DOL Women’s Sufferage Interwar Period

Cause and Consequence:

Between the first and second world wars, there was a dramatic social movement within Canada to improve women’s rights and grant them the vote. The main leaders of this movement are known as the famous five. These five women were Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Henrietta Edwards. The famous five were five women from across Canada who petitioned the Supreme court to consider women as persons under the British North American Act of 1867. Moreover, these five women petitioned for women’s and children’s rights within provinces and eventually won women the vote and right to sit in the Senate. The reason that women’s rights were so prominent during this time was due to the challenges and war acts during World War I. In 1917 the wartime elections act was passed allowing women to vote if they served in the military or had male relatives fighting in the war. This was the first step towards the many acts and policies that followed during and after the war. The economic despair faced during World War I forced employers to hire women into professions normally occupied by men. After the war ended there was a push for women to give up these professions causing attention to be drawn to gender roles. This attention allowed women such as the famous five and other rights activists to use the media and create a discussion around women’s rights.Related image

Historical Perspective:

There were many different perspectives on the women’s rights movement during the interwar period. Some viewed the change as an inevitable event as women had already secured the vote in the US and England. These people believed that women should have identical rights to men, and it had taken too long for Canada to solve the discrepancy in rights within the law. However, some people also viewed the movement as an attack on the male gender. They believed that activists had chosen a time to corrupt values when society was at its weakest, right after the first World War. In their eyes, the famous five were opportunists who had jumped at the opportunity to overthrow the fragile balance of power within Canada. Overall, values don’t change overnight, and there were many groups opposed to women’s rights and many in favor.


Continuity and Change:

Women’s rights within Canada was not clearly defined until after the first World War. Before World War I Canada did not specify if women were people. Within the law, those of the female gender was sidelined in favor of men and the countries political and economic success. The value of Canadian citizens had much to do with their gender. However, during the campaigns during the 1920s changes began to become evident within Canadian society. After the acceptance of women as people in 1929, the right to vote and campaign in federal elections gave a voice to women in Canada. Moreover, there was a drastic improvement within the court system to recognize and assess complaints by females in society. Overall, changes made to the value of women during the interwar period shaped the way feminism is perceived today.


Historical Significance:

This social movement was the beginning of a long-standing tradition of Canadians being trailblazers within social change. Women’s rights allowed Canada for the first time to separate its laws from British rule and begin to change. We were able to critically evaluate the laws that Britain helped us shape and morph them into laws specific to our country. Without the women’s rights movement our laws and parliament may not have changed into the distinctly autonomous nation we are today. By adapting our laws to give women the vote Canada also took a large step in beginning to address the problems of minorities within our society. In this way the activism towards women’s rights allowed Canada to autonomously adapt to a socially progressive movement and distance our social connections with Britain.



Youtube “how women changed Canada over a cup of tea” Famous Five Foundation

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