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Suffragettes

By the 1890s, Canadian women began seeking a more active role in society. The emergence of local, provincial, and national women's organizations like the Young Women's Christian Association and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union were influential agents of social change. Some women, like Nellie McClung, believed they had the ability to reform society, particularly by gaining the right to vote.

The Canadian prairies, the last frontier to be settled in North America, offered women freedoms they had never enjoyed before. The opportunity and excitement of creating a new life drew hundreds of thousands of people to the region from Europe, Eastern Canada, and the United States. Many found their new lives to be less socially limited but also quite difficult. Isolation, primitive housing, and extreme weather challenged their best efforts and determination to succeed. Women reform leaders in the Prairie provinces carried on the work begun in central Canada. In the West, women often worked alongside their husbands, establishing farms and homesteads. In addition, Western farm organizations, seeking increased recognition, empathized with women's efforts while the Grain Growers' Association of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta all endorsed women's suffrage as early as 1912. In the new West, women had found a greater degree of equality.

A number of male politicians led the opposition to women's suffrage. They condemned any sort of dialogue that encouraged women to leave home, believing women too pure and innocent for the rough and tumble ways of politics. A bill drafted in 1895 proposed to extend voting privileges to women, but the motion was largely greeted with ridicule and rejected. However, mounting demands for women's rights would only increase in the coming years due in large part to the work of a few dedicated women.

Nellie McClung's efforts were the main reason  Manitoba was the first province in Canada to grant women the right to vote. McClung was not only dedicated to women's suffrage but also a number of other causes: minimum wages for all workers, women's property rights, mother's pensions, and free medical care for schoolchildren.

McClung was a determined and tireless individual who held careers as a schoolteacher, homemaker, author, social activist, and politician. McClung believed violence was not necessary in delivering her message to members of parliament. She argued that if Manitoba were to be considered a true democracy, then women should have the right to vote. As for men who argued that politics were too corrupt for women, McClung responded by stating that politics need not be corrupt and that women could clean up any signs of corruption.

McClung served as the only woman on the Dominion War Council in 1918 and Canada's only female representative at the League of Nations in 1918. Few Canadians have more to show for a lifetime of service than Nellie McClung, and MacEwan celebrates McClung's resourcefulness and creativity when, upon being unable to convince the Manitoba legislature of the necessity of women's suffrage, she created a Mock Parliament theatrical performance. The Mock Parliament was a clever satire on Premier Rodmond Roblin's government. McClung, instead of employing violence like some of the women's rights movements in England, used humour to convey her message. She captured the imagination of all Manitobans, and the following year Premier Roblin's government was defeated. McClung, ever humble, not only celebrated with her fellow women but also with the politicians who once scoffed at her efforts.

MacEwan's account of Western Canadian women's history does not necessarily focus on a timeline of events. Rather, he chooses to concern readers with stories about unique individuals who greatly contributed to the development of Canada in one way or another. MacEwan's interpretation of women's place in the history of Canada is a collection of fabulous stories about people.


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