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In 100-year-old essay, a plea for women’s voting rights



Just over 100 years ago, in March 1916, women won the right to vote in Saskatchewan (the prairie provinces were the first to allow women that right). Ellen Edna Hickey wrote the following essay in 1916 before voting rights for women had been secured. Born March 12, 1895, Edna was the third youngest child in a large Irish Catholic family of three girls and 10 boys (two of whom died in infancy). Their parish church was St. Paul’s Cathedral in Saskatoon. Edna became a school teacher for many years and at age 39, in 1934, married Joseph Gregory Condon in St. Paul’s Cathedral. She gave birth to a daughter, Maureen, in 1936. The essay is provided by Maureen Condon Horon who asks readers to keep in mind that the terminology and manner of speaking are typical of the era.

The fundamental plea for women suffrage is exactly the same as for manhood suffrage, “democracy.” If democracy is right, the vote should be given to women. If democracy is wrong, the vote should be taken away from men. Democracy means government of the people, by the people, for the people. Are women people?

All anti-suffrage arguments come down to two things. Either they are arguments against democracy and apply with equal force to men and women, or else they are based on the feeling that women are not really persons. Just as if women were the personal property of man, and not a responsible human being.

Women are probably quite as capable of putting the vote to good use as are the foreigners, who, after a brief period of residence, are allowed suffrage without any preparation or study. The ignorant, the half-wits and sub-normals, the drunkards and the criminally inclined, who are not only allowed to vote, but have the vote thrust upon them. This argument, while doubtless true, seems a rather puerile one, since there would be small advantage in multiplying the clerical work of the voting booth if some considerable good were not to be gained thereby. We believe that the women who want the vote, who have worked to get the vote, and believe in the justice and necessity of equal suffrage, are capable of handling that responsibility in an intelligent manner.

One of the arguments against suffrage is, that to use it intelligently is going to necessitate a no small amount of investigation and study, to accomplish which, will require an expenditure of time and energy, which has heretofore and which according to those who oppose the movement, might better continue to be used in catering to the physical necessities and wants of family life and such domestic social pleasure as may benefit her station. Women, in general are pretty well aware that no really intelligent, systematic and forehanded woman, can or need, in these days of labour-saving devices, spend all her time actively working.

The day has gone when women can sit back entrenched behind the door which husbands and sons close upon them when they go out into the world’s work, and leave everything  pertaining to the government of that world, to their men.

Every woman is bound to be a part of the government under which she lives. If she is not one of the governors, she is one of the governed. And whether she holds an active or passive position, she, as a “free and independent citizen,” has a right to express her wish and have her wish recognized, as to the manner in which she shall do — either govern or be governed. Heretofore she has attempted to do this second hand, through influence, but now she proposes to go about it in the first person.

The woman’s interests are no longer absolutely within the walls of her home. Knowing a few things about how laws are formed and what laws are best for the safety of the home, the family and the individual, isn’t going to prevent a woman from knowing how to care for her home. It is nonsense to assume that a woman’s brain couldn’t hold both, just the same as a man may know how to run his business and vote intelligently as well.