While suffragists remained united in one goal, there were also divisions between social classes, especially in urban areas. In larger cities, the strongest supporters came mostly from the middle class. These women felt they had an obligation to lead the working class to a better life. However, many urbanites could not relate to the women they were trying to “help,” and did not see them as equals. Working-class women recognized these patronizing views and were skeptical of such aid.
Class divides were much less obvious in Saskatchewan, where even in urban areas there was more affinity with rural women. Many suffragists in the province were farmwomen whose leaders came from co-operative movements where partnerships and solidarity were encouraged.
- Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, paton071
- Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, paton426
Regional divides were also evident within the suffrage movement, specifically between the Canadian “East” (mainly Ontario), and “West” (primarily the prairies). Many women in Eastern Canada moved to large cities looking for better opportunities, but found living was difficult and expensive. Some were forced to work under hazardous conditions in order to support themselves or to supplement family incomes. The fewer women on the prairies found
husbands and started families quickly. These women were valuable partners in maintaining homesteads and assisting with manual labour. Therefore, for rural men, accepting their wives as equals and supporting the movement came fairly easily. However, women who did not secure “good marriages” were left vulnerable because laws regarding property ownership strongly favoured men.
- City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 137
- Violet McNaughton at centre, with hat in hand. Photograph LH-2150 courtesy Saskatoon Public Library – Local History Room
Town and Country
Some women in rural Saskatchewan approached urbanites with suspicion and skepticism because they often seemed to not fully understand the struggles of farmwomen. Leading provincial suffragists tried to bridge this gap by creating inclusive organisations. Violet McNaughton, for instance, established the Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board. Others started branches of Provincial Equity Leagues, and the Saskatchewan Women’s Christian Temperance Union was a commanding presence. Although some of these associations were heavily represented by urbanites and others by rural women, they all had similar end goals. They all advocated for prohibition, improved rural health care, agrarian advancement, gender equality, labour parity, social reform, and, of course, suffrage.
- Main Street, Kisbey, SK. Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, paton480
- Intersection of Scarth Street and 11th Avenue, Regina, SK. City of Regina Archives, no. 74375