Church and women's groups, farmers' organizations, labour
unions , and savvy politicians eventually joined together to
work to achieve female suffrage—though each group had its
own reasons for doing so.
As early as 1891, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union
(WCTU) endorsed the enfranchisement of women—following an
impassioned speech by prominent American suffragette Dr.
Anna Howard Shaw. Although the movement's major goal was
prohibition, those involved in the WCTU also crusaded for a
variety of social and moral reforms. Official indifference
to their efforts increased support within the movement for
female suffrage, a response many women viewed as fuel for
achieving other reform goals.
Founded by Lady Aberdeen in 1893, the National Council of
Women of Canada (NCWC) was another organization that
channeled the reforming zeal of missionary societies into
the secular sphere. Although the NCWC did not officially
endorse female suffrage until 1910, many suffrage groups
became affiliated with it before then. As both Lady Aberdeen
and the NCWC were held in very high esteem, this declaration
gave the female suffrage movement a tremendous boost and an
increased sense of respectability.
One of the NCWC's founding groups was the Dominion
Women's Enfranchisement Association, founded in 1889 by Dr.
Emily Stowe. Dr. Stowe was an important suffrage activist
who emerged early in the movement. During her education at
New York Medical College for Women, she forged strong links
with the American suffrage movement, and met such prominent
American suffragists as Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
In 1876, after attending a meeting of the American Society
for the Advancement of Women, Dr. Stowe returned to Canada
inspired to establish a Canadian organization to teach
Canadian women what their rights were, to inform its members
and the public about issues relating to women and social
reform, and to work towards obtaining women's rights. In
November 1876, her inspiration resulted in an organization
christened the Toronto Women's Literary Club (TWLC) to
camouflage its suffrage intent. In 1883, deciding the time
was right to make their suffrage goals explicit, the club
dissolved and reconstituted itself as the Toronto Women's
Suffrage Association, headed by Mrs. Donald McEwan—Canada's
first organization dedicated primarily to achieving female
Farm and labour women, viewing suffrage organizations as
urban and middle-class, preferred to work for the vote from
within their own associations. Urban women could not be
expected to have genuine interest or understanding of the
problems faced by farmers and workers.
The organized farmer groups in the prairie provinces—the
Saskatchewan and Manitoba Grain Growers and the United
Farmers of Alberta—were early supporters of female suffrage
in Canada. The farmers, alarmed by the disproportionate
political influence exerted by the rapidly growing urban
centers, looked at female suffrage as an opportunity to
increase the strength of the farm vote. Thus, if rural women
had a political voice, they could help implement the
farmers' program. The Saskatchewan Grain Growers and the
United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) both passed resolutions in
favor of woman suffrage in 1913, while the Manitoba Grain
Growers' Association officially endorsed woman suffrage in
1911. Thus, farmers' organizations supported the suffrage
movement a few years before the organized suffrage campaign
really got underway in the West, and farmer associations
actively encouraged women to join up and form auxiliaries.
One such auxiliary was the United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA),
in which Irene Parlby was heavily involved.
Like the farmers, labour groups saw female suffrage as a
means to achieving their own political goals, and so threw
their support behind female enfranchisement. Suffragists,
for their part, courted the support of the labour movement,
because they recognized that they could win powerful new
allies and increase the suffrage movement's chances of
As women were forced to sell their labour cheaply, they
undercut the entire labour market, lowering wages in general. Labour organizations were interested in the issue of equal
wages, and believed that political recognition for women
would ultimately solve the problem.
On the other hand, Labourites, who promoted independent
labour politics based on the model of the British Labour
Party, felt that if working class women had the vote, labour
stood a better chance of electing working-class
representatives to represent workers concerns before
Although suffragists viewed labour as a means to
achieving their suffrage goals, they generally shared
the anti-labour sentiment of the middle class. In fact,
suffragists generally opposed strikes and unionization. For
these reasons they pushed for reforms to remedy some of the
more flagrant abuses of the industrial system, such as
arbitration for trade disputes and workman's compensation.
Refusing to grant the vote to women after
prohibitionists, Protestant churches, labour organizations,
and farmer's organizations had taken women's side could
only be seen as political suicide.
In Ontario, British Columbia, and Manitoba, the suffrage
movement had to combat hostile Conservative regimes, so
suffragists formed alliances with the Liberal parties of
their respective provinces. The Liberals recognized in the
suffrage movement a strong block of potential political
support and reaped the political rewards for doing so.
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