(1873 – 1951)
Nellie McClung was an orator and an entertainer; she was an author and an advocate; she was a teacher and a legislator. She was a prairie woman who used her talents, determination and energy to bring about change in society.
Nellie McClung was born Nellie Letitia Mooney in Ontario on October 20, 1873. At seven years old, she moved to Manitoba where she would grow up and begin to sow the seeds of many incredible political contributions later in life. At the age of just sixteen, she began teaching at a school near Manitou, Manitoba and through her connections there, became involved in several emerging social reform groups.
When McClung was 23 years old, she married Wesley McClung, with whom she would raise five children. In 1911, the family moved out of rural Manitoba and into Winnipeg, where McClung continued to fight for social change.
McClung joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) to help stop the problems associated with alcohol abuse, and this led to a passionate interest in the women’s suffrage movement as well. In addition to the WCTU, McClung joined several other reform groups focused on the advancing women’s suffrage movement and became a founding member of the Political Equality League.
In 1914, she and other members of the Political Equality League staged a mock parliament which turned the tables, satirizing the dangers of allowing men the right to vote. The play was entertaining and effective; it began a turn of the tide for the government of the day in the province. In 1916, Manitoba was the first province to grant women the right to vote, and the province of Saskatchewan quickly followed.
McClung is best known for two major achievements: being one of the leading women who helped “get the vote” for most of the women of Manitoba (1916); and as a member of the “famous five” – a group of women who challenged the meaning of the British North American Art and worked to get women declared “persons” rather than property under the law (1929).
Later in life, she was appointed the first woman to the first board of the CBC in 1932. McClung also remained a human rights advocate throughout her decades in public life. She urged the government of British Columbia to extend the vote to Japanese Canadians in the 1930’s; petitioned the Canadian Government to open its doors to Jewish refugees in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s; and often wrote about the need for equal pay for equal work. She promoted the ordination of women in the Methodist Church in the 1920’s and later in the United Church. McClung was a driving force in Canadian politics and the women’s movement till her death in 1951.