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Human Rights in Canada: An Historical Perspective

Securing The Vote for Women

Winnipeg, Manitoba
January 28, 1916

It may be hard to believe, but it is true: Women have never had the right to vote in Canada.

The men in control of the country perceived women as a "weaker sex" needing protection and guidance. Some believed allowing women to vote would only unsettle them and lead to family discord.

Times are about to change. A generation of women - led by dynamos like Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Ada Powers, Josephine Dandurand and Elizabeth Smith Shortt -have lobbied, cajoled, heckled, and ridiculed politicians for denying them their rights. They collected petitions, held rallies, and fought to have their voices heard.

In 1916, one government finally listens. Manitoba amends its Election Act granting women the right to vote. Soon after WWI, white women over the age of 21 have the vote federally, and in all provinces except Prince Edward Island (1922) and Québec (1940).

Women in the suffrage movement tended to represent the upper classes of society. They argued that women were morally superior to men because of their roles as wives and mothers. Believeing themselves superior, these women viewed themselves as " housekeepers for the nation". Many suffragettes believed that gaining the vote would help women keep Canada committed to Protestant morality and family values. Does this take away from their achievements? Probably not. It's often problematic to impose 21st Century morality on early 20th Century society.

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An Act to amend the Manitoba Election Act, S.M. 1917 c. 28