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Nellie McClung: Assessing Her Impact on Women’s Rights (Post 3 of 3)

Colorful Canadian Mural about Votes for Women

Welcome to the final installment of Nellie McClung week! This post is written by both Resa and me. As Resa explained in her wonderful post two days ago, Nellie was pivotal in Manitoba being the first Canadian province to grant women the right to vote. The momentous date was January 28, 1916. After this important day, Nellie continued to fight for women’s right to vote in other provinces.

When Were Women Granted the Right to Vote in Other Canadian Provinces?

On March 14, 1916, just two months after Manitoba amended its legislation, women in Saskatchewan gained the legal right to vote. One month later (April 19), Alberta followed suit. The following year, on April 5, 1917, British Columbia changed its laws about women’s right to vote. Just one week later, on April 12, Ontario did the same.

The next province in which women gained the right to vote was Nova Scotia; the momentous day was April 26, 1918. Almost exactly one year later (April 17, 1919), New Brunswick amended its election act to include women. One month passed (May 20) before Yukon made the same change to its electoral legislation.

It was on May 3, 1922, that women residing on Prince Edward Island gained the legal ability to vote. Newfoundland and Labrador followed soon after on April 3, 1925. Women in Quebec and the Northwest Territories had to wait longer; Quebec granted women the right to vote on April 25, 1940, and it was a decade later on June 12, 1951, that Northwest Territories became the last province to make the change.

Nellie in the Alberta Legislature

Monument of Canadian Activist Nellie McClung
From the Famous Five monument in Ottawa. Nellie holds up declaration that “Women Are Persons.” Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1921, Nellie was elected as an MLA for the Liberal Party, representing Edmonton in the Alberta provincial government.

During her time in the legislature, Nellie fought for many social reforms from children’s health & dental care, to safety in the workplace, old-age pensions, and more. Unwavering, she always stood and fought for women’s rights.

During her tenure as an MLA, one member attempted to have all married women dismissed from their jobs. It was to make way for unmarried, unemployed women.

Mrs. Parlby, (also, later part of the Famous Five) a member of the opposition, joined forces with Nellie to thwart this sexism.

They contended:

Whether or not a woman was married was her own business and that no woman should be penalized because of marriage” (p.123 – The Stream Runs Fast by: Nellie McClung)

In 1926 Nellie ran for re-election and lost.

The Influence of Nellie McClung & the Famous Five

Meet the Five Canadian Women Who Questioned the Word Persons under British Law
Statue of the Famous Five. Photo via Adolf Galland, Flickr.

The “Famous Five,” as a group of five Canadian women became known, fought for political equality. The five women were Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards, and Louise McKinney.

Specifically, the Famous Five sought for women to be legally identified as “persons” in Section 24 of the British North America Act of 1867, which also governed Canada. The Famous Five filed a petition on August 27, 1927, to the Supreme Court to have the legislation wording changed so that it would include women; in the document when it referred to one person the word “he” was used. The Supreme Court decided that “persons” excluded women.

It was not until October 18, 1929 that the Privy Council of Great Britain, which was at the time the top court in Canada, overturned the decision. On this day, women achieved personhood under British Empire Law. This decision was a landmark one as it ensured that by law women could be appointed as judges and senators by law; ultimately, it acknowledged the right of women to hold public offices.

The Famous Five are still honored today by the non-profit Famous Five Foundation, which was established on October 18, 1996, which was 70 years after the famous decision. Their efforts changed life for women in Canada and Commonwealth countries, and their achievements are not to be forgotten.

Nellie McClung on Canadian Currency

Nellie McClung Should Be on Canadian Currency
Image © Resa McConaghy.

In 2011, the only women ever to be on a Canadian banknote, besides Queen Elizabeth II on the twenty-dollar bill, were erased and replaced with an icebreaker. Yes, a boat. From 2004 until 2011, the Ottawa Monument of the Famous Five, along with Casgrain, graced the back of the fifty-dollar bill. This leads to a very successful petition to put a woman on a Canadian monetary bill.

Now, one Canadian woman will be depicted on a banknote in 2018.

Nellie won the votes of the people. Yet, although the winner in the online voting to be the first woman on our Canadian currency, Nellie is not on The Bank of Canada’s shortlist. On November 8, 2016, as reported by The Globe & Mail and other news sources, Viola Desmond will grace the front of Canada’s ten-dollar bill.

The deed may be done, but some are yet fighting for Nellie to be on the banknote!

Consolation: In August 1973, Nellie was honored on an 8 cent postage stamp. I have seen pictures of this stamp, but cannot find any image with the right to use it.

What Nellie Means Personally to Us


Nellie holds a special place in my heart. She was a strong-willed woman who divided her time between her passions for writing and for advancing the rights of women. Interestingly, I have a similar division that is expressed by my two blogs (this blog for women and Poetic Parfait for writing).

I admire that Nellie McClung fought for women’s voices to be heard and shared her views unapologetically at many speaking engagements. She questioned the traditional female roles and did so with a combination of charm, a sense of humor, and a gift for giving speeches well. She understood the importance of human rights for all.

Of course, it is not to be overlooked that Nellie McClung is Canadian, like Resa and me. Also great is that there are two local libraries in the city where I live that are named after her. There is the Nellie McClung Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library and also Nellie McClung’s library at the University of Victoria. Before writing these posts with Resa, I did not understand the full significance of these literary tributes. Nellie passed away in Victoria, BC on September 1, 1951.

Inspiring Feminist in Canada
Painted Nellie. Photo © Resa McConaghy – Artist: Mandy van Leeuwen.


When I read Christy’s last words, “Nellie passed away in Victoria, BC on September 1, 1951”, I got teary-eyed.

Before I was born, Nellie’s life’s work entitled me to a life wherein I can vote, speak freely and have rights. I can have a career or be a mother. I can have one or the other, or both.

Christy, I, all Canadian women, and all Canadian people have rights that Nellie, among others, fought for.

Human rights are human rights. Nellie got it.  She advocated for the rights of Japanese Canadians to vote prior to WWII, and advocated allowing Jewish children into Canada during WWII. Many of us have family, extended family and/or friends from the Jewish & Japanese communities. We and many others understand their degradation and humiliation.

Currently, many others live in places where women’s rights and human rights are sidelined, or worse, denied.

Nellie means that I can talk the talk and I can walk the walk, in a place where equality smells a lot like freedom.

Looking Forward

Canadian Feminist Activist Nellie McClung
Portrait of Nellie McClung, circa 1930. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

If you are intrigued by Nellie McClung’s books, you can read her bestseller Sowing Seeds in Danny and her short story collection Flowers for the Living.

Another way to keep Nellie’s spirit alive is by continuing to encourage female leadership and social justice, as well as promoting the arts.

You may also want to help us in fighting for Nellie to be put on a Canadian dollar bill, which we both think should happen soon. We still cannot believe she didn’t make the shortlist!

That being said, we will not be pessimistic but instead, look to the future opportunities that Nellie McClung has helped to create for us.

Equality is a cause close to our hearts, and we thank you for taking the time here.

~Resa and Christy

59 thoughts on “Nellie McClung: Assessing Her Impact on Women’s Rights (Post 3 of 3)”

  1. It seems almost inconceivable in 2016 that we should be talking about an event that happened ‘not so long ago’ bringing with it change for many. However, it takes more than a document and legislation to make a real impact. For that to occur is needed sweeping mental change, for the individual firstly, then, like the domino effect, a change of monumental proportions that affects all persons; male and female alike.
    Change is slow; however, I look forward to the time when all persons will honour one another; holding each as equal and worthy.
    A wonderful series, Christy. May you and Resa (and Aquileana) rise to the challenge!

    1. I like your hopefulness here, Carolyn, and your vision for the future is a beautiful one xx Oh yes, we ladies will take on that challenge <3 Thank you, Carolyn!

  2. Such a great enlightening of Nellie’s life and all she did for us Canadian women’s freedom. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Nellie and Canadian history – freedom for women. The monument is fantastic and I too hope Nellie will be reconsidered to be put on Canadian currency. Thank you Christy and Resa! :) <3

    1. Thank you! One of the articles says they are figuring out what woman they want to put on the $5.00 bill. Sir John A. McDonald and Sir Wifred Laurier are getting promoted to higher denominations. Sigh! Lol! <3

    1. Shey, sorry to hear about your computer crash! I hope you didn’t lose any of your written work. Thanks, sweet writer you xx

    1. True. A few readers have been surprised by that timeline. Thanks for taking time here; your visit is appreciated

  3. What a fantastic presentation, Christy and Resa. I’ve learnt so much about this period of Canadian history this week and become familiar with the valiant works of women I’d never heard of before. Nellie McClung well deserved to be on the Canadian banknote – her achievements are truly wonderful. That she also wrote bestselling books just adds to my admiration of the lady. Thank you both for posting this exciting and inspirational series. I thoroughly enjoyed all three parts. :)

    1. Your comment here is like a beautiful present, Millie. Unwrapping your words is a treat and we thank you :)

    2. I’m so very happy that you, and many others have found this series not just informative, but exciting! Oh…. Nellie should be on the $50.00 note at the very least. However, only the $5.00 is up for a woman.

  4. Thank you very much for these wonderful posts, it is a very good work of documentation, to offer us an interesting information in a very pleasant way, my congratulations !!!
    Both make a great team :)

  5. Beautiful post and tribute (with the three posts)… I am becoming a fan of her too… So nice to learn that there are two libraries named after her in Victoria, CB…
    I loved learning about Nellie Mc Clung and I am grateful that you two have decided to post this trilogy!… sending much love! :D

    1. Hi Aqui, thanks! Yes, now when I look at the library I will know more about the significance behind the name. Really great that you enjoyed the three posts from Resa and I as we had a fabulous week watching them go live! Love to you too, shining star <3

  6. Bravo on an inspiring and truly wonderful series. I enjoyed it so much and I’m happy to have been introduced to this this wonderful women. The text and the photographs worked so beautifully together and gave the entire series a sense of reality and intimacy. Congratulations. <3

    1. Thank you, Gigi! Having you read and comment on this series means the world to me. You are an inspiration, and a true activist for all causes close to my heart. Christy and I are thrilled to have introduced you to Nellie. <3

  7. Thank you, my dear friends! The narratives of women will continue because we celebrate their lives, their actions, their dreams. We must carry their hopes in our hearts. They have left big shoes to fill, I hope that we all have big feet!

  8. Excellent piece, Christy and Resa. Very educational. I am humbled by the tireless work of Nellie McClung and other rights activists, past and present. Our lives today are truly better thanks to them.

    1. Thank you, G. We are grateful for the attention that readers such as you have given to this series about women’s rights and female empowerment, with a particular focus on Canada. Also, I’m reading the fifth Minecraft book and enjoying it xx

  9. Wow. This has been an illuminating series. Until these posts, I knew nothing about Nellie or what she accomplished. Thank you for the legwork and getting this information out there. This should be inspiration especially for our young women.

    1. Tess, thank you. Resa and I wore our hearts on our sleeves as we wrote the series. To receive your comment is very rewarding. If we do inspire women with this series, wow, that would be wonderful <3

    2. Our young women need heroes. Your posts show them how passion and dedication CAN make things happen. In the days these accomplishments were fought are so different from today. Young women are smart and have so many more tools today. <3 <3

    3. Young women are more intelligent than many news corporations and other types of companies would give them credit for. Thanks Tess <3

  10. What an amazing woman Nellie was.
    The best is that she still lives on through the results of her life’s work.
    Another wonderful thing is how much more I got to learn about her by working on this project, “Nellie week”, with you, Christy.
    What an amazing woman you are, Christy! You took the lead in this project, especially on the 3rd post which we wrote together. You kept me focused.
    It seems now that after our “Nellie week” is over, there is so much more to know about her. It seems that even had we had a “Nellie month”, there would be yet, more.
    Much love to you, Christy, and I will cherish this project, always. <3

    1. I am close to tears after reading your comment here, Resa. Happy tears! To feel appreciated is wonderful and to have a women who I admire – YOU – tell me that she thinks I am “amazing” humbles me. I’ll hold you and Nellie close to my heart always <3

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