Nellie McClung 1873-1951 Essay, Research Paper
Nellie McClung 1873-1951
When Nellie McClung was born, as Helen Letitia Mooney, in Chatsworth, Ontario, Canada, in 1873, she was not a PERSON under Canadian law (until April 25th 1940 PERSONS [eligible voters] where defined as “A white male person, including an Indian and excluding a person of Mongolian or Chinese race?No women, idiot, lunatic or criminal shall vote.”). Nor was any other women. Women were denied certain rights that men had, including the right to vote. In law, we were economically dependent on father or spouse. If they inherited property, the husbands owned it. If the husband died, the widow could be left penniless, to raise children in poverty. Women were excluded from many careers, including politics, the law, or medicine. However, there was one woman doctor practicing in Ontario, without a license. Thus Nellie Mooney was born into a world of inequity. Although, it was a world that some reformers were determined to change.
The Mooney family emigrated from Ontario to the Canadian West in 1880 to homestead south of Brandon, Manitoba. Nellie attended school from age ten to fifteen. At age sixteen, in 1889, she completed teacher training. When Nellie was hired to teach in the small town of Manitou in 1890, she boarded with, Reverend James McClung and his wife Annie. Mrs. McClung, was president of the local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (A union against alcohol) Nellie married their son Robert Wesley McClung (Wes) on August 25, 1896.
This Part of McClung’s life is often overshadowed by her political achievements. As a wife and mother of five children, she faced criticism for her decision to pursue a career in politics. Wes supported Nellie?s opinions through out her career. McClung was also a successful writer who published several short stories and novels.
In 1908, her first novel. Sowing Seeds in Danny became a best-seller and launched Nellie’s third career, as a writer. In 1911, when the McClung’s moved to Winnipeg, Nellie joined the Women’s Press Club. There she met women who organized themselves as the Political Equality League to lobby for women’s suffrage. Nellie was active in the speakers bureau, traveling across Canada, the United States, and to Great Britain to lecture at rallies in support of social changes such as prohibition, property rights for wives and widows, access to education and careers, and better laws to regulate safety and working conditions.
Nellie McClung is best remembered in Winnipeg for her triumph in the Women’s Parliament of 1914. The League staged a mock parliament where disenfranchised men petitioned women law-makers. Nellie, playing the Premier, brought down the house. The audience, through tears of laughter, was forced to see how ridiculous were the arguments against women’s suffrage. Evolution, when blocked and suppressed, becomes revolution, Nellie warned. However, revolution was not required in this battle. The government resigned shortly after the show, over allegations of corruption, and was defeated in the election that followed in 1915. The world was already at war in Europe. The new legislature passed prohibition on a surge of patriotism. In January, 1916, women’s suffrage also became law. Women in Manitoba were the first in Canada to achieve the right to vote and hold provincial office.
Nellie McClung moved from Winnipeg in 1915 when Wesley’s pharmacy business took him to Calgary. Nellie continued to work for her causes, publishing “In Times Like These” the year she moved. She traveled to England to lecture on female suffrage in 1921. She ran for office, was elected, and sat as a member of the provincial legislature from 1921 to 1926. After her defeat, she wrote “The Stream Runs Fast” documenting her life commuting from Calgary to the legislature in Edmonton. She also wrote a weekly newspaper column, “Nellie McClung Says . . .”
Nellie McClung had become one of the Famous Five-five Al berta women who petitioned the government of Canada to expand the legal definition of the word PERSON to include women, and thus enable women to be appointed to the Senate. Ottawa refused, but the Five persevered, appealing to London. Eventually, they won their case; on April 25th 1940, the women of Canada legally became PERSONS.
In 1933, Nellie and Wesley retired to Victoria, British Columbia. Nellie began her autobiography, “Clearing in the West: My Own Story”. Still a voice and a mind to be reckoned with, she was appointed in 1936, to the first Board of Governors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and in 1938, as Canada’s delegate to the League of Nations in Switzerland.
In all, Nellie McClung published sixteen books and wrote numerous speeches and columns. Through her work as a teacher, a writer, an activist, a legislator, and as a political appointee, she improved the lives of all women in Canada. What Nellie did was important. But how she did it was even more important, for example, when Nellie saw that women and children suffered economically, socially, spiritually, and often physically because of alcohol and drug abuse, their response was to fight for the right to vote. With the vote, she believed women could insist, that their opinions, and values, would be reflected in the laws that were passed concerning alcohol and the rights of children and families.
It was Nellie who said, when thousands of young Canadian men had been killed in World War I, “The world suffers from an excess of masculinity”. Nellie, challenged all people not to tolerate or accept the masculine values which allowed such slaughters to happen. Nellie McClung said “Never retreat; never explain; never apologize; get the thing done and let them howl.”
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