Early calls for suffrageWhen Manitoba entered Confederation in 1870, the right to vote was extended to male citizens who owned property. It was believed that people who did not own property could not be counted on to vote responsibly. Treaty Indians were also denied the vote. It was not until 1888 that the property restrictions were removed, while treaty Indians were not granted the vote in Manitoba until 1952.
Women in Manitoba were allowed to vote in certain elections: female property owners were given the right to vote in municipal elections in 1887and school board elections in 1890. They also had the right to serve as school trustees from 1890 onwards.
Nor were all Canadian politicians opposed to giving women the right to vote. As early as 1883 Canadian Prime Minister John A. Macdonald considered giving the vote to propertied widows and spinsters. That same year, a number of Toronto women, all members of the Toronto Women's Literary Society, created Canada's first suffrage organization: the Toronto Women's Suffrage Organization.
Icelandic women, who had already had the vote in their home country, campaigned for the vote from their arrival in Manitoba in the 1870s. In the 1890s Dr. Amelia Yeomans provided the Manitoba suffrage movement with leadership. Yeomans was prominent in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, whose Manitoba branch had endorsed votes for women and presented a petition to the government calling for female suffrage in 1893. When the government ignored the petition, Yeomans organized and presided over a mock parliament in which speakers presented arguments for and against suffrage. The following year she founded the Manitoba Equal Suffrage Club. Men were allowed to join the Club, which operated as a quiet lobbying organization for about a decade. In 1902 the Voice, the newspaper of Manitoba's labour movement endorsed suffrage.
The movement for women's votes suffered a reversal in 1906 when the legislature stripped women of their right to vote in municipal elections. This defeat was reversed the following year. From that point on the reform movement continued to grow. The Voice, from 1907 onward, carried a column by Ada Muir of the Women's Labor League that regularly made the case for suffrage. In 1908, the Grain Growers' Guide instituted a women's page that carried regular and detailed reports on suffrage movements around the world. That same year Margaret Benedictsson helped establish the Icelandic Suffrage societytwo years later it was petitioning the legislature for the vote.
These events were all taking place in a larger context. In 1906 the Canadian Suffrage Association was established and in 1910 the cautious National Council of Women came out in favour of suffrage. When the Political Equality League was founded in 1912, it would build on the work that had been done by these pioneering organizations.