Nellie McClung and Women’s Rights Activism

Nellie McClung.

Nellie McClung was one of the most influential women’s rights activist in Canada. Through her and other activists’ incessant campaigning, Canadian women took several steps towards becoming equal to men in the first decades of the 20th century. Among other things, with help from campaigners like Nellie McClung, women now obtained voting rights.

A women’s parliament

The women’s voting rights’ campaign, in which McClung took part, included calmly spreading information as well as loudly agitating for change. One way in which the suffragettes loudly agitated for change, in 1914, was by staging a play about a women’s parliament. Parliamentary debate in the play centered on whether women should give men the right to vote, and Nellie McClung, as the fictive premier, used all of the real-world arguments against women to keep her fictitious parliament from empowering men. From the pulpit, she exclaimed that men were too emotional to make good decisions and that giving men suffrage would upset relationship balances and lead to divorces. As expected, few people in the audience agreed with her argumentation about men, and they came to see it as absurd that the same arguments were used about women.

Rights to be a senator

The mock performance was a success with the public, and thanks to this and other suffragette efforts, Canadian women earned the right to vote in federal elections in 1918. Nevertheless, in the early 1920s, women were still not allowed to sit in the Canadian Senate. Hoping to change this, McClung and a few other women demanded that the government try the legality of excluding women, and the highest court, the Privy Council, took a look at the relevant law documents. Eventually, to the women’s satisfaction, the Privy Council found that the law allowed a broader interpretation than had previously been inferred, opening up for women to also become Canadian senators.