Senate needs real women


Oliver Mowat, Ontario premier 1872-96, knew how to sit on the fence, as comfortable as only a politician can be in that position. Wikimedia Commons.


Canadian women sought the right to vote and hold public office at least as early as 1883. It would be 35 years later before they won the vote (initially just in federal elections) and 46 years before they could sit in the Senate. But the ladies had the support of at least the Toronto Telegram, which thought that real women would do just as well in the Senate as the men—derided as “old women.”

The Telegram, October 16, 1883, was commenting on a delegation from the Women’s Suffrage Association that had invaded the office of Ontario’s attorney general the day before, politely asking the right to vote.

“Living as they did under the rule of our great and glorious Queen, it seemed to be an anomaly that women should be barred from all legislation rights,” Association President Mrs. McEwan reportedly told Premier Oliver Mowat and several members of his cabinet.

The women had their supporters. Toronto Mayor Boswell presented a city council memorial supporting women suffrage, and added that he personally was strongly in favour of it. Other politicians at the session expressed varying views, pro and con.

Premier Mowat sat on the fence, as comfortable as only a politician can be in that position. There were, said the premier, intellectual and earnest women who had taken a deep interest in the subject, but only one in 10 or one in 20 had expressed their support. “He had no doubt that the time was coming when the women would have the vote,” the Telegram reported, “but whether the time was near or far he could not tell. He would always remember the present interview with pleasure.”

If ladies were allowed to vote, they could not logically be barred from political office, the Telegram said in its editorial comment.

“It would look somewhat odd to see ladies sitting and voting on the School Board, in the City Council, in the Ontario Legislature and in House of Commons at Ottawa. But the present is an age of innovation, and this would be no more remarkable that some others that have taken place. People will concede with very little hesitation that the duties discharged by the Senate, for instance, could be quite as efficiently discharged by ladies as by old women.”

Unfamiliar Canadian history stories 065


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