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Quebec women and the vote

The Story

They were the last women in Canada to get the provincial vote. But thanks to Thérèse Casgrain and her colleagues, Quebec women finally got the right to vote provincially in 1940. In this 1972 Quebec Now clip, Casgrain recalls the difficulties in rallying Quebec women to fight for the vote. They were well-informed women, she says, and had a great deal of influence on their husbands' decisions. But because of "formalities and old customs," many Quebec women opted to remain in the political background.

Medium: Radio
Program: Quebec Now
Broadcast Date: Oct. 23, 1972
Guest(s): Thérèse Casgrain
Reporter: Sheila Mathieson
Duration: 3:57
Photo: National Archives of Canada

Did You know?

• Women in Quebec (Lower Canada) who owned property actually voted occasionally in the late 18th and early 19th century — they weren't bound by the same British common law conventions that barred women from voting in Upper Canada. Women in Lower Canada were, ironically, the only ones in the British Empire to vote at that time. That right came to an end in 1849, however, when women were formally barred from voting in Quebec. They didn't get that right back until almost a century later.

• As Canadian women gained the vote federally and women in other provinces gained the vote provincially between 1916 and 1925, Quebec resisted giving women the provincial vote. This resistance was primarily focused on maintaining the traditional social order of the province, based on Catholic family values. Women were seen as guardians of home and family, and therefore the protectors of the French-Canadian race. If they were to enter public life by voting, the argument went, it could hurt their society as a whole.

• The female suffrage movement in Quebec was largely led by two women: Idola St-Jean and Thérèse Casgrain. From the 1920s until 1940, they led a small group of feminists to work tirelessly in order to change public and government opinion on the issue.
• This was an uphill battle. According to the Elections Quebec website, "the clergy, politicians, journalists, the majority of women, and society in general" were against female suffrage at the time.

• By staging demonstrations, organizing information campaigns and lobbying provincial politicians, Quebec suffragettes were slowly able to change enough minds to make a difference. Quebec women were finally granted the right to vote in provincial elections in April 1940.

• Thérèse Casgrain came from a wealthy Quebec family, and was the wife of Liberal MP Pierre Casgrain. In 1946, she joined the CCF party (the forerunner of the NDP) and became leader of the party in Quebec from 1951 to 1957. She was extremely active in politics and women's issues throughout her career. In 1970, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed her to the Senate. She was forced to retire a year later because she turned 75. Casgrain passed away in 1981 at the age of 85.



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