The Nellie McClung Foundation is an organization that honours the work of Canadian suffragette Nellie McClung. As the 100th year anniversary of women’s suffrage approaches, the group is busy educating Canadians about the history of the woman’s suffrage movement in Canada.
The foundation points out that most Canadian women received the right to vote — suffrage — in 1917 after Robert Borden granted the vote to war widows, women serving overseas and female relatives of men serving overseas.
This would be expanded and on May 24, 1918 it was confirmed that all women had the right to vote.
But in 1918 the province of Newfoundland and Labrador was neither a province nor a part of Canada. Instead, it was the Dominion of Newfoundland. This meant women in Newfoundland did not get the right to vote in 1918 when women in the rest of Canada did. Universal suffrage was not achieved until 1925.
While efforts had been made since the late 1800s to pressure the government to extend the vote, it wasn’t until 1920, with the formation of the Women's Franchise League, that advances were made.
Promoting their cause, the league argued that female voters would advocate for things such as better health care, education and other social services, and that Newfoundland would be viewed as backward, as it was one of the few members of the British Empire that did not let women vote. The league also circulated petitions throughout the country to raise further support.
Facing tough resistance from the Liberal government of the time, the league’s first attempt at passing suffrage legislation failed. The franchise bill was presented in 1921 to the Newfoundland legislature. Despite strong public support, the government easily defeated it by a vote of 13 Liberals against 9 Conservatives.
Not deterred, the league rallied together and by 1925 had gathered 20,000 signatures, giving them another chance to present the franchise bill to the legislature. It also helped that a new government, under Walter S. Monroe, was in power.
Aware that he and parts of his government were supporters of the suffrage movement, the league lobbied the government. Monroe presented the franchise bill to the legislature in 1925. On March 9, 1925 — 93 years ago — the bill passed unanimously in the House of Assembly, giving women over the age of 25 the right to vote. It became law on April 13, 1925.
In the first election that women could vote in, the 1928 general election, they cast 52,343 ballots, which means female voters had a 90 per cent turnout to the polls.
Despite the Woman’s Franchise League’s efforts, the first woman elected in Newfoundland was never a member of the group.
Lady Helena E. Squires, the wife of Newfoundland prime minister Sir Richard Squires, was the first women to run and be elected as a member of the House of Assembly, in 1930.