Stamp honours Nellie McClung and women’s right to vote

On March 8 Canada Post released a new stamp that pays tribute to the women who fought and won the right to vote 100 years ago in this country.

While the suffrage movement began to form nearly four decades earlier, the struggle to secure the vote did not significantly advance until the First World War, when women worked in hospitals, factories and offices, and often raised families alone, spurring demands for equality. In 1916, the women of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta became the first in Canada to win the right to cast provincial ballots. Designed by Winnipeg-based Tétro, the commemorative stamp is illustrated in the black and gold colours that symbolized the North American movement and incorporates the Venus symbol of femininity as the letters ‘O’ and ‘T’ in the word Vote. Vertical text in English and French at the right highlights the women’s suffrage theme and indicates the dates of its centennial.

The official first-day cover features one of the most important figures of the women’s suffrage movement, Nellie McClung. Her portrait is set over an image of the 1915 petition to the Government of Manitoba that helped secure full political rights for women in that province. At the bottom is a black and gold banner reading ‘Votes for Women,’ one of several artifacts currently on display in a women’s suffrage exhibit at Winnipeg’s Manitoba Museum.

According to Wikipedia, Nellie Letitia McClung, (née Helen Letitia Mooney) was born on Oct. 20, 1873 in Chatsworth, Ont., the youngest daughter of John Mooney, an Irish immigrant farmer and a Methodist, and his Scottish-born wife, Letitia McCurdy. Her father’s farm failed and the family moved to Manitoba in 1880. She only received six years of formal education and didn’t learn to read until she was 10.

McClung, her husband Wesley (a pharmacist) and their five children resided in Manitoba. In the 1914 and 1915 Manitoba provincial elections, she campaigned for the Liberal party on the issue of the vote for women. She helped organize the Women’s Political Equality League, a group devoted to women’s suffrage. An effective speaker with a sense of humour, she played a leading role in the successful Liberal campaign in 1914.

McClung played the Manitoban Premier, Sir Rodmond Roblin, in a mock Women’s Parliament in Winnipeg organized by the Canadian Women’s Press Club in 1914. Her performance showed the absurdity of the arguments of those opposed to giving the vote to women. McClung and her colleagues celebrated the defeat of the Roblin government in August 1915 but she moved to Edmonton, Alta., just before Manitoba became the first province in Canada to grant voting privileges to women on Jan. 28, 1916.

After Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan, women gained their voting rights in British Columbia and Ontario in 1917, Nova Scotia in 1918, New Brunswick and Yukon in 1919, Prince Edward Island in 1922, Newfoundland and Labrador (which officially became a Canadian province in 1949) in 1925, Quebec  in 1940 and the Northwest Territories in 1951. However, it wasn’t until 1960 when all Canadians, including Inuit and First Nations, were eligible to vote regardless of race or ethnicity.

In Edmonton, McClung continued her career as an orator, author, and reformer. In 1921, she was elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly as a Liberal. She then moved to Calgary in 1923 where she dedicated herself to her prolific writing career. McClung was the grandmother of outspoken Alberta judge John McClung.

In 1927, McClung and four other women: Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby, who together came to be known as “The Famous Five” (also called “The Valiant Five”), launched the “Persons Case,” contending that women could be “qualified persons” eligible to sit in the Senate. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that current law did not recognize them as such. However, the case was won upon appeal to the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council—the court of last resort for Canada at that time.

McClung died on Sept. 1, 1951. In 1954, McClung was named a Person of National Historic Significance by the government of Canada. A plaque commemorating that honour is located on the west side of Hwy 6, one-km south of Hwy 40, in Chatsworth. In addition, the “Persons Case” was recognized as a Historic Event in 1997. Among other honours, in October 2009, the Senate voted to name McClung and the rest of the Five Canada’s first “honorary senators.”

ABOUT THE STAMP

The stamp measures 26 mm x 32 mm and is available in a booklet of 10 stamps. The official first-day cover bears the cancellation site of Winnipeg, Man. Designed by Tétro, the stamp was printed by Lowe-Martin.  For more details, visit canadapost.ca/shop.  W

Please see related story by Richard Logan on page 14

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