Democracy’s Unfinished Project: Canadian Suffragists at Work in 1919

Dr. Veronica Strong-Boag

In 1919, few Canadian suffragists believed that democracy had arrived. While celebrating the passage of the federal “Act to Confer the Electoral Franchise Upon Women” (May 24, 1918), which came into effect on January 1st, they challenged politics as usual (and for that matter continuing social and economic subordination) at home and abroad. Favorite targets were Canada’s many own provincial and territorial holdouts and long called for legislative reforms (from minimum wage to mothers’ pensions and guardianship of children) in jurisdictions where women had the vote. They also remained, as they had been since the 19th century, globally minded. 1919 gave Canadians a front row seat on determined struggles by American suffragists to win ratification of the 19th amendment and by global feminists to gain recognition in the newly formed League of Nations. While Canada’s own discrimination against Asian and Indigenous women was ignored, suffragists, like the labour movement, stood at the heart of fierce debates about the shape of the brave new post-World War One world.