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Anecdotal Timeline of Nellie McClung


October 20, Nellie Mooney (McClung) was born on a farm near Chatsworth Ont.

1889 – 1890

In September, when she was not quite 16, Nellie began Normal School. In Winnipeg, at the end of January 1890, she received her second-class teaching certificate. Nellie was the second youngest student.


Nellie moved to Manitou to teach and began boarding with the McClung family.
”I will admit (though it would have been considered an unmaidenly confession at the time) that I was much influenced in my desire to teach in Manitou by the presence of the minister’s eldest son. I felt sure Mrs. McClung’s son must be the sort of man I would like. She had all the sweetness, charm and beauty of the old-fashioned woman, and in addition to this had a fearless, and even radical, mind. I had been to the parsonage quite a few times before I came to board there; and I saw the methods of training her children. Her one girl, Nellie, who was my age, did no more than one share of the work: being a girl did not sentence her to all the dishwashing and bed making. The two younger boys took their turn and there were no complaints from them….On the other hand, Nellie had no special favors because she was a girl.” [1]Nellie referred to Manitou as a Centre of Learning, “for we had the Normal School, one of three Normal Schools in the province —.” [2]

“And I was impressed by the town. I loved the life in this little town, and have always resented the condescension with which many people view the small country town. There were many advantages; I began to take music lessons — and painting lessons. There were forty Normalites in circulation and we had to do what we could to guide their young feet into the pleasant paths of learning.” [3]

“We had no telephones, picture-shows, radios, phonographs, daily papers or lending libraries. We made our own fun-and we had plenty of –the sort of fun you can remember for forty years and find it still warms your heart.
I have lived in several small towns, but I have not known any other place that had such a decided flavour. Manitou was engaging, unexpected, and altogether adventurous.” [4]


Their second child, Florence, was born.


Before Florence was born in 1899, they had “rented a house opposite the Orange Hall.” [6]


Their second child, Florence, was born.


Before Florence was born in 1899, they had “rented a house opposite the Orange Hall.” [6]


About Public Speaking: As Nellie remembers, “The first time I felt the stirrings of ambition to be a public speaker was at a W.C.T.U. Convention in Manitou. This was a great event for our little town–seventy-five delegates from all parts of the Province — I was simply thrilled when I was asked to give the address of welcome on behalf of the local unit.” [8]

“It is quite likely that there is no person who remembers that speech, but I remember it. I remember the effect it had on me. For the first time I knew I had the power of speech. I saw faces brighten; eyes glisten, and felt the atmosphere crackle with a new power. I saw what could be done with words, for I had the vision of a new world as I talked. I was like a traveler who sees through the mist the towers of the great city. It was not ideas I was giving them exactly, but rather ferments-something which I hoped would work like yeast in their minds.” [9]


Wes sold the drugstore in December with the actual transfer of ownership to take place in March 1906.


Horace was born.


After the sale of the Drug Store, Nellie began to look for writing and then speaking engagements. “By late 1907 for example, Nellie was urgently trying to solicit any sort of literary work- such as literary work and criticisms.”[11]


The Second Chance, which was equally popular, followed Sowing Seeds in Danny. “These books were more than entertaining stories about the Watson family, for beneath the humour and the romance and the sentiment there is a deep insight into social conditions and human needs, and a strong plea for justice and equality for all”. [15]


Nellie and Wes McClung left Manitou in 1911 and moved to Winnipeg. “ I know that the quiet years we were in Manitou is the part of my life I would like to live over.” As the family was leaving Manitou in June 1911:
“I knew one pleasant chapter of our lives was ending and a sudden fear gripped my heart-fear of the market place; fear of high places; fear of the strange country. If I could have gone back to the safety of the known ways at the moment, I would have gone. Tears rolled down my cheeks, which, fortunately the children did not notice. For we were going to spend two months at Lake Winnipeg where we had bought a cottage. I kept my face pressed to the window, trying to subdue this flood of emotion which was really downright homesickness, premature, but nevertheless real. You can’t go back, I kept saying to myself; no one ever gets the chance to try the other way.” [16]

Lake Winnipeg – At The Beach, June,
“28 June 1911: On Sunday we went away down the shore and found a sandy beach, where a log had fallen out onto the stream. On it, we walked out and were very happy.
30 June: Wes went to Manitou, Jack to Winnipeg Beach and the other three to Whytewold, leaving me alone. It’s lonely but peaceful. I believe I can write a story today.
5 August: Lots of things have happened. The principal one being we have bought a house. We got 97 Chestnut Street (in Winnipeg). We like it-especially me. Now I’m busy writing –I need the money. Don’t talk to me.” [17]

In Winnipeg: “The big city gathered us in when the pleasant summer at the beach was over. Mark, our youngest was born on October of that year and quickly became the idol of the family with his blond curls, blue eyes and quaint wisdom. The other children were all at school and Jack had started Wesley College. Everyday was full of interest. I enjoyed my association with the Canadian Women’s Press Club, when we met once a week for tea in our own comfortable quarters. There, great problems were discussed and the seed germ of the suffrage association was planted. It was not enough for us to meet and talk and eat chicken sandwiches and olives. We felt we should organize and create public sentiment in favour of women’s suffrage.” [18]


Settling in Edmonton: Nellie believed that once she settled in Edmonton, she would go back to her writing and be free of her politics. She began writing and soon her fourth book, In Times Like These, was published. She also made new friends who were involved in organizations such as the Edmonton Equal Franchise League and the Women’s Press Club and very quickly she was pulled into their work – fighting for the vote in Alberta.

December, 1915. Nellie’s son Jack joined the army and went overseas. Nellie’s biographers, Hallett and Davis, believe that the fact that her son was overseas fighting was an important factor in her opinion of the war. “From this time on her thoughts of the war began with her son Jack in the trenches. If he were just fodder for the munitions makers then the sorrow would be too much for her to bear. She had to believe that the cause was just and that good would come from evil.”[23]

In 1917, Nellie believed that conscription was necessary and was concerned that a bill to bring it in would not pass. She, at first, urged P.M. Borden to enfranchise British and Canadian born women to provide a more balanced electorate. This proposal caused much concern with her suffragette friends and Nellie withdrew it. She was seen by many groups, however, as a supporter of the war and as someone who did not support giving the vote to “foreign” women. She was also condemned by some groups because she appeared to support the disenfranchisement of conscientious objectors and all people in Canada who had been born in foreign countries and naturalized since 1902.

Election in Manitoba, August 1915
Robin’s Conservative Government in Manitoba soon fell due to scandals having to do with the building contracts for the new Legislative Building. In August, an election was called and Nellie was asked to return to continue the fight for Norris, the Liberal leader, who promised the vote for women. She returned to Manitoba during the last week of the campaign and, “she spoke in many centres near Winnipeg that week, including Manitou. — In almost every speech Nellie defended the right of all citizens of voting age to cast a ballot. On the eve of the election the Liberals held a large meeting in the Walker Theatre.”. [24]

The entrance of Nellie McClung “was a signal for a perfect storm of cheering and applause.” [25]“There can be no doubt that in the Manitoba election campaigns, Nellie McClung reached the pinnacle of her public career.” [26]


Nellie moved with her family to a farm near Wawanesa, Manitoba. She began formal schooling at the age of 10.

1890, August

She moved to the Manitou area to teach at Hazel School located 3 miles north of Manitou. Nellie boarded with the Hasselfield family (called Hornsberg by Nellie in her book) and was delighted to find they had bookcases filled with books. She earned $40.00 a month and was able to buy more books.

While teaching at Hazel school, Nellie met and was impressed by Annie McClung, a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, an advocate for women’s issues and the wife of the Methodist Minster in Manitou. Nellie also met a young druggist, Wesley, who was the son of Mrs. McClung.

During this time, Nellie first saw Cora Hind, a well known writer for the Free Press who was visiting a friend in Manitou. Years later, Nellie and Cora Hind worked together as they fought for women’s suffrage. She also attended her first political meeting while in Manitou.


In December 1893, Nellie left Manitou to continue her education. From December 1893 to July 1894, she attended Central College in Winnipeg to complete her high school education. During that time, she kept in touch with Wes, and he visited Nellie and her family at her mother’s home.

1894 – 1896

She taught in Treherne in 1894 and boarded with the McClung family who had moved to Treherne where Rev. McClung continued his Ministry. In 1895, Nellie resigned from the position in Treherne and returned home to live with her mother. Nellie’s father had died some months earlier and she believed her mother needed company. In January 1896, she taught in Northfield School near her family’s farm.


August 25, 1896, Nellie married Wes McClung and moved back to Manitou where she and Wes lived until 1911. It was in Manitou where four of their children were born, where she began her lifelong dedication to improving the political and social well-being of women, and where she began a successful writing and speaking career. At first, the McClungs lived over Wes’s Drug Store (currently the Spot Lite Café).


Their first child, Jack, was born.

In 1897, Nellie joined the W.C.T.U. (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) in Manitou. The purpose of the W.C.T.U. was to fight the abuse of alcohol, as many people believed that alcohol was one of the main causes of the hardships and poverty faced by many women and children. “Nellie thought that if women obtained the right to vote, they would succeed in changing the liquor laws. The changes would prevent the worst problems that arose from drunkenness.” [5]

The W.C.T.U. has been called a source of political growth and friendship for many women during those years. She wrote, “it was the most progressive organization at that time; for instance, in Manitou it trained young orators and reciters –gave temperance talks in schools, planned debates and spelling matches and ran a reading room –“.


In the fall of 1901, Wes McClung purchased a new building across the street from his drug store and had it fitted as a Drug Store. It opened on Jan. 30, 1902.

About writing: “The actual beginning of my serious writing began under the encouragement of Mrs. J. A. McClung, my husband’s mother. It was in Manitou, soon after the birth of Paul, when she came to visit us. One morning she came out to the kitchen where Alice and I were at work on the weekly washing, with a magazine in her hand.

“Colliers has a short story contest, particularly for unknown writers,” she said, “and I think you should send in one. You can write… It seems like a great chance.”
Operations stopped while the announcement was read. But how could I ever get a story done?
“Alice and I will look after the house if you will go right now and get at it.”

“I could not do it today,” I said- “there’s the Church Tea-I have to see about Florence’s dress…”
My mother in-law held firm.

“Trifles all of them”, she said. “If you wait until you are ready to write, you will never write. Don’t you know that conditions are never perfect? Life conspires to keep a woman tangled in trifles. —–

So I went to the den. — I think this was 1902.
By night I had written the first Watson story-afterwards the first chapter of Sowing Seeds in Danny. [10]


About the “The Woman’s Parliament” in the Walker Theatre in Winnipeg, Jan 28: “The play exceeded all our expectations. It was certainly a great community effort, and its phenomenal success was brought about by many factors. —- We gave the play twice in Winnipeg and once in Brandon and had crowded houses on all occasions. We made enough out of the play to finance our campaign in the province, and there is no doubt that it was a great factor in turning public sentiment in favour of the enfranchisement of women. It is still remembered in Manitoba as a great burlesque and over and above its educational value, a great piece of entertainment.” [20]

The campaign continued:
“We knew that one success was not enough, so we continued our campaign with increasing enthusiasm. I wish I could remember all the good stories that were told about the suffrage meetings all over the country.
The campaign was going well and my heart was warm with the evidence of the awakened electorate. I was glad to be living and having a part in a great movement. Never had I seen such loyalty and such close communion of spirit. I was grateful above all for the loyalty of my own family, from Wes with his generous endorsement of all I did, down to the fascinating sweetness of three-year old Mark: Jack and Florence, aged seventeen and fifteen, and Paul, thirteen and Horace eight were all at school, doing well and interested in all my activities. The household ran smoothly under the capable guidance of two good Irish girls. Usually, I telephoned home each night before I went to the meeting.” [21]

Despite the campaign against Roblin, he was returned to office.

Leaving Winnipeg December 1914:
It seemed a pity to move away from all this pleasant association and from our comfortable home on Chestnut Street and yet there were some compensations. I would get a chance to go back to my writing in a new province I thought. I knew of course that the Liberal Party in Manitoba would soon be in power, and I knew too, that the women would be given the vote and that I could be elected quite easily to the Legislative Assembly. There had been predictions that I would be invited to join the Cabinet, and probably be made Minister of Education. —–. I knew I could persuade people, and I knew that I had a real hold on the people of Manitoba, especially the women, but I also knew that the whole situation was fraught with danger for if I, as the first woman to hold a Cabinet position failed, it would be a blow to women everywhere –.” [22]


January 28: The Liberals under the leadership of Premier T.C.Norris granted the women of Manitoba full suffrage, making Manitoba the first province to do so.

April: The women of Alberta gained the right to vote. After women in Manitoba received the vote, “Suffrage societies across the country celebrated this first victory. Others followed quickly. Alberta’s turn came in April. On the day that women got the vote in that province, Alice Jamieson linked arms with a jubilant Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung as they walked down Jasper Avenue seeking some way to celebrate the occasion. As they could not drop into a bar for a drink, they bought new hats and had their photo taken.” [27]


Nellie’s reputation as a speaker grew throughout the election campaigns. She accepted engagements that took her throughout Canada and into the United States where she was asked to speak for four weeks. Eventually, the US tour lasted for over two months with her giving a presentation almost every day. Her topics were suffrage and, at times, prohibition. In Corsicana, Texas, the newspaper report read, “–it was so different– was heard a hundred times after Mrs. McClung of Canada had finished her address on suffrage at the Carnegie Library. It was acknowledged that the speaker was by far the ablest woman who has ever spoken here on the subject of equal suffrage.” [28]


The book that began with the encouragement of Nellie’s mother-in-law, Sowing Seeds in Danny, was published in 1908, and became the best seller of the year in Canada, eventually running into 17 editions. It sold 100,000 copies and earned her $25,000. This was “a minor miracle in the early days of Canadian publishing”. [12]

“In 1908 Sowing Seeds in Danny appeared, and it became the best seller of the year in Canada and did very well in the US, too. The success of Sowing Seeds in Danny led me to a new field of adventure. I gave public readings from it.” [13]

The first reading was arranged by Mrs. Annie McClung to raise money for one of her projects, the W.C.T.U. Home for Friendless Girls in Winnipeg. The reading was held at Grace Church in Winnipeg and must have been successful. The next week, she received an invitation to repeat the program in Brandon. This time she asked for twenty dollars, a fee she thought was so high that it would stop negotiations. The organizer in Brandon, however, told her it was a modest fee.[14]

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