The Suffragette Movement in Canada

The civil rights movement for women took root in England, circa 1860, where activists were pejoratively referred to as “suffragettes”. But they would quickly adopt the moniker with pride.

The suffrage movement in Canada had its beginnings in 1876 with the creation of the Toronto Women’s Literacy Club (WLC). This group was established by the first female doctor in Canada, Emily Howard Stowe. It was a “discussion group” that focused on social problems. The group later became the Women’s Suffrage Society (WSS) in 1883. The WSS sought to expand the movement into other Canadian provinces and to rally the forces of other suffragist groups.

The suffragist movement and the suffragettes in Canada and Quebec were encouraged by a wave of social reforms that swept across Canada and North America at the time. These reforms addressed problems that were the direct effect of industrialization and urbanization: poverty, child labour and alcoholism.

The suffragists fully embraced the notion of sexual equality and were striving for voting rights in order to better fulfil their social roles as wives and mothers. This was a cry for change that was manifest in all of the Canadian provinces, with the exception of Quebec where the Church was a real impediment to female emancipation.