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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The British Columbia woman suffrage movement, 1890-1917 Hale, Linda Louise

Abstract

This thesis focuses on the examination of the motives and tactics of the British Columbia suffragists in their campaign from 1890 to 1917 to secure political equality with men. Also investigated are the nature of the leadership and membership of the movement and the perspectives of the suffragists' allies and opponents. Additionally, the British Columbia woman suffrage movement is studied in the context of the general reform impulse in the province, Canada and other western nations during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The British Columbia woman suffrage campaign was closely linked throughout its duration to a general campaign to remedy the subordinate legal status of women in the province. Yet, while united by this common theme, the campaign can be divided into two distinct phases. Prior to 1910 efforts to secure the school board, municipal, provincial and federal franchises were conducted primarily by suffragists who subscribed to the view that women were naturally endowed to exercise a beneficent influence within the home, the local community and the nation as nurturers, preservers of virtue and purifiers. They argued that by participating in government women could activate the moral regeneration of society and thereby combat what they perceived to be the adverse effects of industrialization, urbanization, immigration and the persistence of frontier social institutions such as the saloon. By 1910, however, the social reformers were joined by a group of new suffragists who emphasized that women should be granted political equality as it was the democratic right of all citizens. Demanding a wider scope for women's activities than the majority of the first generation of suffragists, these women maintained that they should be able to utilize the vote on behalf of their various and sometimes divergent interests as homemakers, consumers, wage-earners, philanthropists and professionals. Despite these differences of perspective, all the suffragists maintained that the problem of women's subordinate status could be solved by legislative means. They believed that an equal partnership between men and women in public and private life would occur automatically following the winning of the ballot. Similarly, the suffragists principally interested in social reforms thought that they could be most effectively enacted by legislation. The suffragists also viewed state intervention in the form of legislation as necessary to preserve the liberty of the individual, either by granting him specific rights such as the ballot or by restricting the social behaviour of persons not conforming to the general norm. In this respect the British Columbia woman suffrage movement can be characterized as a liberal movement.

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