish children into Canada during WWII. Many of us have family, extended family and/or friends from the Jewish & Japanese communities. We and many others understand their degradation and humiliation.
Currently, many others live in places where women’s rights and human rights are sidelined, or worse, denied.
Nellie means that I can talk the talk and I can walk the walk, in a place where equality smells a lot like freedom.
Portrait of Nellie McClung, circa 1930. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Another way to keep Nellie’s spirit alive is by continuing to encourage female leadership and social justice, as well as promoting the arts.
You may also want to help us in fighting for Nellie to be put on a Canadian dollar bill, which we both think should happen soon. We still cannot believe she didn’t make the shortlist!
That being said, we will not be pessimistic but instead look to the future opportunities that Nellie McClung has helped to create for us.
Equality is a cause close to our hearts, and we thank you for taking the time here.
~Resa and Christy
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