Archives for posts with tag: Nellie McClung

Nellie McLung, born Letitia Helen Mooney in 1873, is one of my favourite Canadian heroes—and she grew up in my hometown of Wawanesa, Manitoba where a number of her Mooney relatives still reside. This post provides a segue from my January theme celebrating ten years of blogging—which began with a website on men’s spirituality—to my February theme celebrating Manitoba’s 150th anniversary.

Nellie McLung’s accomplishments are many:
1. She began a teaching career in Manitou, Manitoba where she met her husband.
2. She gave birth to five children in 16 years.
3. She authored 16 books, both fiction and nonfiction.
4. In 1911 she moved to Winnipeg and organized the “Political Equality League” to lobby for women’s suffrage. By 1916 women were allowed to vote in Manitoba.
5. She was elected to the Alberta legislature in 1921
6. She became one of the “Famous Five” women from Alberta who petitioned the federal government to expand the legal definition of PERSON to include women. They finally won their case in 1929 when women in Canada legally became persons.
7. She was also involved in other campaigns: prohibition of alcohol, anti-war, urban renewal, emphasis on family and women’s contributions to society.
8. In 1936 she became the first woman on CBC board of directors.
9. In 1938 she became Canada’s delegate to League of Nations.

Nellie McLung was known for her passionate speech and acerbic wit. Here are a few of my favourite feminist quotes, mostly from her book, In Times Like These:
“I am a believer in women, in their ability to do things and in their influence and power. Women set the standards for the world, and it is for us, women in Canada, to set the standards high… Men alone are not capable of making laws for men and women… Never underestimate the power of a woman… Women had first to convince the world that they had souls and then that they had minds and then it came on to this matter of political entity and the end is not yet… That seems to be the haunting fear of mankind—that the advancement of women will sometime, someway, someplace, interfere with some man’s comfort… We may yet live to see the day when women will be no longer news! And it cannot come too soon. I want to be a peaceful, happy, normal human being, pursuing my unimpeded way through life, never having to stop to explain, defend or apologize for my sex… Women who set a low value of themselves make life hard for all women… The greatest insult came at the marriage ceremony when the minister asked ‘who giveth this woman,’ and some brother, or father or other man, unblushingly said he did, as though it were entirely a commercial transaction between men… The economic dependence of women is perhaps the greatest injustice that has been done to us, and has worked the greatest injury to the race.”

And two quotes that sum up her personality and legacy: “Never retract, never explain, never apologize; get things done and let them howl… I want to leave something behind when I go; some small legacy of truth, some word that will shine in a dark place.”

In recognition of Canada’s 150th anniversary as a political entity, I begin a series of Canadiana blogs this summer, including a few top ten lists! So let’s begin with politics:

My Top Ten Canadian Politicians [Yes, there are some!]

    1. Tommy Douglas: My favourite by a southern Saskatchewan mile and voted greatest Canadian in a CBC poll a few years ago. I agree with the poll. A small-town Baptist preacher who became the father of universal health care, a true servant of the people.
    2. Lester B. Pierson: Although he only had a minority government, he introduced universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada, the Maple Leaf flag, bilingualism and biculturalism, kept Canada out of the Vietnam War, abolished capital punishment, and won the Nobel Peace prize.
    3. Louis Riel: Read some of my other blogs and you’ll know why. The Canadian government of 1885 killed him and the government more than a century later needs to exonerate him.
    4. Nellie McClung: Also see previous posts.
    5. Bill Blaikie: He was the faithful M.P. in Transcona [Winnipeg] for 30 years. We lived in his riding for 6 years and he even accepted an invitation to talk to our church youth group about faith and politics, about which he later wrote a fine book.
    6. Joe Clarke: He always seemed awkward publicly and only served as PM for a few months but he was a solid and respected international diplomat in later governments.
    7. Jack Layton: A true social democrat who spoke out on behalf of the marginalized and brought new energy to his party and to federal politics, all while fighting a personal battle with cancer.
    8. Agnes McPhail: The first woman to be elected to Canadian parliament.
    9. Wilfred Laurier and
    10. William Lyon Mackenzie King for being the longest serving PM’s. Anyone who sacrifices decades of life to public service leading a democratic nation has my admiration.


Notice that John A. Macdonald is not on the list. I will tell you why on the next post.

On Mother’s Day let’s celebrate some Canadian women who were also mothers.

Kim Campbell was the first and only woman prime minister and the only one born in BC. She never gave birth to children but became the stepmother to three daughters.

Joni Mitchell, one of the greatest female singer songwriters, gave up her only daughter for adoption and they did not meet again until 32 years later.

Mary Two-Axe Earley was a Mohawk woman from the reserve of Kahnawake, Quebec. She worked as an indigenous women’s rights activist against the gender discrimination that lost indigenous women “status” under the Indian Act. She was the mother of two children.

Margaret Laurence, born in Neepawa, Manitoba became one of the most famous Canadian authors with 16 books to her credit. She was also the mother of two and even wrote a children’s book.

Nellie McClung was a women’s rights activist, reformer, and legislator who was instrumental in securing women’s right to vote. She was also a member of first CBC board of governors, author of 16 books, and was the mother of five children! And, I happened to grow up in the same community as she did, near Wawanesa, Manitoba.

My mom was not famous but she should be. She was the oldest of 14 children, born at the end of the Great Depression on the Canadian prairies. She had to quit school at grade 8 [age 13] to look after her younger siblings and then got married at 19, beginning her own family a few years later. I was her firstborn. My mother managed a market garden and a household of six children, getting an education and a job in psychiatric care in midlife. My mom knew how to live more with less. We never had a lot of money, and she never spent it on herself, and always set some aside for special occasions and family trips and outings. Happy Mother’s Day!

My last post was put up in some haste in order to get it out on International Women’s Day, so let me finish it with some more thoughts from Nellie McClung about women’s leadership in church and society. I recall growing up in Wawanesa, MB and learning that Nellie [Mooney] McClung had grown up in the same community. A number of Mooney families still reside there; I even have a brick from the house in which she lived, salvaged when it was demolished. Thus, there is some local fascination besides the fact that she helped to bring the recognition of “women as persons” to our Canadian constitution, and with it the right to vote. She was a writer and a speaker and known for her wit and strong opinions. The following quotes from her 1915 publication, In Times Like These, indicate that she was a woman of her time, yet since we still do not have gender equality in the world—not even in our own country—her words are still relevant for our own time.

On women and reading:
Long years ago, when women asked for an education, the world cried out that it would never do. If women learned to read it would distract them from the real business of life which was to make home happy for some good man. If women learned to read there seemed a possibility that someday some good man might come home and find his wife reading, and the dinner not ready—and nothing could be imagined more horrible than that! That seems to be the haunting fear of mankind—that the advancement of women will sometime, someway, someplace, interfere with some man’s comfort.

I dare say it has and it has been a good thing for all of us!

On women and preaching:
If a woman should feel that she is divinely called of God to deliver a message, I wonder how the church can be so sure that she isn’t. There was a rule given long ago which might be used yet to solve such a problem: ‘And now I say unto you, refrain from these men, and let them alone, for if this council, or this work be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God you cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.’
That seems to be a pretty fair way of looking at the matter of preaching; but the churches have decreed otherwise, and in order to save trouble they have decided themselves and not left it to God. It must be great to feel that you are on the private wire from heaven and qualified to settle a matter which concern the spiritual destiny of other people… The church fails to be effective because it has not the use of one wing of its army, and has no one to blame but itself.

Preach it, Nellie!