The Political Equality League (1912 – 1916)
by Linda McDowell
by Linda McDowell
On March 29, 1912 a group of women and men met at 808 Wolseley Avenue, home of Mrs. A. G. (Martha Jane) Hample, Winnipeg’s first businesswoman. Their main objective was to organize and work for woman suffrage but they were also concerned about a number of social and educational issues, including the working conditions in factories.
There is a generalization in many articles about the PEL that this was a middle class group of “wealthy Winnipeg women” only interested in the right to vote.
There certainly were women who could afford to spend time campaigning on suffrage and other political and social issues, because they had other women to clean their houses and care for their children, but that certainly did not apply to all members.
The first big event planned was a public meeting to give information about their organization and about woman suffrage to the public. Three speakers were suggested for this event and were to be contacted – Rev. Connor, Mrs. Nellie McClung and Mrs. D.E. McEwen, Brandon. Nellie would later become an active member of the League.
The first slate of Political Equality League officers indicates the people who were particularly active.
Hon. President: Rev. Dr. J. L. Gordon
President: Mrs. A.V. Thomas (Lillian Beynon)
Vice President: Dr. Mary Crawford
Corresponding Secretary: P.E. Wilson
Recording Secretary: W. Gow
Treasurer: Mrs. A.G. Hample
Publicity: Mrs. A. V. Thomas
The Publicity Committee: Mrs. A.V. Thomas, G. Chipman, Mrs. Perry (Anne Anderson), Miss Kennethe Haig, Miss Mae Clendenan, and Miss Cora Hind. All of them were journalists.
Lack of money was a problem at the beginning because the League needed to be able to provide speakers to take their message to the small towns and farms of Manitoba as well as to the Winnipeg audience. Mrs. Hample provided some initial funding. Later they raised money by selling memberships and, when Nellie McClung joined them, she suggested that she could add a lecture on woman suffrage to her already successful public readings of her books. She charged 25 cents a head and was able to pay her own expenses that way. Nellie was extremely popular, with a record 100 readings in Manitoba in 1911 and she could get as many as 3 000 people out in Brandon. The League’s most famous activity, the Women’s Parliament of 1914, provided funding for most of the rest of their campaign.
The Political Equality League speakers often inspired communities such as Carberry or Portage la Prairie (or Moosomin, Saskatchewan) to set up their own Political Equality Leagues, affiliated with the Winnipeg group. The Roaring River Suffrage Association had been set up independently by the Twilley sisters and their friends, but they also worked with the Winnipeg League. The Icelandic suffrage groups were not affiliated with the English groups but they kept in touch and usually joined the Political League in petitions and making presentations to the Premier.
The League had a number of good ideas to get citizens involved in their campaign. Their Speakers’ Bureau included PEL members such as Mrs. A. V. Thomas, Miss Francis Beynon, Miss Winona Flett (who married Fred Dixon in 1914), and Mrs. Nellie McClung. The journalist members constantly wrote articles for the newspapers and Francis Marion Beynon wrote about suffrage and women’s rights in her regular “Women’s Page” in The Grain Growers’ Guide. Mrs. Thomas used her newspaper column and the Homemaker’s Clubs she organized across the Prairies to carry the message as well. In 1913 the League ordered one hundred “Votes for Women ” banners which were placed on Winnipeg streetcars. In 1913 they also had a booth at the Winnipeg Stampede and handed out pamphlets. It was a great advantage that the Stampede program included so many women performers – roping and riding champions! The Women’s Parliament of 1914 was the League’s most successful activity. Not only did it make money but woman suffrage suddenly became very respectable and everyone wanted to get involved.
When Premier Norris won the 1915 election he promised to bring legislation for woman suffrage to the Legislative Assembly. However, before he did this, he requested a petition with 17,000 signatures to prove that people really supported the idea of votes for women. The League organized the petition project of 1915 and the final presentation involved sixty people presenting 39 584 signatures from the general group and 4 259 signatures collected by Mrs. Amelia Burritt alone. Mrs. Burritt was a 94 year-old woman living on Sturgeon Creek Road.1
The League organizers had intended that their organization would stay active after the vote was won and would train women candidates and generally continue the work of lobbying the government for social change. That did not happen. Members were tired, the Conscription issue of 1917 and the later Winnipeg Strike of 1919, divided the group, and some of its leaders left Winnipeg.
Born at Manchester, England on November 2, 1875, Alfred Vernon Thomas attended Manchester Grammar School and served in Europe as a representative of a lace manufacturer. He regularly contributed to the Guardian while living abroad. Thomas embarked for Canada in 1905 as part of a round-the-world tour. He remained in the country, reaching Winnipeg around 1914. After three years with the Manitoba Free Press he lost his job because of his anti-conscription attitudes. He went to New York, returning to Winnipeg in 1923 to begin a career with the Winnipeg Tribune that ended only with his retirement in 1944. Municipal editor of the Tribune, he held strong views in favour of municipal ownership of utilities. He served as President of the Winnipeg Press Club in 1934.
Husband of Lillian Beynon.
He died at his Winnipeg home, 213 Furby Street, on 11 September 1950 and was buried at Brookside Cemetery.
Born at Toronto, Ontario on September 18, 1861, daughter of Edwin Hind and Jane Carroll, she was educated at the Collegiate Institute of Orillia, Ontario. She came to Manitoba in 1882 to become a teacher, but her credentials were inadequate and she ended up as a typist in a law office. In 1893, she opened her own typing bureau and first published in the Manitoba Free Press. Two years later she became western correspondent for eastern newspapers. In 1901, she was hired as agricultural reporter for theManitoba Free Press, where she became a noted journalist famed for her crop estimates, which usually contained less than a one percent margin of error. Hind was also involved in reform and women’s issues.
She was a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, wrote newspaper pieces on living and working conditions in Winnipeg, and in 1894 helped found the Manitoba Equal Franchise Club. She was involved in the Women’s Institutes movement and in 1912 was a founding member of the Political Equality League. Like many reformers of her generation, she feared the influx of non-British “foreigners.” She wrote Red River Jottings (1905).
Her account of agricultural conditions around the world, based on extensive travel, appeared in 1939 as My Travels and Findings. She was awarded an honorary LLD from the University of Manitoba and in 1935 was made an honorary life member of the University Women’s Club. In later years she put much of her energy into the Red Cross. She helped to organize, with Robert Aitken, William Pearson, and Dr. J. H. R. Bond, the Winnipeg Garden Club.
She died at Winnipeg on October 6, 1942 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Some of her papers are in the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections and some are in the Archives of Manitoba. She was inducted posthumously to the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Born at Lancashire, England on 2 June 1876, daughter of Captain Matthew Crawford and Mary MacWilliam. Her father was a captain in the Merchantile Marine. After his death, his widow came to Ottawa where for a time she was principal of the Presbyterian Ladies’ College. Dr. Crawford was educated at Ottawa Normal School and the University of Toronto. She taught school at Ottawa for a time.
After completing her medical course at Toronto, she interned at the West Philadelphia Hospital for Women and Children. She came to Winnipeg and practiced for eight years privately. She was appointed Chief Medical Inspector for the public schools of Winnipeg in 1909. She was a member of the Manitoba Medical Association, Alpine Club of Canada, and Women’s Canadian Club; a founding member and first president of the University Women’s Club, and President of the International Association Women Physicians. She took an active part in the interest of women’s suffrage, and was president of Women’s Equality League. Presbyterian. Address, 31 Mortimer Place, Winnipeg. She retired in 1941.
She died at Invermere, British Columbia on June 6, 1953, and was buried in the Lake Windermere Cemetery, BC.