Rejecting the Cause
Opposition to the suffrage movement came not just from men, but also from some women.
Anti-suffragists condemned “the cause” because they believed voting would lead to family discord and the breakdown of a woman’s “proper role.” Some claimed that as mothers and homemakers, women did not need to understand political affairs. Others argued that women were not intelligent enough to engage in politics. Believing that only men had the knowledge and experience to grasp complex issues, critics said women would always vote as their husbands did, so there was no need to give them their own ballot. Anti-suffragists also said thatwomen did not actually want the vote,
and even if they had it, would not use it.
- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-25338
- Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections, M-88-2-5
Why Women Ought to Vote
Suffrage supporters responded to anti-suffragists by stating that they did not want to disrupt gender roles. Rather, they wanted the vote so as to increase political representation of women’s issues. Most argued that suffrage did not challenge notions of women as primary caregivers and homemakers, but instead strengthened these ideals by promoting women’s political involvement.
Violet McNaughton, Saskatchewan’s primary suffrage leader, pointed out that many men who had the franchise did not vote, but they were not judged as being unfit voters. She said that, “women would vote just as men did: some would vote well, others would vote poorly, and others still would not use it at all.”
All images / Toutes images :
- License: Public Domain
For Hearth and Home
“Maternal feminism” was a philosophy that stated women were natural advocates for the welfare of children and families because they were instinctively more nurturing. Suffragists who agreed with this idea claimed that their purpose in agitating for suffrage was not to upset the social order, but to improve it.
Maternal feminism also claimed that men and women occupied “separate spheres” — men were responsible for public affairs outside the home, while women took care of domestic tasks. These “spheres” were not so clearly defined in Saskatchewan, however, where women often participated in farm labour, just like men. Farm men and women saw each other not as competitors, but as partners in the struggle to improve rural life for everyone.
- Photo PH-2006-49 courtesy Saskatoon Public Library — Local History Room
- Shutterstock, #242818864
- License: Public Domain
Mothers of the Race
Maternal feminism included a belief in “racial purity.” In the early 1900s, the growing immigrant population concerned many Anglo-Canadian women, especially in urban areas.
Seeing themselves as genetically superior, these women felt a responsibility as “mothers of the race” to have children and raise “proper” British families. Some even went as far as to suggest that what society needed was racial preservation and advancement.
The Saskatchewan Women Grain Growers’ Association, however, recognised the importance of recruiting support for the suffrage movement. They made efforts to include and educate immigrant farmwomen of non-British descent. Violet McNaughton believed that Grain Growers members had, “a part to play in our duty to the so-called ‘foreign’ women who, like ourselves, are now ‘citizens’.”
- Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, paton046
- Mr. and Mrs. Lawford. Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, paton438
- Percy and Cora Ross. Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, paton635