Many women and children live in substandard and marginal conditions in many parts of the world and they need a voice to transmit those conditions and voting power to correct those conditions. Too much masculinity is behind this contagion and chivalry cannot substitute for true justice. Nellie McClung, one of Canada's foremost social activists and its first feminist waged a political battle for Canadian women's rights, specifically the right to vote. In her time, women were not considered "persons" under the British North American Act but were mere appendages to men. She and the rest of the Famous 5 fought to secure that right and won it. Women's rights and women's movements are expressions of the best instincts of womanhood to serve and help the human race. Women, like men, think and think as dynamically. If women's thoughts are ignored or repressed, evolution is blocked and similarly suppressed. Revolution can be an unfortunate alternative.
This study uses the normative-descriptive method of research on the background, history and activities of Nellie McClung of Canada from various publications and researches. The study traces the development of Nellie's political, literary and feminist careers.
1. Bridgeman, JM. (1999). Nellie McClung. Suite 101.com. http://www.tegart.com/gen/minnie/meeting.htm
2. Center for Canadian Studies, The. (2001). Nellie McClung 1873-1951. Mount Allison University. http://www.mta.ca/faculty/arts/canadian_studies/English/about/study_guide/famous_women
5. Famous 5 Foundation. (2002). Nellie McClung. Heritage Community Foundation. http://collections.ic.gc.ca/famous5/Profiles/McClung.html
6. Hillman, Bill. (2003). Nellie McClung. Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame, Inc. http://www.mts.net/~agrifarms/mcclung.html
7. Historica. (2005). Nellie McClung. Historica Minutes. http://www.histori.ca/minutes/minute.do?ID=10643
8. Industry Canada. (1998). Our Nell. Herstory. The Saskatoon Women's Calendar Collective. http://library.usask.ca/herstory/nellie.htm
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Nellie was born in Chatsworth, Ontario, Canada on October 20, 1873 to John Mooney and Letitia McCurdy Mooney (Dugas 2000). She was named Helen Letitia and her siblings were Will, George, Elizabeth, Hannah and Jack. Nellie was the family favorite. In 1880, the family emigrated to the Canadian West to homestead south of Brandon, Manitoba where Nellie attended school from ages 10 to 16. At 16 in 1889, she finished Normal School or teacher training (Dugas).
At birth, Nellie, her mother or any of her sisters was not recognized as "persons" by Canadian law (Bridgeman 1999). They and other women of the time did not share certain rights with men. Women were economically dependent on their father or husband. A woman's inherited property passed on to her husband and when he died, she was left penniless and raised her children in poverty. Women were not allowed in certain careers, such as politics, law and medicine. Most importantly, they were not allowed to vote and to determine the future of society
As young as 9, Nellie questioned traditional women's roles. In her first small town public picnic, she looked forward to joining a race for girls (Dugas 2000) and found none. Society of the time did not favor girls racing, showing their legs and their skirts flying. That early, she wondered and was silenced. At 16, she began teaching at a rural school, where she would play football with students at break time. She did so in long skirt and stiff, starched blouse. Opposing parents viewed physical sports as un-lady-like, but Nellie eventually won them over through tact and good sense (Dugas).
As a hired teacher in the small town of Manitou in 1890, Nellie boarded with the Methodist minister, Reverend James McClung and his wife, Annie (Bridgeman 1999). Annie was the president of the local chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Nellie got involved in social reform and joined the Union, which addressed social and health problems that grew out of alcohol use and other causes that affected women and children. In time, the Union initiated the campaign for women's suffrage or the right to vote in many parts of Canada. Nellie eventually married the minister's son, Robert Wesley, a druggist by whom she had five children. Their family moved to Winnipeg in 1911 and then to Vancouver in 1933. Her mother-in-law, Annie, encouraged Nellie to develop the first of her 16 novels, "Sowing Seeds in Danny" from a magazine short story. Annie also influenced Nellie to take on a lecturing career by helping out in organizing Nellie's first speaking stint at a Winnipeg church. Nellie discovered her talent for public speaking through the Union's prodding (Historica 2005).
In Winnipeg, Nellie continued her commitment to social reform, coinciding with the start of the suffrage movement for women, and also joined the Winnipeg Political Equality League, which supported the cause of female wage earners of the City, and the Canadian Women's Press (Historica 2005). She brought Premier Rodmond Roblin around to see the working conditions of many women in sweatshops for himself. Roblin was strongly against women suffrage and believed that "nice" women were against it too. Nellie countered his perception of "nice" women as those who did not care about the underprivileged and overworked and stressed that she was, therefore, not one of them. Nellie and her fellow reformers had wanted to defeat Roblin by presenting a satiric play, entitled "The Women's Parliament," which dealt with the dangers of male suffrage. Roblin was re-elected but his triumph was brief. Pro-women suffragists defeated him the following year and, in 1916, the new Liberal government allowed Manitoba women to vote. The succeeding year, the women's right to vote spread through Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and other provinces. It was a clear victory for the suffragists and major credit went to Nellie (Historica).
Nellie was considered Canada's first feminist and among her major accomplishments was the attainment of women suffrage (Dugas 2000). She was one of the Famous 5 who submitted a petition for the re-interpretation of the word or term "persons" under the British North American Act to include women. Ottawa, at first, refused, but the famous group persisted and went as far as appealing in London. In 1929, the efforts of the group paid off. Canadian women were legally recognized as "persons" under the law. The group also succeeded in convincing the Privy Council in England to rule in favor of women serving in the Canadian Senate. These Famous 5 women leaders were Nellie, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy and Louise McKinney.
Nellie's growing understanding of human nature, views on temperance and feminism, concern for others and her natural inability to suppress the expression of these sentiments evolved into her political activism (Famous 5, 2005). The specter of human suffering during the Great Depression filled her with even larger questions and impelled her to bewail the government's apparent refusal to respond to the economic situation with employment relief projects, such as house and road building and water conservation. As the dominant party at the time, United Farmers enabled Nellie's election as a Liberal member of the Alberta legislature in 1921 where she served for five years. During that time, she and United Farmers' cabinet minister Irene Parlby - another member of the Famous 5 -- worked together in pushing for a number of social legislations. They scored some success in providing hot lunches and medical care to school children and a municipal hospital, but Nellie's temperance legislations were passed off. She sought re-election in Calgary in 1926 but lost. She left politics to devote her energy to the family, community service, writings and travels. She was appointed to the Canadian delegation t the League of Nations in 1939 (Famous 5).
She crossed paths with another member of the Famous set, Emily Murphy, who was then the first appointed female judge in Edmonton in 1916 and on her first day of duty (Famous 5, 2005). Emily was informed that she could not exercise her function in the Bench, because the British American Act of 1867 did not recognize women as "persons."
Nellie, Emily and the three prairie women of the Famous group struggled through the Canadian Supreme Court all the way to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain for the recognition of women as "persons." Their eventual success influenced many British counties and brought much joy to the five women (Famous 5).
Nellie's achievements were impressive. She became the first female member of the CBC Board of Governors in 1936, a Canadian delegate to the League of Nations in 1938, a public lecturer and member-proponent of the Canadian Authors' Association (Famous 5, 2005). Nellie supported the elements that made up equality between the sexes. These included issues with women and children, public health and dental health for school children, property rights for married women, mother allowances, expansion and advancement of women's economic independence. Nellie was a feminist icon of political activism in Canada. Her personal commitment to the rights of women was her political cause that marriage, children and a writing career could not stop. It grew out of deep religious…