In the 1800s, women began to take a more significant role in the public sphere. The Council of Women was established, followed quickly by the National Council of Women in 1883 by Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Governor General. She visited Halifax and met with women from over forty women’s organizations. The Local Council of Women in Halifax was formed in 1894. Our first President was Emma MacKintosh. These women gave support to changes for the public good.
They were dedicated to improving things for women and children in the area. They went to work immediately, making a significant impact in our community. Some of these efforts included work with:
- The Victoria School of Art and Design
- The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
- The Nova Scotia Red Cross
- The IWK Children’s Hospital
- Dalhousie’s first Women’s Residence
- The Halifax Victorian Order of Nurses
- The Ladies Musical Club of Halifax
- The Halifax Playground Commission
- The Official Employment Bureau
- School of Domestic Science
- Women’s Welcome Hostel
- and the Anti-Tuberculosis League.
Some early leaders made news well outside of the province. These members were called the “Nova Scotia Five”, pictured below, Anna Leonowens, Edith Archibald, Eliza Ritchie, Agnes Dennis, and May Sexton. Place your mouse over the photo to see their names.
All of these women worked hard for 24 years, fighting for the right to vote. They sent 34 petitions to the government – six of which were introduced but not passed. The first bill was passed by the Province House (Nova Scotia), but quashed by Attorney General James Wilberforce Longley (who opposed unions and female emancipation for the twenty years he was in office).
The year following the defeat of the first suffrage bill, the Local Council was established as the local chapter of the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC). On August 30, 1894, the executive committee met for the first time at Government House. Emma MacIntosh serving as the first president. Anna Leonowens was the secretary. Enfranchisement was the issue. (The concomitant preoccupation with enfranchisement was reflected locally in the founding of the Woman’s Suffrage Association in March 1895; Leonowens was president, assisted by sisters Eliza Ritchie and Mary Walcott Ritchie, along with Charlotte McInnes.) Between 1892 and 1895, thirty-four suffrage petitions were presented to the Nova Scotia legislature, and six suffrage bills were introduced, the final one in 1897.
In June 1897 the annual meeting of the National Council was convened in Halifax, where presentations were made by Lady Aberdeen and American suffragist May Wright Sewall. On June 11, 1914, the Suffrage Club was established at Wright’s home to work on granting women the right to vote throughout the province.
On 22 February 1917, the LCWH presented a suffrage petition endorsed by forty-one women’s organizations. When the Liberal Premier ignored the issue, irate members introduced a private member bill. Its defeat marked the birth of the Nova Scotia Equal Franchise League in the spring of 1917. On April 26, 1918, with the support of premier George Henry Murray, the Assembly passed The Nova Scotia Franchise Act, which gives women the right to vote in Nova Scotia’s provincial elections, the first province to do so in Atlantic Canada. (A month later Nova Scotian and Prime Minister of Canada Robert Borden – whose wife Laura Bond was former president of the LCWH – used his majority to pass women’s suffrage for the whole country.
Almost forty-three years later, on 1 February 1961, Gladys Porter is the first woman elected to the House of Assembly.
Many women’s organizations of Halifax joined the Local Council and through the years, the Council urged reforms on local governments, for example, allowing women to serve on the School Board and City Council; provision of clean water supplies; and inspection of food sold in local stores. The National Council of Women has presented and still presents resolutions to the Federal Government, with the aim of improving the lives of women and children.
Join us – add your voice, talents, and ideas to the work that still needs our attention!