Saskatchewan News Index
Top News Stories

Conflict And Struggle

Women Receive The Vote From Scott Government
At Memorable St. Valentine's Day Assembly
Petitions And Addresses Rewarded Promptly And Decisively
“This Is So Sudden, Sir”
President Of Provincial Equal Franchise Board Voices Thanks Of Workers

Regina Morning Leader
February 15, 1916. p.2

Yesterday was a great day for the women of Saskatchewan. Before an audience of many women, drawn from all parts of the province and representing all the women of Saskatchewan, Hon. Walter Scott, in the Legislative Assembly hall at the Parliament Buildings, gave the women the franchise and placed every adult in this province on the same footing.

It was the end of one phase of the struggle of women to be recognized as the equal of man in the matter of the franchise. It marked the opening of bigger responsibilities, greater tasks in the struggle for the victory of the highest ideals in the home and in the state.

There was nothing remarkable in the scene that followed the acceptance by the premier of the appeal of the women. Loud applause, a waving of handkerchiefs, a short speech by the leader of the ladies coming straight from the heart, the singing of “They Are Jolly Good Fellows,” and another epoch-making event had passed into history.

It was the duty of Mr. Garry, Liberal member for Yorkton, to introduce the delegation. This he did in a very few words. He explained the object of the delegation: that they were representing the women of Saskatchewan, asking for the vote. He reminded the premier that the women of the province had appeared before him once before, asking for the vote, and the answer of the government at that time had spurred them on to greater efforts. Speaking for himself, he had not heard one argument which appeared to him to be sufficient to justify the government withholding the privilege.

Mrs. Lawton’s Address

Mrs. Lawton, the slender and gentle, but very alert woman who is at the head of the Provincial Equal Suffrage board, having addressed the premier and the house, said: “Our deputation waits upon you today to urge you to grant us equal franchise rights with men. When we last petitioned for the ballot, 10,000 names strong, we went away somewhat disappointed, but not cast down. We went to work again to continue our educative movement, and later when more petitioning was asked of us, we shouldered that, too. We have prepared a map which shows at a glance how much of the province has been canvassed.

“Mr. Premier, we have reason to be grateful to you for much of the recent legislation you have enacted. Already many have benefited by the Homestead Act and have felt the value of its protection. Your temperance legislation we have followed closely. Today we ask for the women of the province the chance to register their votes with the men’s.

“The Municipal vote has been used by the women in such manner that you need have no fear but they will use the wider privilege to good advantage. In my own town of Yorkton, 58 per cent. of the women eligible made use of their vote, compared with 40 per cent. of the men eligible. I had feared an unusual number of spoiled ballots, but the percentage was lighter than the previous year. Had it been the reverse, the women would have been charged with the errors.

“Having tried to convince you that the women know how to mark a ballot, I wish to assure you that the women are ready to use it. We have here representatives from many organizations. In sympathy with our cause, Mr. Premier, we cannot but notice how conditions are changing. Woman’s cause is progressing. Women have had a hard up-hill climb to regain their place beside the men. I believe the women have at heart the interests of the race.

“We were called upon to give up our men. When they shouldered their arms and marched away, we had to take up their duties. Women by thousands today are working in ammunition factories and shops. They are proving as efficient workers as the men and as conscientious. Mr. Premier, if the men want the best contribution from women, they must be just. Women have a right to a voice in the industrial conditions which they must endure as the men do. If we want to keep Canada Canadian, it must be done through the home. The women have the keenest interest there, and should have a voice in making the conditions for it.

“We have to congratulate Manitoba upon being the first province to grant equal suffrage. I feel safe in saying that we shall come second. We feel confident that our government is just as progressive as Manitoba’s, and that only the incident of their house sitting a few weeks before ours gave them the lead. As this is to be the last time I shall be on such a deputation, I may express my gratefulness for the courteous treatment received on both occasions from the premier and his associates. The women of Saskatchewan are grateful for the kindly treatment given by this legislature.”

Mrs. Haight, For the W.G.G.A.

Mrs. Haight, first vice-president of the Saskatchewan Equal Franchise board, and the representative on that board of the W.G.G.A., stated that she was representing the farm women, and for them asking for full citizenship. Saskatchewan women were lovers of home and country, and they had been ceaseless in their patriotic work. They now wanted a chance to vote on the temperance question, and if the voters lists could not be revised before it came up, it was asked that the new municipal lists be used. In educational matters too, the women wanted to co-operate. The petitions had been taken out when the temperature was very low. The result proved the women to be in earnest.

Alderman Perry, representing the labor men of Saskatchewan, was the next speaker. He said it was nothing new for ladies to send deputations to legislatures. In this case, the feeling was that the time had come when the women should have the right to vote. Other countries had granted that privilege, and in Saskatchewan it appeared to him that the women should have the vote in order to assist the men in the building up of the province along the right lines. Conditions which had arisen by reason of the war had been met by the women of Saskatchewan in no uncertain way. The war had shown that they were very capable in directions hitherto not thought of. “The women are looking today, sir, for the vote, and I feel they will not be disappointed at your hands.”

Mrs. Andrews Speaks For W. C. T. U.

Applause greeted Mrs. W. W. Andrews as she rose to speak for the W. C. T. U., that for forty years, as she stated, had been pledged to equal franchise. White Ribboners desired the ballot to strengthen their influence in all social and moral reform. Two years ago, along with the W. G. G. A., the W. C. T. U. had circulated a petition, since taken over by the Equal Franchise board. When presented eight months ago, it had been deemed insufficient. Much water had flowed under the bridges since then. Much additional weight had been added to the women’s cause.

At this point, Mrs. Andrews presented to the premier the lists of petitioners. Saskatoon, she said, had been the banner city, having thousands of names on their lists. The longest list for any one worker had been sent in by a Regina woman, who with an assistant, had brought in nearly 700 signatures. She was timid and retiring, but would not be too timid to vote.

Mrs. C. Robson’s Address

Mrs. Robson was introduced as the representative of the Local Council of Women. She said that it was not a time for argument about votes for women. The delegation had not come in a spirit of criticism or sex-antagonism. Even with women voting, the millennium was not expected. It wasn’t that. But the war had placed burdens on the women. Each day spelled service and sacrifice. The woman who stood alone at the end of the war surely was entitled to full citizenship. We have given our husbands and sons, said she, and they are in Flanders upholding the ideals of democracy, meaning the government by all the people. The women at home were asking for a place in this democracy.

Enemies of equal suffrage talked of the harm the foreign woman’s vote would do. The speaker considered anything a blessing that could arouse Canadian women to the needs of the foreign born woman who is here. Men had seen the need for Canadianizing the foreign-born voters. Besides any government that had worked out so effectively and so quietly all the difficulties connected with such drastic liquor legislation had no need to consider any little difficulties arising from the franchise change for which the women were asking.

Mrs. C. O. Davidson’s Address

Given in a bright, humorous vein, the address of Mrs. C. O. Davidson, president of the Regina Equal Franchise League, and formerly the president of the Prince Albert League evoked the most emphatic and prolonged applause of all the speeches of the morning. Not having been introduced as representative of any organization, the speaker announced that she would represent all the women of the province, as all wanted to vote. The premier and members of the House had not questioned woman’s right to vote when asked for the franchise. They had merely suggested that not enough women seemed interested in the matter or educated up to it to warrant any change. The time had become riper. We did not raise our boys to be soldiers, said Mrs. Davidson, but we went down to death’s door to bring them into the world, and then in these recent months we have seen them put on the King’s uniform and have smiled as bravely as we could to see them go. We have surely done what we could for our land. In a charmingly whimsical way the speaker referred to the premier’s having recommended that the suffragists go on with the carrying around of petitions. They had obeyed and given good weather and time enough, they could have secured the signatures of 75 per cent of the women in Saskatchewan. But, said she in naive manner, you don’t want petitions any more. The world is full of petitions and no one pays any attention to them. (Laughter.) It isn’t as if we were strangers, who were asking this of you. We are your mothers, your sisters and your wives, and we ask you to honor us as we deserve. (Prolonged applause.)

When Premier Scott rose to reply, he was greeted with enthusiastic applause. He expressed himself as being pleased with the appearance of the delegation, and added that had he known what the weather was going to be during January and February he would not have so lightly consented at Christmas to the continuation by the women of the task of obtaining signatures on their petitions.

“I have today,” said Mr. Scott, “the unique experience of being able to give a definite answer to a deputation. It is not often that I am in a position to do that after hearing a deputation, but in this particular instance I am able to give an answer at once. I am acquainted with the views of the legislature in this particular matter, and I am able to say that we have arrived at the decision that the time has come when the change for which you ask in your appeal should be made.”

At this point, the delegation broke into enthusiastic applause which lasted for some few seconds.

Premier Scott continued: “I know of the long battle which has been carried on. There has been an agitation for a considerable time past. It is not a simple matter, or a thing to be lightly undertaken, the thing to which I commit the legislature in this province this morning. Government is a serious business. Some lights have been thrown on government since the opening of the war.

“I have no doubt in the world that today or tomorrow there will be many women who will throw up their hands and think the fight is won. The time for sacrifice in this fight is now come. If you keep in mind the supreme importance of the step you ask and the responsibility you are now undertaking, I am inclined to think instead of any light-heartedness you will feel it is the time for serious consideration of these responsibilities.

“I happened to be in Saskatoon the night war was declared. I was amazed at the light-heartedness of the people. Bands played, torchlight processions were formed, and everyone rejoiced. The same thing happened in Regina, Winnipeg, and even London, the heart of the Empire. It amazed me. It astonished me that news of that kind should make people light-hearted. Think today, after weeks, months, over a year, and I think that possibly the only thing that would have caused the people to have been solemn would have been the news that Great Britain would not take her part in the fight for democracy.

“Something has been said about Manitoba and the part our sister-province has played in regard to votes for the women. Well, I have no single atom of jealousy. We in Saskatchewan have blazed the trail for the past ten years, and I am quite willing that Manitoba should once in a while bear a little part of the work.

“I shall not be surprised if the women of Saskatchewan have the opportunity of going to the polls before their sisters in Manitoba. I say this with a little hesitation, in view of the fact that Mr. Wiloughby, the leader of the Opposition, is here. Our general election comes before the end of 1917. We are likely to go to the polls before the people of Manitoba.

“You have been helping to build up the edifice we are creating in the province. It has been our privilege to live here and take part in this work. What I commit this government to do before the close of this session--change our franchise law to make it an equal right and privilege and responsibility for every adult in this province on the same terms--will have its effect in Canada and will likely have a more far-reaching effect than that.”

Mrs. Lawton’s Reply To Premier

“Mr. Premier, this is so sudden.”

This was the first expression of acceptance voiced by the president of the Provincial Equal Franchise League, after the ballot had been offered in so rare and eloquent a manner. It was received with enjoyment.

Mrs. Lawton’s waving of her own handkerchief was the signal for the rest to rise and flutter theirs. But there was nothing unsubdued about it. The premier’s speech had been too telling for that. And the White Ribboners had worked for forty years for that which was now given to them and it seemed too good to be true.

When Mrs. Lawton recovered her composure, she said: “I am not very well expressing our gratitude. We did not hope for a decisive answer today. Our quiet manner of receiving this news does not mean we are less jubilant than we ought to be. But we know the responsibility it carries. We must now ask that the women will study to do that which is right for our country and homes. Our consciences are clear. We have not made promises to any party. We have but worked to get this power to benefit our fellow creatures. We are grateful to you for granting our petition.”

Mrs. Haight rose to say “Thank you,” on behalf of the farm women. She would be addressing them at Saskatoon today and would tell them of their happy fortune.

E. H. Devline, Liberal member for Kinistino, started “For They Are Jolly Good Fellows,” the members of the legislature present singing the refrain with gusto. Not to be outdone, the ladies repeated it, and the meeting was over.