Heritage Matters

Heritage Matters – Spring 2018

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Heritage Matters 2 Did you know that women in Canada couldn't vote in federal elections until 1918 – just 100 years ago? They could vote in some provinces prior to that – Manitoba was first in 1916, Ontario fifth in 1917 and Quebec last in 1940. And even then, this right only extended to property-owning British subjects over the age of 21. Did you known that Asian-Canadians were denied the right to vote until the late 1940s? Or that, under federal law, Indigenous women covered by the Indian Act couldn't vote for band councils until 1951, and Indigenous people couldn't vote in federal elections until 1960 – unless they gave up their status and treaty rights? As a student at the University of Toronto in the late 1970s, I was deeply influenced by the feminist movement of the day, spurred on by an incident of gender discrimination in my teenage years that changed my understanding of the world around me. I've always been a feminist, passionate about women's rights and human rights and about the need for people both to have and to use their voices. And still these dates surprise me. More surprising was the need for women to prove their right to be treated as persons under the law, but more on that later. It isn't possible in a few pages to summarize the history of women's suffrage in Canada. I'd like to discuss some of the first advocates for women's rights and women's suffrage, the courageous women who led these movements, and to consider how far we've come since then. Imagine the experience of Emily Stowe, the first woman to be appointed principal of a public school in Ontario. She applied in 1865 and was denied entrance to the Toronto School of Medicine for the sole reason of her gender. In 1867, she obtained a degree from the New York Medical College for Women and returned to Canada, but it would be four more years before the University of Toronto admitted her and Jenny Trout to pursue their studies. Dr. Stowe became a tireless advocate for women's education and suffrage. She helped to establish the Toronto Women's Literary Club "to form an association for intellectual culture, where they can secure a free interchange of thought and feeling that pertains to woman's higher education, including her moral and physical welfare." It became the Toronto Women's Suffrage Club and, in 1903, the Canadian Suffrage Association, with Stowe as its first president. The National Council of Women in Canada (NCWC), founded in 1893, was another voice lobbying to improve the status of women. At that time, only unmarried women and widows could vote in Ontario. Married women across Canada could neither own property nor hold public office. Women's rights are human rights – The fight for an equal voice By Beth Hanna Women who are British subjects, 21 years of age, and who otherwise meet the qualifications entitling a man to vote are entitled to vote in a Dominion election. In effect January 1, 1919. An Act to confer the Electoral Franchise upon Women, S.C. 1918, c. 20

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