Herstory: An Exhibition

"...not idiots nor imbeciles"

Image of the 'women's parliament'
The Women's Parliament
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...Gentlemen, we object to being classed with those who are denied the vote. We are not idiots, not imbeciles. We are women, and we are asking for equal franchise, not as a favour, but because it is just that we should have it.
--Zoe Haight (Herstory 1987), in a speech to the Saskatchewan legislature while presenting the 1916 suffrage petition.

Women in Canada began to lobby for the vote in the last century. However, early suffrage groups in eastern and central Canada were often given names that would not "alarm the men." Newfoundland women had the "Ladies Reading Room and Current Events Club" (Herstory 1996) while women in Toronto founded the "Toronto Women's Literary Club" in 1876.

On the prairies, many women's groups were involved. The WCTU and women's agricultural groups such as the Saskatchewan Women Grain Growers and the United Farm Women of Alberta were crucial to the success of the suffrage campaign. Farm women tended to be supported by their men, which may explain why the women in the three prairie provinces got the vote before women elsewhere in Canada. In British Columbia, Helena Gutteridge (Herstory 1986) of Vancouver organized groups for working women that met in the evening.

Everywhere, though, women had to put up with a lot of nonsense from some men and even some women. In 1909, seven prominent St John women arrived at the New Brunswick legislature to lobby for the partial suffrage bill under consideration. The lawmakers greeted their arrival with cries of "Help!" "Police!" "Sergeant-at-Arms!", followed by loud clanging of the division bells.

Women everywhere had to put up with male politicians who felt that women were not ready for the vote, that women did not want the vote, and so on. Manitoba premier Roblin's response to a 1914 suffrage delegation is typical of what supporters heard:

Does the franchise for women make the home better?...My wife is bitterly opposed to woman suffrage. I have respect for my wife; more than that, I love her; I am not ashamed to say so. Will anyone say that she would be better as a wife and mother because she could go and talk on the streets about local or dominion politics? I disagree. The mother that is worthy of the name and of the good affection of a good man has a hundredfold more influence in molding and shaping public opinion round her dinner table than she would have in the marketplace, hurling her eloquent phrases to the multitude. It is in the home that her influence is exercised and felt.

The women of Manitoba's Political Equality League responded with a brilliant satire--"The Women's Parliament" (Herstory 1977).

The real cause of the Woman's Suffrage Movement is that women have come to realize the fundamental truth at the bottom of all progress, that we all have an equal right to live and say how we will live.
(Lillian Beynon Thomas)

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