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The Suffrage Movement


Canadian women began to organize to secure the right to vote in federal and provincial elections as early as the 1870s, but it was not until the turn of the century that the movement really began to gather force. In Alberta, as in the rest of Canada, the suffrage movement began to attract influential supporters and strong leaders. For instance, many women's organizations backed the movement, including the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Edmonton Women's Business Club. Also, the political party, the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) and its women's auxiliary (UFWA) supported the movement and helped in the signing of petitions. 

The suffrage movement's main leaders, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Emily Murphy.  Glenbow ArchivesMuir Edwards, Louise McKinney and  Emily Murphy, were some of the leaders of the prominent women's organization (Parlby was the president of the UFWA and McKinney was president of the WCTU) and were the major trailblazers for women in Alberta politics. They argued that granting women the right to vote was a matter of legal right and that political decision-making would be improved by the Irene Parlbyparticipation of women. Together they placed great pressure on the Liberal government and its premier A. L. Sifton.  One of the most dramatic events of the movement came on February 27, 1915 when the leaders organized an informal sit-in at the Legislature. When the MLAs arrived for the day's session, they found their seats filled by women, who read petitions and speeches calling for female enfranchisement. However, they were not immediately swayed and Sifton promised only that the government would take the matter into consideration.

The suffrage movement was tied early on to Prohibition; many of its leaders were also the main leaders of the Prohibition movement. Prohibition was identified as a women's cause and success in it was an indicator of women's influence on government and society. Therefore, when 61 per cent of the male electorate voted in a plebiscite in favour of Prohibition, women knew enfranchisement would soon follow. On April 16, 1916, Sifton's government passed a bill granting women's suffrage. Alberta then joined Manitoba and Saskatchewan as being the first provinces in Canada to allow women the right to vote in provincial elections. 
Featured Video
Featured Video

Great Grand Mother - © 1992 National Film Board of Canada

Women's organizations demanded a number of social reforms, including equal pay for equal work, prohibition and female suffrage. "Getting into politics was just housekeeping of a national scale."

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Women on the March - © 1992 National Film Board of Canada

The female suffrage movement embarrassed many politicians and amused the general public, as demonstrated by the silent film, "How They Got the Vote" by Ashley Miller

Watch Now!   Read Transcript

Sources and Suggested Readings:

  • Holt, Faye Reineberg.  "Women's Suffrage in Alberta."  Alberta History 1991 39(4): 25-31.

  • Alberta: Home, Home on the Plains -  an introduction to the early settlement history of the province. Learn about the various cultural groups that came to Canada and Alberta to make their homes and settle the 

  • Famous Five Website - this interactive website chronicles the lives and achievements of the Famous Five. Together, Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung achieved the recognition of women as persons under the British North America Act in 1929. They also worked in their own ways to improve women's lives in Alberta, across Canada and the world.



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