Nellie McClung, Should Men Vote?, 1914

Nellie McClung

Author and Suffragist

The day before Canadian author and suffragist Nellie McClung performed this spectacular act of satire at a theatrical ‘Mock Parliament’ in 1914, she attended a very similar speech made by Sir Rodmond Roblin, premier of the Manitoba province. At a Legislative Assembly meeting packed with women asking for the vote, Roblin argued against women’s suffrage, naming, among other reasons, woman’s sweet and maternal nature. McClung took careful mental notes. ‘He never had a closer listener in all his life. I observed every gesture, the attitude he struck when he caught his thumbs in the armholes of his coat, twiddling his little fingers and teetering on his heels,’ she later wrote in her autobiography. ‘He was making the speech that I would make in the play in less than thirty-six hours. O, the delight of that moment!’

The following night, at a nearby theatre, McClung and other members of the Manitoba Political Equality League staged A Woman’s Parliament, in which they held their own mock legislative meeting. In the alternative world of the play, women ruled the government and had come together to address a pressing question: Should men vote? McClung played the role of the premier, addressing the men and women in the audience with polite condescension, as she had seen Roblin do the previous day.

In 1916, Manitoba women became the first in Canada to win the right to vote. As McClung wrote in her 1921 novel Purple Springs, ‘People seem to see a joke better sometimes when it is turned around’.

Should Men Vote? 1914

Gentlemen of the Delegation:—

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here to-day, — we like delegations, and altho this is the first time you have asked us for the vote, we hope it will not be the last…. We wish to congratulate you too, on the quiet, and ladylike way in which you have come into our presence …

But I cannot do what you ask me to do, for the facts are all against you!…

Manhood suffrage would plunge our fair province into a perfect debauchery of extravagance, a perfect nightmare of expense…. You are asking me to put men, not only under clouds, but under barns, and I tell you frankly, I wont do it, for I have always loved and reverenced men.

… Oh no, no, man was made for something higher and holier than voting. Men were made to support families and homes which are the bulwark of the nation. What is home without a father? What is home without a bank account?… Shall I call men away from the useful plow and the necessary harrow to talk loud on street corners about things which do not concern them!…

In the United States of America when men vote, there is one divorce for every marriage, – for politics unsettle men, and that leads to unsettled bills, and broken furniture, and broken vows. When you ask me for the vote, you are asking me to break up peaceful and happy homes and wreck innocent lives, and I tell you again frankly, I will not do it. I am an old-fashioned woman, I believe in the sanctity of marriage.

… Men in politics have given us many unhappy examples – Nero, Herod, King John, are not worthy heroes, and yet you want me to hold up these men before our young people; I wonder any man ever dare ask for the vote in the light of such examples as these.

… With your little brain you cannot grasp what it means to run a Government such as this. Brains like yours only come in boys’ sizes. But you think you can dictate to me, a woman who was busy running Governments when you were sitting in your high chair, drumming on a tin plate with a spoon!

… my most earnest wish for this bright land of Promise is that I may long be spared to guide its destiny among the nations of the earth…. [I must] go forward in the strong hope that I may long be spared to be the proud standard bearer of the grand old Flag of this grand old party, which has gone down many times to disgrace, but thank God! never defeat!

… Oh no, no, man was made for something higher and holier than voting.

Nellie McClung