Monday was election day in Canada and I happily took myself off to the polling station and exercised my right to vote for my member of parliament. As I did so, I remembered my grandmother, one of the first generation of Canadian women to win the vote. Imagine, she’d taught school, personally known Sir John A. MacDonald,, helped her husband pioneer on a farm in Northern Ontario, born ten children, sent a son to fight in Flanders Fields and she was deemed unfit to chose her government. In our modern age such a situation seems incredible. Roughly 30% of eligible voters didn’t bother to mark a ballot this time around. My grandmother would shake her finger at them and say, “shame on you.”
My grandmother got the right to vote partially through the efforts of the Famous Five, a group of five women who took their demand to be considered “persons” under the law all the way to the Privy Council in Britain. They had been denied by the Supreme Court of Canada, but the Privy Council agreed that women were in fact, persons, and as such must be treated equally with men under the law.
Apart from the right to vote, and the right to run for parliament, this change in the understanding of the BNA Act had far reaching effects on women’s rights of ownership, finances, family, children, divorce and education. The famous five didn’t end their activism with suffrage. After they were declared “persons” they worked on many causes including mother’s allowances, better education for their children, free medical and dental care for school children, and equal pay for equal work.
One of the Famous Five was Nellie Mooney McLung. My grandmother claimed kinship with Nellie because of the shared Mooney name. I have a cousin who has done extensive work on our family tree and even she has been unable to unearth a connection between our family and Nellie’s but Grandmother claimed there was a spiritual connection even if she couldn’t find one by blood.
So, as I cast my vote I say thanks to Nellie and her compatriots who campaigned so tirelessly for the rights of women and I say thanks to my grandmother who instilled in all her many descendants the privileges and duties of citizenship. This one’s for you, Gramma.