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New exhibit celebrates Canadian women's fight for the right to vote

Display at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa also explores the historical context of women's suffrage
  • Oct 07, 2016
  • 438 words
  • 2 minutes
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“Nice women don’t want the vote.”

That’s what Manitoba Premier Sir Rodmond Roblin told suffragist Nellie McClung in 1914, two years before women first won the right to vote in the country. It’s also the name of the newest exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa, which launched on October 5 during Women’s History Month to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage in Canada. 

Developed by the Manitoba Museum, “Nice Women Don’t Want the Vote” explores the historical context of the women’s suffrage movement through artifacts, sound clips and photographs. The display reveals the struggle faced by suffragists at the time, including the decades-long fight to secure the right for indigenous women and women of colour to vote, as well as tensions within the movement and within the families of the women involved. The display also features a ballot box, where visitors can write to the suffragists of the past and share their thoughts on the importance of universal franchise. 

Here are some of the interesting artifacts from the exhibit, which will be on display at the museum until March 12, 2017.

“Votes for Women” pennant

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“Votes for Women” pennant felt, 1913–1915 Donated by Warren West, Manitoba Museum, H9-38-198 (Photo courtesy Canadian Museum of History)

Pennants and sashes were used to express loyalty to the cause. The use of the colour gold in the North American women’s suffrage movement has its origins in the sunflower, a symbol of Kansas, where an early campaign was defeated in 1867.


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 “[NO] VOTE FOR WOMEN,” cedar siding, 1910–1915, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba; loan courtesy of the Wishart family of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba Museum (Photo courtesy Canadian Museum of History)

This is a section of exterior wall from a house that formerly stood just north of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. The woman living in the home painted “VOTE FOR WOMEN” on the side of her house so that it could be seen from the road. Her husband later painted “NO” above this sign.

Ceramic geese

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Porcelain Match Holder, 1910–1914, Schafer & Vater, Germany; donated by Kim Semonick in memory of her grandmother Sarah Roper, Manitoba Museum, H9-38-361 (Photo courtesy Canadian Museum of History)

This ceramic memento makes an anti-suffrage statement, equating women suffragists with “silly geese.”

Mae Irene Whyte

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Mae Irene Whyte in 1912. (Photo courtesy Marion Kaffka)

Mae Irene Whyte (1885–1962) moved from Ontario to Winnipeg in 1912 with her brother to look for work and became a dedicated suffragist. In this photograph, she is dressed as a man to attend a “burlesque” with her brother at the first Calgary Stampede.


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