Laugh­able ex­cuses for deny­ing women the vote

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - NEWS - Karen Bach­mann

in keep­ing with this month’s theme (it’s women, in case it was not ap­par­ent enough), i have come across some in­ter­est­ing views con­cern­ing why women were de­nied the vote.

i can laugh at th­ese rather odd rea­sons now, but i imag­ine, had i been around back then, i would have taken up the cause and prob­a­bly would have been locked up for a very long time.

the bri­tish house of com­mons de­bated the ques­tion of “votes for women” no less than 18 times be­tween 1870 and 1904.

in canada, our Par­lia­ment was not far be­hind; heated de­bates in the spring of 1918 made for some very in­ter­est­ing read­ing.

case in point - giv­ing the women the right to vote was deemed “too un­la­dy­like”: “dear moth­ers and af­flicted sis­ters, have you con­sid­ered the im­pli­ca­tions of your vote, of en­ter­ing into ‘the foul vapours’ of pol­i­tics? We are more con­cerned about plac­ing a wed­ding ring on her fin­ger than putting a bal­lot in her hand,” railed lu­cien Pa­caud, MP from Que­bec and fu­ture high com­mis­sioner to bri­tain.

Women were “too del­i­cate”: charles Fournier, a lib­eral MP from bel­lechase, Que., rose in the house to pro­claim “the re­ward of­fered the women of canada by the Prime Min­is­ter (bor­den) will be­come the in­stru­ment of their tor­ture and the cause of their down­fall,” he warned. “it will in­jure women phys­i­cally.”

Women were “too weak”: the il­lus­tri­ous MP Fournier con­tin­ued his ar­gu­ment stat­ing “who shall say that at all times they (women) will be equal to the ex­cite­ments of cau­cus rows, cam­paign slan­ders, briberies, in­flammable speeches, torch pa­rades and bal­lot­ing on stormy days?”

Jean-Joseph de­nis, a lib­eral from Joli­ette added: “the phys­i­ol­ogy of woman, the anatomy of woman, re­veals that she is in this world for the pur­pose of love and moth­er­hood and not for the pur­pose of po­lit­i­cal strife.”

Women were “too ig­no­rant”: MPs ar­gued that women should not be al­lowed to vote be­cause they knew noth­ing of sci­ence, trade, com­merce, fi­nance, the mil­i­tary (even though many of them were sta­tioned over­seas dur­ing the First World War, act­ing as nurses, am­bu­lance driv­ers and cler­i­cal help) and the law. Some felt that an ed­u­ca­tion test for women would be war­ranted (but some­how, not for men, who, i think we can agree, are not all ac­com­plished schol­ars).

Vot­ing would prove to be “too much of a dis­trac­tion”: Joseph emile d’an­jou, the MP for ri­mouski be­lieved a “Woman’s place is not at po­lit­i­cal ral­lies, on election com­mit­tees or in the polling booth. the ideal spot for woman is the fam­ily fire­side. isn’t she, in all truth, the an­gel of the hearth?”

Some peo­ple be­lieved that vot­ing priv­i­leges for women would dis­tract them from their roles as moth­ers and wives, and that they would aban­don their do­mes­tic du­ties. Some MPs ar­gued that women’s suf­frage was a hobby for “idle so­ci­ety women” and that the or­di­nary wife did not care for such ideas (i am hold­ing my tongue).

Giv­ing women the right to vote would be “too re­dun­dant” (this is by far my fa­vorite!): Some Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment truly be­lieved to give “women those rights is not nec­es­sary be­cause when men cast their bal­lots, they have women’s in­ter­ests at heart” (for­give me, but ha­ha­ha­ha­ha­haha).

Marie-Joseph de­mers, a lib­eral lawyer rep­re­sent­ing St. John’s-iberville ar­gued they should “con­sider the so­cial po­si­tion of women in the state. ev­ery­where they are ten­dered re­spect, ad­mi­ra­tion, at­ten­tion; in a word, they are ide­al­ized. this ad­mi­ra­tion is ex­tended to them be­cause we all rec­og­nize their sub­lime mis­sion; that is to say, the mo­ral and in­tel­lec­tual de­vel­op­ment of our chil­dren. i be­lieve that it is a dan­ger­ous ex­per­i­ment to take them away from our homes.” (egads!)

Other rea­sons in­cluded “too un­godly” (it went against the laws of na­ture and the bi­ble); women were “too vul­ner­a­ble” (the rea­son­ing is a bit tor­tured as suf­frage would mean women would be men’s equal and no longer would need a man’s pro­tec­tion – she would be too weak on her own to de­fend her­self, ergo she would be­come de­pressed); and one last rea­son, the grand-ma­man of them all – women are “too un­sta­ble” (pol­i­tics would over-ex­cite women re­sult­ing in ner­vous break­downs).

thank the pow­ers that be that John burn­ham, a union­ist (con­ser­va­tive and lib­eral) lawyer rep­re­sent­ing Peter­bor­ough West, rose in the house to add his piece: “Mr. chair­man, he would be a poor man who would not say some­thing on be­half of women at this cri­sis.

“We have heard enough about their be­ing ide­al­ized; they are so ide­al­ized and ethe­re­al­ized that they seem to be ut­terly use­less and to have no rights. let women alone; let them speak for them­selves. Pray, who gave men author­ity and do­min­ion over them? Who put the des­tiny of women in their hands? Who made them the judge? they say one minute that women are such su­perla­tively fine be­ings, and the next they pre­sume to say what they shall do. they put the har­ness on women; they bind them. if women choose to have chil­dren and choose to bring them up, that is their own busi­ness. if women do not want to vote, they need not do so. if they do wish to vote, let them.”

the house strug­gled with the pro­posed act and the orig­i­nal word­ing pro­vided. in light of the strong op­po­si­tion to the pro­posal, Prime Min­is­ter bor­den com­pro­mised and promised that women vot­ers would have to meet the same el­i­gi­bil­ity re­quire­ments as men (i.e. prop­erty rights). the idea was deemed ac­cept­able and the act to con­fer the elec­toral Fran­chise upon Women re­ceived royal as­sent on May 24, 1918. amen.

Photo courtesy of the tim­mins mu­seum

Some peo­ple were very wor­ried that women might ac­tu­ally get the right to vote. This anti-suf­frage sign was posted by the Canadian Pa­cific Rail­way Com­pany in Lon­don, Eng­land in 1913.

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