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This section introduces readers to both champions and opponents of suffrage extension. This may mean little more than the bare bones story of an individual or organization, although at least one bibliographic reference is included. As with other posts, we limit contributions to 500 words, a length sufficient we hope to introduce the subject without pretending to be comprehensive. We have begun with better-known contributors to campaigns. We welcome additions. If readers have special family or other knowledge about participants, we would be particularly happy to include it as part of the recovery to which this site is dedicated.
Suffrage Voiceless Speeches
by Alison Strobel
Oratory was a common mode of expression deployed in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century US woman suffrage campaign, but during these years, women who spoke in public were thought to violate gender norms. By contrast, women who presented voiceless speeches, i.e. silently held or displayed placards that contained messages promoting their political agenda, were able to maintain social decorum while publically challenging gender norms. “A silent suffragist,” Jean Baker (2002) explains, would simply “stand in a shop window with a series of simple suffrage messages … displayed one-by-one to crowds who stopped to watch” (p. 167).
‘Leading Compromise’: US Women Senators Confront the Political Impasse in October 2013
by Veronica Strong-Boag
Since the suffrage crusades, both scholars and popular observers have debated whether women would make a difference to ‘old boy’ agendas. Given many women’s subsequent identification with partisan politics, the discipline imposed by party whips and other pressures to toe the line, not to mention the multiple loyalties (of class, race, etc.) they share with other groups, and not always with one another, skepticism is understandable. There are nonetheless enough instances of political ‘sisterhoods’ that cross party lines to hearten the hopeful.
Woman suffrage, eugenics, and eugenic feminism in Canada
by Cecily Devereux
The relationship of suffragism to the eugenics movement is certainly one of the most complicated and contentious aspects of the achievement of the vote for women in Canada. Many of the principles and people associated with suffragism are also associated with the ideas of the science of “race improvement” that had been named “eugenics” by Francis Galton in 1883. Galton (1822-1911), a half-cousin of Charles Darwin and a British scholar and explorer across a range of areas of study, was also a “proto-geneticist” whose writing on making “better” humans through controlled breeding provided the ground for a movement not only in Britain and the British Empire but, through the first quarter of the twentieth century, in many countries around the world. It is thus possible to make reference to a “eugenics movement” that is both nationally specific in its development and global in its spread.
The Daughter of the Red Land—Madame Yan Li
by Huai Bao
A veteran of twenty-five years in Canada, a professor, novelist, literary prize winner, recipient of many awards and grants, and a finalist for Books in Canada’s First Novel Award, Madame Yan Li (1955-) is certainly not an ordinary woman. She has been called the “Jane Eyre of China” by readers and fans due to her inspirational life experiences—a “dreams-come-true” process of struggling for self-actualization (Zhao, 2012). Her novels also offer points of entry for understanding the relationship between female immigrants and Canadian feminism and between immigrants and the promise of Canadian democracy.
Women and the Provincial Vote in Nineteenth-Century British North America
by Colin Grittner
When one picks up a Canadian history textbook, the year 1916 usually receives special emphasis. And so it should. In 1916, Manitoba became the first province in Canadian history to grant women the right to vote.
If one flips backward through the textbook, the year 1851 will not feature so prominently. British North America, as it was called, still only consisted of four sparsely populated colonies. The Province of Canada (present-day Ontario and Quebec), Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island had only recently received their legislative independence. New Brunswick would still have to wait a few more years for responsible government. To the west, the Hudson’s Bay Company still laid claim to much of the land despite its First Nations majority.
by June Sturrock
Jane Austen (1775-1817) was the seventh of the eight children of George Austen, rector of Steventon in Hampshire, and his wife, Cassandra Leigh. This large and lively family provided Austen with her first audience, for, like the Brontë sisters, from childhood onwards she was dedicated to literature and, more specifically, the art of fiction. Her juvenilia, complete with the occasional drunken heroine or light-fingered hero, took on both social and literary conventions and reduced them to nonsense.
Recognition and Respect
by Veronica Strong-Boag
Canada, like most of the world, has a generally dismal record in public commemoration. Whatever the makeup of the individual country, women and indeed human diversity largely disappear. Just check out the public spaces and buildings, the designated historic sites and monuments, the stamps, the entries in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada, and, of course, national currencies everywhere. Absence is far from unimportant. As McGill philosopher Charles Taylor has reminded us, recognition reflects respect and inclusion in the national imaginary.
In channeling the spirit of contemporary scholarship and popular interest, the website, womensuffrage.org, reminds us we can do much better.
Youth and Hope
by Veronica Strong-Boag
It’s almost a truism to suggest that today’s youth disappoint. Indeed elders in every age are notorious for complaints. In fact, youngsters have commonly at least equal reason to protest the world handed down to them. But that is another story. The argument here considers contemporary concern about youth apathy as a key component of the democratic deficit and then turns to evidence of a generation who give their elders plenty of reason for hope.
‘Habitual non-voting’, what Canadian political scientist Paul Howe describes in Citizens Adrift, has been strongly correlated with youth. Since the 2000 federal election when turnout slipped to about 60% (the decline had been especially noticeable since 1988), Canadians have been urged to confront special disaffection among those in their twenties and younger.
From the Margins to the Centre: Women in the New Brunswick Federation of Labour
by David Frank
What did unions ever do for women? I remember this question from a class several years ago. It was asked by a young woman who was a first-rate student and also had a good deal of experience in the workplace. When I mentioned that half the union members in our province these days are women, she was surprised.
Of course, that was not always the case. Far from it, and in writing a history of the provincial federation of labour in New Brunswick, I tried to keep the student’s question in mind. Would my student see unions paying attention to the needs of women? Would she see women joining unions?