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The Great Influence of Women on Canadian History

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Women made great changes to Canada from 1910-1930, which has made it a better place to live.

“I think women can save civilization” – Emily Murphy.

“Canada’s earliest efforts to bring about women’s suffrage were led by a diverse movement of women and men across the country. Beginning in the 1870s, Canadians campaigned for women’s right to vote on equal terms as men, beginning with local government. They were met with determined opposition”.

“The wrong of withholding the privilege of voting from the few who ask it is a slight matter in comparison with the injustice of imposing the duty on the many who neither seek nor wish it”.

The role of women at the end of the 1800s and in the early 1900s is largely significant in Canadian history. Men and women had significant different roles in society, women being cast or stereotyped as insignificant or inferior. The perception of women these days is extremely different, but this was not an easy fight as historians have recorded. There was an immense struggle from women for rights and freedom which did not happen overnight. Most of us have had at one time or another, conversations with people and knew they were not listening, and also they seemed not to care what you were saying. Well not so long ago life was like that for women in Canada.

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It is hard to believe that only just over 100 years ago women were not allowed to vote, and if they did speak out they could even be sent to jail. It was a time when women had more fear and less freedom, more rules and fewer rights. The role for women was severely restricted, women were expected to devote their life to family, especially their husband. They could be beaten, and they were the property of their husbands basically to do with as they wanted. The quote you may have heard people saying “What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine” (which nowadays we use as a joke), however it had a whole real meaning back in Canadian history as women were not not recognized as ‘persons’ under the law. Women were excluded from an academic education and (if they did work) received a lesser pay than their male counter parts. Women were treated as 2nd class citizens to men as their life was to carry out domestic shores – clean, cook, and take care of the children. They were not treated anything like they are treated today. Besides not having the right to vote, once married, women had even fewer rights. They lost quite a lot including their surname after they get married: they lost all status in civil law and any property was no longer theirs. Even if a woman happened to do some kind of work, a woman’s wages was legally the property of her husband. They were denied basic rights and looked down upon by powerful figures.

Then came World War I (The Great War as it was referred to), 1914 – 1918. Even though women’s movements (women’s suffrage groups) had surfaced in late 1800s into the early 1900s, it was during the First World War that suffrage in Canada took off and became more prominent. Reasons being that large numbers of women were recruited into jobs vacated by men who had gone to fight in the war. New jobs were also created as a part of the war effort, for example in munitions (weapons and ammunition) factories. As many men were overseas, women entered the workforce and gained new responsibilities on the home front. This gave way to more women starting to question why they could not vote as women were serving in the war, taking over from the men in factories and offices, holding families together and working in voluntary organizations that supported the war effort. Even though the suffrage movement met opposition by most men, they couldn’t be kept out of political life any longer and it was hard to ignore their argument. As the women’s movement was starting to see efforts right before the First World War, they now could prove that they were able to replace men in the working world. This period was a turning point for Canada as a nation and women in particular as women proved invaluable in the war effort.

The women’s suffrage movement became much stronger after the war, it had been a decades-long struggle intended to deal with fundamental problems with equity and justice and to enhance the lives of Canadians. Women in Canada met strong resistance, mostly from men, as they fought for the basic human rights and suffrage. They were advocates of more than justice in politics, suffrage represented promises for improvements in education, healthcare, and employment as well as an end to assaults and violence against women. There were many Canadian activists, however there were five Canadian women that have become known as the ‘Famous Five’ in Canada’s history for their strong contributions for women’s rights and changed the outlook of women across Canada. The famous five were five Canadian women from Alberta who fought for women’s rights in the Supreme Court of Canada. They were led by Emily Murphy, and included Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Irene Parlby. These five Albertan women were pulled together by their fighting for the same cause and rights. Each was a real leader in her own right: one a police magistrate, another a jurist who founded the National Council for Women, and three served as Members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. And they accomplished all this before they were even fully defined as ‘persons’ under Canadian law. Separately, these five women were undeniable strong in their fight for women’s rights. They worked hard and fearlessly in the face of the resistance and resentment of others. Together, they formed a relentless united front that changed women’s rights in Canada and helped with other countries.

“I believe that never was a country better adapted to produce a great race of women than this Canada of ours, nor a race of women better adapted to make a great country” – Emily Murphy.

Today, most women work or at least can decide if they want to or not, but as history has shown, that wasn’t always the case. Now, women have the rights because of the acts of ‘the Famous Five’. The suffrage movement also helped women know their worth and have self-confidence. Women have helped Canada a lot as well or even the world to become a better place. In the past women were merely like tools to men and were thought to be weak and emotional and lower in status than men but now they are respected and acknowledged! Unlike in the 1800s, early 1900s women can now vote, work, have their own wages, and profits aside from their family/husbands, leave their husbands if they want to, hold political offices, and know more about the world instead of only thinking that their only purpose to live is to cook, clean, get married and take care of their families. If the women of that time didn’t have an urge to change their rights for the better, then Canada would not be as great as it is today. The government would have been useless because there is a lot of women with great abilities and potentials that help run the Canada by working in the government. Also the Canadian government does rely on women unlike before and need them to run the country. So if there was no “Women’s Suffrage Movement” then Canada that we know today wouldn’t even exist. Women have made a great impact on Canadian history and have gone through an uphill battle to reach where they are today. Today women are still fighting for equal rights which include finance security, violence against women, workplace harrassement, women in leadership roles. The accomplishments of women will be shown in the history books in the next 100 years along with equality on all levels. Who knows, maybe women will become the main gender and men will be fighting for their rights. But of course then it would be up to the women historians if they write about it or not!

“The history of the vote offers vital insights into our political life, exposing not only the fissures of inequality that cut deep into our country’s past but also their weaknesses in the face of resistance, optimism, and protest – an inspiring legacy that still resonates to this day”.

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The Great Influence of Women on Canadian History. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from
“The Great Influence of Women on Canadian History.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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