OTD: Manitoba becomes first province to grant women voting rights

On today’s date in 1916, Manitoba’s newly installed Liberal government passed legislation making it the first province in Canada to grant women the right to vote and full political equality.

Manitoba was quickly followed by Saskatchewan and Alberta, and in 1917, Ontario and British Columbia followed suit. A few years later, the three Maritime provinces also gave women the right to vote. It was not until 1940 that the last province, Quebec, came onboard largely because of the spirited campaign by Thérèse Casgrain against the combination of Union Nationale leader Maurice Duplessis and the Roman Catholic Church.

Women rejected out of hand the arguments against their proposal—that it was “unladylike” and that women would merely duplicate the vote of their husbands. Canadian women across the country, such as British Columbia’s Helena Gutteridge, Manitoba’s Nellie McClung, and Ontario’s Dr. Augusta Stowe-Gullen, inspired by their more militant American and British sisters, campaigned tirelessly for the right to vote for women. They employed more moderate tactics such as plays, petitions, and mock parliaments.

It was also on this day, two years earlier in 1914, that Nellie McClung and her Political Equality League staged a mock Parliament in the Walker Theatre. The actors debated whether to give equality to men and present petitions to govern men’s clothing and to introduce labour-saving devices for men’s work.

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