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From left to right, Nellie McClung, Alice Jamieson, and Emily Murphy posing together for a photo
First Women In Canadian Politics

Alberta’s Women Have Always Kicked Ass

Alberta's women have always been a force to be reckoned with, fighting for their rights and inspiring change

Alberta’s women have been a powerful force throughout history. From suffragists to civil rights advocates, our incredible women refused to settle for anything less than a fair and equal opportunity.

This includes women like Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung. These two women fought tooth and nail for women’s suffrage in Alberta in 1916. They spent years pushing for the right of women to vote in elections.

Murphy and McClung were members of the Edmonton Equal Franchise League (EEFL), established on January 1, 1913. EEFL was the first organization entirely dedicated to women’s suffrage. Like the Avengers, but with a whole lot of kickass men and women.

The EEFL was affiliated with the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), which was founded in 1909. The UFA’s primary focus was crops and cattle, not women’s rights.

January 1, 1914, was a historic day for women across Canada.

On this day, Alice Jamieson became the first female judge in Canada and the British Empire. She was appointed judge of a juvenile court in Calgary and was later appointed police magistrate to hear women’s cases in 1916.

A black and white photo of Alice Jamieson on the right and a quote from her on the left
A photo of Alice Jamieson, an important figure in women’s suffrage | Glenbow Museum | TheRockies.Life Staff

Before Jamieson served as a judge, she founded and was president of Calgary’s Local Council of Women for six years. Even as a judge, she lent a hand to many women’s organizations, including the YWCA and women’s suffrage.

“Cold shoulders greeting me on every hand… (but) I drew myself up and said, ‘well, I’m here and I’m going to stay,'” said Jamieson to those who opposed her appointment.

While Jamieson’s appointment was a huge milestone, the battle for women’s suffrage was far from over. On January 27, 1914, a group of suffragists, including Murphy and McClung, gathered before the Manitoba Legislative Assembly.

When McClung demanded suffrage for women, Sir Rodmond Roblin, the Conservative Premier at the time, boldly claimed that most women didn’t even want the vote.

Ah, yes. The classic irony of a man thinking he knows better than a woman. This was an irony McClung and her fellow suffragists would not let slide.

n fact, they made an entire theatre event out of it!

They acted out the scene, flipping the roles of men and women.

McClung played Premier’s role, addressing a group of men looking for the right to vote in front of a laughing audience.

By making fun of the status quo, McClung and her compadres were able to capture just how pointless not letting women vote was.

Considering the performance was a huge success, most people seemed to agree.

Nellie McClung sitting at a desk writing with a pen and paper posing for the camera
Nellie McClung | Glenbow Library Archives

By 1915, things were reaching a boiling point. On February 26, 1915, McClung brought a petition to the Alberta legislature.

Petitions across the province were being brought before the legislature with as many as 40,000 signatures from both men and women. The people had spoken.

On April 19, 1916, women in Alberta finally won the right to vote and work in the provincial office. While this was a huge win, not everyone was celebrating.

Japanese and Chinese women in the province still weren’t allowed to vote until the 1940s. If that wasn’t bad enough, First Nations women could not vote until the 60s.

Today, women across Alberta are keeping the flame of equality burning. This International Women’s Day, women across the province came together to celebrate.

“We have a role to play not only for ourselves but for the next generation, and my hope today is that we leave inspired and have the ability to influence,” said keynote speaker Shazma Charania at the event. 

International Women’s Day last week was a time to reflect on the incredible accomplishments of women worldwide, not just in Alberta.

But Alberta’s kickass women of the past, present, and future deserve to be remembered and celebrated every day.

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