This week Ms Suffragette has compiled biographies of the women of the Famous Five, whose legacy is inspirational and enduring. While perhaps best known for their accomplishment as a group, each woman has unique and exceptional achievements which extend well beyond obtaining women's suffrage. We will begin with Nellie L McClung, who was a suffragist, novelist, social reformer, and a teacher. She actively campaigned for mothers allowances, birth control, public health regulations, temperance, women’s divorce and property rights, and free medical care for school children.
Born in Ontario in 1873, Nellie McClung (nee Mooney) travelled west to rural Manitoba with her pioneering family in 1880. After graduating from the Winnipeg Normal School, she began teaching at age 16 in Manitou, Manitoba. The town received a new Minister in 1890, and his wife – a Mrs Annie McClung – greatly impressed Nellie. Mrs Annie McClung was a member of the first English-speaking organization to advocate for suffrage, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union [WCTU], and eventually became the provincial president for the WCTU. After the first day of meeting Mrs McClung, Nellie stated that “she is the only women I have even seen whom I should like to have for a mother-in-law”. Mrs McClung circulated a petition asking women to be allowed to vote, which was not well received by Nellie’s colleagues, but she signed nonetheless.
Nellie became closer with the McClung family when she boarded with them in 1892 in Manitou, and again in 1894 while attending the Winnipeg Collegiate Institute. She developed a relationship with the oldest son, Robert Wesley McClung (Wesley), who was a pharmacy student and eventually ran his own drugstore. She knew that she “would not need to lay aside [her] ambition if [she] married him”, since Mrs Annie McClung had raised her sons to view women as equals. Nellie and Wesley married in 1896, and they had five children – four born in Manitou, and the fifth in Winnipeg after the family moved in 1911.
Nellie joined the WCTU shortly after marrying Wesley, and in Nellie’s own words “the first time I felt the stirrings of ambition to be a public speaker was at the WCTU Convention in Manitou… I remember the effect it had on me. For the first time I knew I had the power of speech. I saw faces brighten; eyes glisten, and felt the atmosphere crackle with a new power. I saw what could be done with words, for I had the vision of a new world as I talked.” In Winnipeg, Nellie joined the Canadian Women’s Press Club (WPC) in which “great problems were discussed and the seed germ of the suffrage association was planted”. In 1912, Nellie and members of the WPC organized to form the Political Equality League, which subsequently became one of the most successful suffrage organizations in Canada.
During the provincial political campaigns in Manitoba in 1914, Nellie met with then-Premier Rodmond Roblin to ask to grant women the right to vote, but he refused. Nellie famously portrayed the conservative Premier Sir Rodmond Roblin in a satirical play – How the Vote was Won – using his own words from the previous day’s speeches in a giftedly witty manner. The conservatives refused women suffrage, so Nellie, among others, strongly campaigned for Liberal leadership. Her family moved to Alberta in 1914, prior to Manitoba’s election, but in 1915 the Liberals still succeeded in attaining an overwhelming majority of votes. In Alberta, Nellie became involved in the Edmonton Equal Franchise League and the WPC in Edmonton, to fight for women’s right to vote in Alberta. Nellie was elected to the Alberta Legislature in 1921, and held the position until she was defeated in 1926 after relocating to Calgary.
In 1929, among her most notorious accomplishments and as a member of the Famous Five, Nellie McClung petitioned the government to allow women to be members of the Senate, which led to the eventual declaration that women are considered “qualified persons” under the law and capable of sitting in the legislature. A recording of Nellie on the radio after the declaration evidences her eloquent speaking style, and dedication to the fight for equality.
In 1932, after moving to Victoria, Nellie continued to pursue equality and publicly declared her support for Japanese Canadian suffrage. Additionally, she lobbied to allow Jewish refugees to be admitted into Canada as they fled from the Nazi Germany regime. When she was appointed to the Board of Governors of the CBC in 1936, Nellie pushed for equal employment opportunities for women by the CBC.
Nellie wrote a trilogy of novels between 1908-1921, which featured a female heroine and targeted many issues including laws against women. Over her lifetime, she wrote a total of 17 books plus numerous articles for the news and magazines. Her reputation as a charismatic public speaker brought countless demands for platform appearances, both within Canada and into the United States. Not without controversy, Nellie campaigned for the enfranchisement of British and Canadian born women as opposed to all women, along with promoting eugenics and sterilization in Alberta. Yet, regardless of the now-contentious issues she supported, Nellie McClung’s legacy is among the most impressive in Canada.
Check back throughout the rest of the week for biographies of the other women of the Famous Five!
 http://www.ournellie.com/about-nellie/anecdotal-timeline/ [OurNellie]
Cleverdon, Catherine L & Ramsay Cook. The Woman Suffrage Movement in Canada, 2d ed (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974) at 58 [Cleverdon].
 Cleverdon, page 49
 McClung, Nellie. Clearing in the West: My Own Story, (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1935) at 269 [Clearing in the West]
 Clearing in the West, page 287
 Michelle Swann and Veronica Strong-Boag, “MOONEY, HELEN LETITIA (McCLUNG),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 18, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003 http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mooney_helen_letitia_18E.html [Biographi]
 Clearing in the West, page 354
 McClung, Nellie. The Stream Runs Fast: My Own Story, (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1945) at 58-61 [Stream Runs Fast]
 Stream Runs Fast, page 101
 Cleverdon, page 58-59
 Cleverdon, page 58