Today marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in Manitoba! This centennial recognizes the first province in Canada to enfranchise women. Accordingly, we felt it was timely to discuss Manitoba’s road to suffrage and the influence that it had on other provinces.
In January 1914, Nellie McClung led a group of five representatives to meet with Premier Rodmond Roblin in Manitoba, who was the leader of the Conservative party at that time. McClung, who was arguing on behalf of the Manitoba Political Equality League, asked Premier Roblin to grant women in Manitoba the right to vote in provincial elections. However, this meeting turned unpleasant as Roblin claimed that, “the right to vote would breakup families and leave the raising of children to servants” . McClung responded to this statement by accusing Roblin of corruption, overspending and misappropriation of public funds. When the Liberal opposition party introduced a proposal later that year, which would grant women the right to vote, it was unsurprisingly defeated.
However, on May 12, 1915, Roblin was “driven from government in disgrace, [and] forced to resign in the face of allegations of kickbacks and corruption” . As a result, a general election was called that resulted in the Liberal party coming into power. Under the governance of the Liberal party, the women’s suffrage bill received unanimous approval and was passed on January 27, 1916 - this made Manitoba the very first province in Canada to grant women the right to vote. There was also one other important point to be made with regards to the passing of this bill. Frances Beynon, a women activist in Manitoba, “realized that the [draft bill] contained the vote but not the right to hold elected office... [and] threatened to reveal this inequity unless the bill was changed” . As a result, the bill was amended before its third reading to include the provision that women would also be eligible to hold elected office in Canada for the first time. As noted in our earlier posts, the success of women in Manitoba contributed to the effectiveness of the suffrage movement in other provinces. After women gained the right to vote in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan soon followed. However, women in Eastern Canada did not achieve success as quickly as in the Prairie provinces.
Women in the Prairie provinces worked hard to gain the support of many groups, including individuals in both towns and rural areas, the press and major producer associations. They also had the support of a few influential female leaders such as Nellie McClung, Francis Beynon and Emily Murphy, who were very well-known and respected across the provinces. Even though the women in the Prairie provinces “faced legislative opposition, they were not ridiculed and tormented as women in the Eastern provinces were on many occasions” . As well, Manitoba had progressive views on women’s rights and citizenship even prior to the suffrage movement. Francis Beynon commented on the women’s suffrage movement in Manitoba as follows:
“If there is any lesson in the success of the women of Manitoba for the less fortunate provinces in Canada, it is the necessity of getting a great body of people working for this reform. Every such movement will have its outstanding women, who by their force of character and platform ability will make a magnificent contribution to the cause, but back of this there must be a great body of quiet workers who act like a leaven upon the solid mass of public opinion… Their work is complementary and both are essential to the success of any great movement” .
Beynon’s words seemed to resonate with women in other provinces because soon after, the women’s suffrage movement spread across Canada. However, Prince Edward Island’s path to suffrage demonstrated that not all movements needed the “solid mass of public opinion” . In Prince Edward Island, the success of the suffrage movement not only came from populist support, but also from the involvement of women who had “education, political connections, and other social capital” . Moreover, women continue to make major social changes through the use of not only public support, but also through educational growth and developments. Thus, January 28, 1916, was a monumental moment in Canadian history as not only did women receive the right to vote for the first time, vital skills for effecting social change were developed through the suffrage movement in Manitoba.
 L Marsden, Canadian Women & the Struggle for Equality, (Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2012) at 160.
 Ibid at 161.
 Ibid at 162.