Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy's Fight For Womens Rights

 This page was set up as part of a Global 
History project on womens rights. 


The purpose of this essay is to bring a greater awareness to the struggles women faced in obtaining the right to vote and being recognized as “persons” under the law. In preparing this project I used several areas to find information, the library, Internet and magazine articles. Finding information was relatively easy but the problems appeared in putting in together. When I thought I had some usable information, something was found to better explain what I was trying to write about. Yet, in general, preparing this project was relatively easy after I had the information and it was extremely informative. I learned many things about what women went through a hundred years ago that I knew before. What Rights Were Violated

Over the centuries, women have had fewer rights than men. Yet, over the past hundred and fifty years, this has changed. Until 1916, women were not allowed to vote or stand for office in Manitoba, later in other provinces. Along with other suffragists, Nellie McClung (see appendix A/B) helped bring about the changes that finally allowed women to vote. Even after women had been given the right to vote, they were still not considered to be “persons” under the law. At one point in time, the British North American Act of 1867 set out the powers and responsibilities of the federal government and the provinces. Under this act, women were not considered “persons”. After years of hard work, Emily Murphy (see appendix C)helped to change that. Why Those Rights Were Violated

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women were expected to assume a traditional role in the home as wife, mother and homemaker. The idea that “a woman's place was in the home” was deeply rooted in Victorian society. Here the family was considered the fundamental social unit, men were the providers, and women were responsible for holding the family together and instilling moral values in their children. The roles of women were so well defined that mothering was seen as the only natural role for women. The Victorian family was considered by most to be the bulk work of social stability and any time a woman became distracted with something, it was considered an attack on this essential institution.

	As a result of the ideas of society many women were opposed in 
their fight for rights by men, and women, for various reasons.  The 
women's largest obstacle in this fight for rights was Premier Rodmond 
Roblin (see appendix D).   Roblin believed that “ Homes will be ruined by 
votes for women” (pg 51, Nellie McClung and Womens Rights).  He also
believed  that the woman's place was in the home.  At one point, Nellie 
McClung, along with other women took Roblin to see the work conditions
that some women had to deal with.  After he had seen what was to be seen, 
McClung tried to convince him that only votes for women would end such 
abuses. To this he said “’nice women’ don’t want the vote.”(pg 50, Nellie
McClung and Womens Rights) To this she had an immediate answer:
                “By nice probably mean selfish 
                 women who have no more thought for the under 
                 privileged overworked woman than a pussycat 
                 in a window for the starving kitten in the 
                 street. Now in that sense I am not a nice 
                 woman for I do care.”(pg 50,Nellie McClung 
                 and Womens Rights)

The Premiers’ opposition made Nellie McClung even more determined.  
      Women were not only opposed by people like Roblin in their fight to 
get the vote.  Nellie McClung was a strong believer in prohibition and as 
a result, many beer and liquor companies portrayed suffragists as bitter, 
ugly, man-hating women.  If women were to win the vote, they stood to lose 
money if and when women win their attempts at prohibition. 
      Emily Murphy was opposed in her battle for much different reasons.  
Under the British North American Act of 1867 women were t to be considered
“persons”.  This federal act used the word “persons”  when it referred to
more than one person and “he”  when referring to only one person.  As a 
result, many men argued that only a man could be a person.  

The Beliefs of Nellie McClung and 
Emily Murphy

Nellie McClung was a strong believer in prohibition, which was to stop the sale of all beer, wine and liquor. At one point in time women decided to take action against the hardship and violence caused by widespread drunkeness. McClung believed that prohibition was the only way to end this drunkeness that was destroying so many lives and that laws to do so could not be passed until women were granted the vote. Once women had the vote, they could then vote for politicians who promised to bring in prohibition. As well, women could push for laws that would make Canada a better place to live. Emily Murphy also had her own battles to fight in a world controlled by men. In 1916, Emily Murphy became the first female magistrate (see appendix D). In one case, she handed down a rather stiff sentence. In defense, the lawyer brought up an old ruling dating back to 1876 “It stated, ‘women are not persons in matters of rights and privelege’” (pg 60, Nellie McClung and Womens Rights). If so, he argued, she could not be a judge. this was not the first time or the last time she was to hear a lawyer use this for a defense. She believed that women were in fact ‘persons’ under the law and deserved to be recognized and treated as one. What Was Done To Restore Justice

The fight to obtain the vote began long before Nellie McClung arrived and should be explained as to not overlook the work of other women. For years before McClung joined the women's movement all bills presented to Parliament in favor of votes for women were defeated. Yet these organizations were not so easily defeated and many continued to fight and were supported by both men and women. Canadian workers for women's right to vote felt the influence of suffrage movements in Britain and the United States. However unlike others, Canadian women used no violence in the fight to get the vote. This was probably a result of the Canadian leaders of the movement knowing that they had considerable support. They decided that persuasion was the best method to win their cause, they were in a struggle, not a fight. Though this all began in Ontario, they were not to lead the way to women's suffrage. The movement in the western provinces had gained the most strength. This was because one could see that women did their full share in opening up the land. Nellie McClung joined the women's movement in 1897 but at the time she considered raising her family to be most important. In 1910, her activities in the movement were limited to writing and lecture tours. As her children grew up, she found that she had more time for the movement. In the early years of the twentieth century there was a pause in the struggle for women's rights. Yet by 1910, interest reawakened. On January 27, 1914, a delegation led by Nellie McClung went to the Manitoba parliament and asked that women be given the vote in Manitoba’s provincial elections. Unfortunately, their request was denied. Though denied, it was not entirely a lost cause. McClung watched carefully as Premier Roblin led a pompous speech and refused the request. The next evening, there was a plat put on called “The Womens Parliament” where McClung played the premier. It was carried on exactly like the real parliament and at one point men asked for the vote. Mimicking Roblins speech to the women, McClung told the men: “The trouble is that if men start to vote, they will vote too much. Politics unsettle men and unsettled men means unsettled bills, broken furniture, broken vows, and divorce.........if men were to get the vote who knows what would happen- its hard enough to keep them home know. History is full of unhappy examples of men in public life- Nero, Herod, King John.........” (pg 158, Herstory” Women From Canada’s Past) Headlines later read “‘Sir Rodmond’s Weak Position Assailed by Winnipeg Women and His Old-Fashioned Theories Exploded........’ and ‘Women Score in Drama and Debate.....’”(pg 158, Herstory: Women From Canada’s Past). Nellie McClung had used humor as a weapon and as a result more and more people were convinced that women should get the vote. In 1915, political scandals forced Premier Roblin to resign. The suffragists rejoiced because the new Premier, T.C.Norris, had always promised to support votes for women. Yet, once in power, he changed his mind. He would not introduce a bill without popular support. The women were up for the challenge and collected a petition containing over 40,000 signatures, one ninety-four year old women even collected a second petition with 4,250 signatures herself. The premier could not ignore such a large petition. On January 27, 1916, the Bill for the Enfranchisement of Women was passed unanimously. Sounds of cheers and desk-thumping filled Parliament. Months later the same bill was passed in Saskatchewan and Alberta, later in other provinces. Years later, Emily Murphy began her fight for justice. Along with four other women, Nellie Mooney McClung, Irene Marryat Parbly, Louis Crummy McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy began the “persons case.” Emily Murphy began by pressing the federal government into making a national stand by pushing for a woman senator. She wanted to know if section 24 of the B.N.A. act included female persons. Section 23/24 deal with senators and the qualifications they must meet. “Section 23 of the Acts lists the qualifications of a senator- British citizenship, possession of $4,000 and a minimum age 30. Section 24 states, ‘The Governor General shall from time to time in the Queens name, summon qualified persons to senate.’” (pg 52, Emily Murphy) The five women requested a lawyer, the Hon. Newton Wesley Rowell to represent the province of Alberta in the case, which was to be taken to the Supreme Court. He agreed. Once in the Supreme Court, Rowell referred to the Interpretation Act of 1850. This act stated that words referring to the masculine gender should also be taken to refer to the gender unless other wise stated. The debate as to whether women were “persons” continued for five weeks. On April 24, 1928, the five judges in the supreme court announced their carefully considered opinion. They declared that women were not persons. Canadian women were stunned yet they did not denounce the Supreme Court so as to not spoil their chances of a final appeal. Instead, they went to the Judicial Committee of the Privy council in England, which was Canada’s highest court of appeal. Rowell went to England to present the case. Days turned to weeks then to months as members of the Privy Council were giving this matter great thought. On October 18, 1929, newspaper headlines read:“Canadian Women Win Right To Senate Seats, Long Fight Ends; Judicial Committee Reverses Finding of Canada's Supreme Court.” (pg 57, Emily Murphy) Women had been declared persons under the law. Both Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung used nonviolent means to restore justice. In both cases these two women were successful in obtaining rights for many Canadian women. Life Today

In Canada, women have the same voting rights, as well as the majority of other rights, as men. Women also enjoy the same marriage and property rights. Unfortunately, government reports show that women generally still earn considerably less then men in similar work. Canadian law prohibits both violence and sexual harassment against women. The government funds many preventative programs largely focusing on violence against women. In general, Canadian women have the same rights and privelges as Canadian men. Yet, in places like Saudi Arabia, women have very few political and social rights, and are not treated as equal members of society. This is a result of religious law and social customs. Women are restricted from driving in motor driven vehicles or bicycles and must enter city buses from separate rear entrances and sit in specially designated sections. If a women rides in a vehicle with a man who is neither a employee or a close male relative, she risks arrest by the Mutawwa’in. In public women are required to wear the abaya. The abaya is a black garment which covers the entire body, including the head and face. In Saudi Arabia, women have access to free, but segregated, education. Women constitute fifty-five percent of all university graduates but are excluded from studying such things as journalism and architecture. Though women make up over half of the university graduates, they make up only five percent of the work force. Women may not accept jobs in rural areas if it means they must live apart from their families and they can only have contact with male employees through telephones. Perhaps the worst injustice towards women is found in the “Islamic Advice” columns in the press. They sometimes recommend the “strict disciplining” of women. this is understood to encompass some degree of physical force as part of a proper marriage. Conclusion

So, in conclusion, I hope that this essay has brought a greater awareness to the struggles women faced a hundred years ago. I believe that my essay has shown that women deserve to have the same rights and privileges as men and that men and women should remain equal, forever.

Links to other sites on the Web

A explination of Nellie McClungs work
The Persons Case
The Womans Parliment
The U.S. State Depatment 1995 Annual report on Human Rights

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