Independent Novel Speech: Nellie McClung

In 1929, “the word ‘persons’ [finally] include[ed] members of the male and female” gender (pg153). I have been a person for less than 100 years. My biography by Charlotte Gray chronicles the life of Nellie McClung. “Nellie was a key figure in two of the critical campaigns of first-wave feminism: the fight to win the vote and the fight to be considered persons” (pg5). Through studying Nellie McClung and her actions within first wave feminism we can begin to understand the social identity of Canadians.


The first thing I noticed in my biography was the extremely different way Canadians approached feminism. Their “priority was not the predicament of educated women who wanted to enter professions, but the plight of farmers wives and factory workers, and the vulnerability of immigrant” women (pg186). They kept feminism mainstream and closer to the basis of human rights. By supporting other rights movements such as rights for welfare and immigrants. Nellie McClung with others recruited support for their cause. This approach represents Canadians willingness to support social causes that do not directly represent them. The idea that values are rooted in compassion towards others and not just ourselves. Canada was built not only on the democratic right to vote on our own needs but also on the needs of the people around us.


See, “Nellie was operating in a male-dominated society, [but] her actions did not dislodge the deeply rooted power structure of her Canada” (pg7). Nellie McClung sought to change the views of the government as opposed to overthrowing them completely. She appealed to all social classes through performances where women re-enacted arguments against women’s rights in reverse gender roles. Peacefully protesting their absurdity. What was so different between men and woman? Why couldn’t women vote? The Canadian People respected McClung for her relatability and thought-provoking arguments. She respected governmental systems and demanded amendments in comparison to outright change. This brings to light the Canadian social value of strong governmental powers. Today we see this within our federal government which often takes the lead on social movements in comparison to advocate groups.


McClung was never focused on her own legacy, one of her most famous quotes is “in Canada we are developing patterns of life” however “we who make the patterns are not important, but the pattern is” (Prologue). McClung wanted her movement to last not her legacy. We can see patterns of this when we compare our historical figures to those of the US. The reason why Canadians are often overshadowed by our southern neighbor is that we are modest, self-effacing. We focus on civil rights movements as opposed to civil rights icons. Our actions are rooted in slow but steady, peaceful political changes such as confederation, women’s’ rights, and even reconciliation. In contrast, the US empowers individual people and organizations outside the government. Social Canadian Identity is rooted in highlighting groups and their causes. Rarely do we remember these changemakers whose actions are so prominent in Canadian culture, but we do remember the results of their changes. Our value is of groups and their causes not recognition of individuals.


Overall, social Canadian identity is rooted in values: the value of the needs of others, the value of relatable leaders who respect governmental systems, and the value of groups who advocate for social change. Thanks to these values, I am a person!

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