SERIES: Women’s History Month – Nellie McClung

March is Women’s History Month, so I thought it would be the perfect chance to do a wee series on some awesome ladies!

 

I remember wonderful adverts on TV growing up in Toronto. Each showcased a proud moment in Canadian history for women, from the first woman licensed to practice medicine in the country, to key members of the suffrage movement  Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy of the Famous Five.  This was where I first heard about the Arcadienne singer Mary “La Boduc” Travers, and the real story of Laura Secord’s bravery against American soldiers during the war of 1812. I still get goosebumps rewatching these. Historica Canada did these commercials so well, and every time I watch them I feel such a connection with my country. I’m so damned proud not only to be a woman, but a Canadian woman. Because Canadian women are clearly awesome!

 

Canadian history classes at school didn’t exactly focus on the contributions of women. We had the fur traders and the settlers, the wars and the prime ministers. The Suffrage movement was barely mentioned, but I remember learning that Laura Secord wasn’t just the face of a chocolate shop, and about Nellie McClung and her “mock parliament”.

“Oh, no, man is made for something higher and better than voting…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. Men’s place is on the farm….if men were to get the vote, who knows what would happen? It’s hard enough to keep them home now!”

 

Nellie played a pretty huge part in getting the vote for women, and most importantly thought her life she campaigned for the rights of Aboriginal and Asian women. This was a pretty big deal, considering that it’s pretty widely known that there was an element of whitewashing amongst the Suffragette movement in the UK and in the US. If you weren’t white, you weren’t a part. During WWII, she worked to get the Canadian government to accept European immigrants, many of them refugees. The Manitoba Women’s Political Equality League formed in 1912 staged a Mock Parliament satirising the downfalls of allowing men the ballot, and in 1916, Manitoba would become the first Canadian province to win women the right to vote. The work Nellie and her fellow Suffragettes did in was what eventually allowed our recognition as “persons” in 1927.

 

I find this fascinating; as a girl born in China in the 80s, my parents chose Canada as our home because it was progressive. They knew I wouldn’t be allowed the same privileges as my male cousins if we’d stayed in Shanghai, and my dad loves to tell me that they took one look at my infant self and realised I wasn’t going to be a “good Chinese girl” who would do well under that strict regime. Maybe he saw a little bit of activism in me, or maybe he just realised that a kid that learned to talk so early and hasn’t shut up since would be in danger of speaking “out of turn”. Whatever their reasons, I’m SO grateful they did bring me to Canada, because I was raised with the belief that I am every bit as worthy of being heard as anyone else.

 

I’ve said this a thousand times, but I am proud to be a Canadian. A maple syrup eating, toque wearing, reasonably nice Canadian person who believes that the beaver is a proud and majestic animal.

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