In Canada we are developing a pattern of life and I
know something about one block of that pattern . . . I
helped make it.
Even from a young age Nellie McClung was destined for
great things, what with her flair for impersonation, her
fascination with learning, and her independent nature.
Although she decided early on that she would like a career,
and feared that such a choice would require her to give up
any hope of marriage, she managed to combine a full family
life with a variety of career roles. She was known as a
teacher, temperance leader, suffragist, lecturer,
politician, historian, wife and mother. A life-long
activist, McClung was also a famous novelist who authored 15
books. An active journalist and founder of several clubs,
she was the Liberal member of the Alberta Legislature for
Edmonton from 1921 to 1926.
At age 16, McClung earned her teaching certificate, and
began her seven-year career as a teacher. This brought her
into contact with the McClung family, and her admiration for
Mrs. Annie E. McClung was a powerful force in shaping
Nellie's direction in life.
Mrs. McClung first introduced Nellie to the cause of
female suffrage when she canvassed, unsuccessfully, for
signatures for a suffrage petition. Nellie threw in her lot
with the minister's wife when she signed Mrs. McClung's
petition—and was the sole woman at the quilting bee to do
Shortly thereafter, Nellie attended her first political
meeting in the town of Manitou. She accompanied Mrs. Brown,
one of the district's most zealous suffragists to hear the
premier of Manitoba speak. Although he professed himself
glad to see the two women in the audience, since "Politics
concerned women as much as men....he did not think women
would ever need to actually partake in politics." His
dismissal of women's participation in politics was evident
to McClung when he silently read, and then refrained from
commenting on whether women should have access to the
franchise and homesteading rights.
The hostility and condescension McClung experienced at
the meeting caused her "enthusiasm for political life to
wane." She dismissed politics as, "a sordid, grubby
business," and, inspired by the novels of Charles Dickens,
began to dream of making her mark on the world by writing:
"And I wanted to write; to do for the people around me what
Dickens had done for his people. I wanted to be a voice for
the voiceless as he had been a defender of the weak, a
flaming fire that would consume the dross that encrusts
human souls, a spring of sweet water beating up through all
this bitter world to refresh and nourish souls that were
ready to faint...."
McClung's dream of writing came true. She was one of the
most popular writers of her day—one who addressed social
issues, and helped mould public opinion. Her disillusionment
with politics was not permanent, as her career as an
activist for temperance and suffrage attest—as does her
eventual election to the Alberta Legislature as the Liberal
member for Edmonton.