Suffrage wasn’t just about the vote. Although we’ve only had that for 98 years here in Alberta. Over in Quebec, women waited until 1940 before they could vote. Women, with some conditions placed upon them, have been allowed to vote in federal elections since 1918.
Things we’ve had for longer than women can vote:
- Cars since 1769; first gas engine since 1886.
- Bell patented the telephone in 1876.
- In 1903, Emma Baker became the first woman to receive a PhD from a Canadian University.
Our suffragists won these battles with plenty of drama, questionable motives and plain old persistence. There was more to it than the vote – the future of women in politics, law and business was murky.
“… it was a shock to find laws on the Statute Books of this province (Manitoba) that would have been a disgrace to heathendom. For example, a man could, if he so wished, will away his unborn child to other guardianship than that of its mother. The age of Consent was ten years. At the same time a woman or girl was not considered of sufficiently mature judgement to sell a piece of land or a horse or a cow until she was twenty-one”
-E. Cora Hind (1935) in 100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces, pg 100
Part of the problem was the British North America Act. The Honourable Emily Murphy would be appointed judge, only to see her decisions laughed at in the courtroom. The lawyers she ruled against pointed out each time she did so that women weren’t “persons” under that act; her seat held no power.
The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided women weren’t “persons” in 1928, but Canadian suffragettes appealed to the British Privy Council. They needed five signatures on the petition, and those women became the Famous Five when the Supreme Court’s decision was overturned in 1929.