Women's Suffrage in Canada
1758 – 1866
With few exceptions in the colonies that would later form Canada, the vote is a privilege reserved for a limited segment of the population – mainly affluent men. Eligibility is based on property ownership. To be eligible, an individual has to own property or assets of a specified value or pay a certain amount in taxes or rent. Women are excluded.
In Ontario, women with property, married or single, have the right to vote for school trustees.
Married women can own property in Canada, but they cannot sell it. Sale of the property requires the agreement of the woman and her husband.
According to Manitoba’s Act Respecting Married Women, a woman is allowed to keep ownership of her property, but any wages she makes goes to her spouse. If he is judged cruel or insane, she is entitled to her wages and those of any dependent children.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union is founded in Owen Sound, Ontario.
A British common law ruling states that “women are persons in matters of pains and penalties, but are not persons in matters of rights and privileges.”
Dr. Emily Howard Stowe and her daughter, Dr. Augusta Stowe-Gullen, found the Toronto Women’s Literary Club. The group is created for suffrage activities.
The Toronto Labour Council supports the principle of equal pay for equal work. First major strike of women workers in Toronto. Women shoemakers strike for union recognition, uniform wages, and a wage advances.
The bill is reintroduced in 1884 and defeated. It makes woman suffrage a provincial issue. The first municipal franchise was granted to widows and spinsters in Ontario.
The Married Women’s Property Act gives married women in Ontario the same legal capacity as men, meaning that they can make legal agreements and buy property.
Married women’s property legislation is passed in the Northwest Territories.
The Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association is created from The Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association and campaigns for the vote for women.
During the decade 1890-1900, bills for the provincial enfranchisement of women are introduced into the legislatures of Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and Quebec. They are all defeated.
The National Council of Women of Canada is founded. It works for social rights of women and children.
The Northwest Territories allows unmarried women to vote in municipal elections, but not to hold office.
Adelaide Hunter Hoodless and Erland Lee form the Women’s Institute.
The Married Women’s Property Act gives married women in Prince Edward Island the same legal capacity (legal right in matters of property) as men.
Alberta grants the municipal franchise to widows and spinsters, but not to married women. The Manitoba Women’s Institute is formed in Morris, Manitoba.
The Manitoba Illegitimate Children’s Act allows an unwed mother to bring court action to require the child’s father to pay child support and expenses.
Carie Derick is the first woman in Canada to become a full professor at McGill University in Montreal.
The Manitoba Political Equality League is founded in Winnipeg by a group of women including Nellie McClung.
Montreal Suffrage Association is formed.
Women in Manitoba are the first in Canada to gain the right to vote and run for office in Provincial Elections when the Manitoba Legislative Assembly Manitoba passes an act to amend the Manitoba Election Act, S.M. 1917 c. 28 (January 28). Saskatchewan passes An Act to Amend the Saskatchewan Election Act , and women in Saskatchewan gain the right to vote. (March 14)
Alberta passes The Equal Suffrage Statutory Law Amendment Act S.A. 1916 c.5 and women gain the right to vote. (April 17)
Emily Murphy, Edmonton, is the first woman appointed as a magistrate in the British Empire.
Women gain the right to vote and run for office in provincial elections in Nova Scotia (April 26). Women gain the right to vote in federal elections (24 May) through An Act to Confer Electoral Franchise Upon Women .
age 21 or older
meet property requirements in provinces where they exist
The Federal Electoral law is amended and women can now stand for the House of Commons.
The Federal electoral law is amended. The Dominion Elections Act recognizes that every eligible Canadian over 21, male or female, can vote in federal elections. This does not, however, include Aboriginal peoples, Inuit or anyone barred from a provincial voters’ list, including Asians and Hindus.
Women with property in Québec have the right to vote from 1809 until 1849, when the word “male” is inserted into Québec’s franchise act.
The British Matrimonial Causes Act, adopted in Canada, makes divorce possible for women on the grounds of adultery.
Canadian Dr. Emily Stowe (1831-1903) graduates in medicine from New York State University. Dr. Stowe, who later became a groundbreaking woman and suffragist, is not legally allowed to practice in Canada until 1880.
1867 – 1884
In all provinces, there are three basic conditions for becoming an elector:
being 21 or older
being a British subject by birth or naturalization
The Married Women’s Property Act of Ontario gives a married woman the right to her own wage earnings free from her husband’s control. In accordance with the Public Lands of the Dominion Statute, women without a husband who have dependent children may have homestead land.
Grace Annie Lockhart (1855-1916) is the first woman to receive a university degree in Canada (Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick).
Dr. Jennie Trout (1841-1921) returns from an American medical school with a degree. She is the first woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada.
The Toronto Women’s Literary and Social Progress Club becomes the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association.
Sir John A. Macdonald introduces a bill into parliament that includes the granting of Dominion franchise to unmarried women and widows possessing the required property qualifications. The bill is not passed.
The Dominion Franchise Act is established and remains in effect until 1898. An eligible voter is identified as a male person, including any person of Aboriginal descent but excluding any person of Asian descent.
A man can vote if he or his wife own property; she is responsible for the property tax.
In Alberta, unmarried women property owners gain the right to vote and hold office in school matters.
Women in Manitoba gain the right to vote in municipal elections, but are not eligible for municipal office until 1917.
At this time, women in Iceland are allowed to vote. Margaret Benedictsson leads Canadian Icelandic women to start the first suffrage movement in the west.
Women ratepayers in Manitoba are able to vote and hold office at the school board level.
During this decade, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and the North West Territories grant the municipal franchise to widows and spinsters.
Nova Scotia includes widows and spinsters and any married woman owning property, provided her husband is disqualified.
British Columbia and Manitoba extend the municipal franchise to all women ratepayers.
In all the provinces, women ratepayers are given the school vote.
In Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, British Columbia, Manitoba, and the North West Territories, women are eligible to become school trustees.
Petitions for the enfranchisement of women, from the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association, together with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, are presented to parliament in 1894 and 1896.
Teaching is the only profession open to women that leads to a pension. Under The Dominion Elections Act , the only people who can vote in a federal election are ones who have the legal right to vote in a provincial election. Minorities (including women) who are excluded from voting in provincial elections are therefore automatically excluded from voting in federal elections.
The Married Women’s Property Act gives married women in Manitoba the same legal capacity as men. Previously, a woman living in Manitoba lost most of her legal rights respecting property when she married. All her property, for example, became legally vested in her husband. The Married Women’s Property Act allows a wife to own her own property separately from her husband and to control her own wages and profits. She is also jointly responsible for the support of their children.
The Manitoba Municipal Act is amended so that women are excluded as voters in municipal elections, although they had been granted this right previously. Public protest forces the act to be amended again.
The Married Women’s Property Act gives married women in Saskatchewan the same legal capacity (legal right in matters of property) as men.
The Saskatchewan Deserted Wives’ Maintenance Act requires husbands to pay support if they deserted their wives or forced them to leave.
Alice Jamieson is appointed judge of the juvenile court in Calgary in 1914. She becomes the first woman in Canada and in the British Empire appointed to a juvenile court.
On January 28, Nellie McClung and other members of the Manitoba Political Equality League stage a mock “Women’s Parliament” in Winnipeg’s Walker Theatre to debate the question of whether men should be allowed to vote. The mock parliament uses humour to point out the unfairness of denying women the vote.
Emily Murphy faces opposition from some lawyers who stated that she was not a person under the law and should not sit as a judge. She begins a long struggle to have women legally defined as persons. Women gain the right to vote and run for office in British Columbia provincial elections. They also gain the right to vote in Ontario and Alberta. (April 4)
Alberta women Louise McKinney and Roberta MacAdams become the first women elected to a provincial legislature. McKinney was sworn in first and as a result is often referred to as the first woman elected to a provincial legislature.
Alberta becomes the first province to adopt a minimum wage law for women.
British Columbia becomes the first province to give mothers the same legal rights as fathers regarding their children.
On September 20, The Military Voters Act extends the federal vote, until the end of the war, to women in the services and to those women who had close relatives in the armed services of Canada or Great Britain. Nurses in the armed forces are also given the vote.
The Dower Act is passed in Alberta providing that a homestead in which a wife has a life interest cannot be disposed of without her consent.
Women gain the right to vote and run for office in New Brunswick provincial elections. (April 17)
The first federal election in which in which women are eligible to vote and hold office women is held. Just four women candidates run. Only Agnes MacPhail wins as an independent from Ontario. She serves for 19 years. During the time she was in the House of Commons, she was joined by only one other woman, Martha Black from the Yukon (1935-1940).
Nellie McClung is elected as a Liberal member in the Alberta Legislature.
Mary Ellen Smith is appointed a cabinet minister in British Columbia She is the first female provincial cabinet minister and the first in the British Empire.
Irene Parlby is appointed Minister without Portfolio in the United Farmer’s government, becoming the first woman in Alberta and the second woman in the British Empire to serve as a cabinet minister.
Women are forced to resign from the Canada Civil Service when they get married.
In British Columbia, the first maternity leave legislation is passed (six weeks leave).