When Did Women Get the Right to Vote in Canada?

The history of the women's suffrage movement across Canada.

The Women’s Suffrage movement in Canada was formed in 1878 under the guidance of Dr. Emily Stowe who was also the president of Dominion Women's Enfranchisement Association that came to be in 1889. The suffrage movement advocated for women’s voting rights in elections, as well as the right to run for public office. In their quest for equal rights, the suffrage movement faced a lot of resistance and rejection. It was also a decades-long struggle. The movement not only aimed at fighting for women’s rights but also advocated for better healthcare, education, and employment opportunities.

The Campaign for Voting Rights

Suffragists were typically middle-class women who believed that the vote would elevate their social class and lead to a better country. Various other groups supported the women’s movement such as abolitionists, unionists, and socialists. They conducted peaceful campaigns to advocate for their rights with only a few of them associated with the militant suffragist led by Emeline Pankhurst.

Canadian suffragists began by campaigning for local rights such as the right to ownership. In 1900, women who owned property could vote and run for office in the municipal council, school board elections, and library elections. This was followed by a victory on the right to vote in provinces, with the first victory in the province of Manitoba in 1916. The province of Quebec was the last to concede the women's vote in 1940.

The Rise of the Suffrage Movement Across Canada

Towards the end of the 19th century, women in Canada became increasingly vocal about their rights. They mainly protested discrimination in employment and education, and also against violence against women and children. The first campaign movement was led by first-generation university graduates, female journalists, and medical professionals such as Emile Stowe. They insisted on the value of maternal qualities to the social and public life. The Toronto Women’s Literacy Club was the first suffragist movement formed by Emile Stowe in 1876. Other pioneering Canadian women include Adelaide Hoodless who advocated for better healthcare, Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie who campaigned for better working conditions for women especially in Quebec, and Nellie McClung in the province of Manitoba.

Women Get the Vote

In Lower Canada and Ontario, a few women had been granted the right to vote in an 1825 election that included 27 women. These were propertied women from various backgrounds of Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant associations. The suffrage movement was idealized as a threat to culture and survival. A women’s place was designated to bearing children and not in the political life. This ideology was further emphasized by the disappearing French-Canadian culture in the English-speaking Protestants who lived in British North America.

After a decades-long struggle, Canadian women finally got the vote after the First World War. However, this did not apply to all women and it was only until 1919 that women above the age of 21 could vote in federal elections. During the war, women had assumed an important role in society as many men had gone overseas to war. They worked in factories, offices, voluntary organizations and supported their families. As a result, it was difficult to ignore their argument of participating in political affairs.

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