Voices and Votes
On February 14th, 1916, the Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board presented a petition with 10,000 signatures in favour of women’s suffrage to Saskatchewan Premier Walter Scott. The provincial franchise for women was officially granted exactly one month later, on March 14th. Women first voted provincially on June 26, 1917. This election included Saskatchewan’s first female electoral candidate, Zoa Haight, who ran as a non-partisan candidate in the district of Thunder Creek. This election caused some division in the Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board. Many supported the Liberals, while others, including Zoa Haight and Violet McNaughton, thought that reform could only come through non-partisan parties. The election resulted in a landslide victory for the Liberals.
Listen to Alice Lawton's historic address to Premier Scott upon presenting the petition.
Listen to Premier Walter Scott's response to the delegation.
The Regina Morning Leader broadcasted the news the next day; listen to "Women Recieve the Vote."
-Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, S_A1_I_9
-Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, Violet McNaughton fonds, S-A1, File E.18, Equal Franchise League, 1914-1919, Letter from Saskatchewan Premier Walter Scott to Violet McNaughton, February 16, 1916.
A Changing World
Gender roles changed dramatically after the outbreak of the Great War. As women began to replace men who left to serve in the armed forces, new opportunities arose for them to work in jobs that had previously been exclusively men’s. The positions they filled helped to meet the increased demands for food production, industrial activities, and manufacturing. In rural Saskatchewan, women took over farm labour, and in the cities many went to work in factories. The War brought societal changes, but it also divided prairie suffragists. The Beynon sisters for instance, were staunch pacifists. Others, like Violet McNaughton, were “patriotic pacifists” who disagreed with Canada’s participation in the War, but remained loyal to Britain and assisted with the War effort.
- Library and Archives Canada
- The Women’s War Council, Ottawa. Photograph lh-2353 courtesy of Saskatoon Public Library — Local History Room
The Wartime Elections Act
The Great War was the impetus that caused the federal government to finally view the suffrage movement seriously.
In 1917, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden had two main goals: to win the upcoming federal election and to pass a controversial Conscription Bill that would make military service mandatory for all men of fighting age in Canada. Borden realized that women with male relatives serving overseas would likely agree with conscription and could provide the support he needed to stay in office.
In September, Parliament passed the Wartime Elections Act, which extended suffrage to women of British origin who had male relatives serving in the War. The franchise was also given to 2,845 Nursing Sisters who were members of the Canadian Army Medical Corps.
- Canadian Nursing Sisters voting at a Canadian Hospital in France. December, 1917. Library and Archives Canada / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, PA-002279
- Canadian War Museum. CWM 19760586-002_8, George Metcalf Archival Collection
The Nation Follows
Suffragists were not satisfied with the Wartime Elections Act. The Saskatchewan Equal Franchise Board openly stated that the Actundermined the suffrage cause by giving the vote to only a select few.The Beynon sisters called the partial franchise “undemocratic.”
After extending the Wartime Elections Act, it became obvious to Prime Minister Borden that he could not argue against suffrage for all women. On May 24, 1918, Canadian women over the age of 21 who owned property received the right to vote in federal elections.
However, for some women, the fight for suffrage did not end there. The 1918 federal vote was not extended to Indigenous women or to women from racial minorities.
- Courtesy of Tim Cook
- Prime Minister Robert Borden. Library and Archives Canada/Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, C-000694