Let Them Howl

An exhibition created by Library and Archives Canada and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

“Never retreat, never explain, never apologize. Get the thing done and let them howl.”
 – Nellie McClung

2016 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Canada. Women won the vote in small incremental steps, with the western provinces leading the way. However, many women were denied the right to vote until the 1960s.

Women’s suffrage was a powerful and early expression of women’s rights in Canada. Yet, women who began this struggle often did not represent working class, Indigenous and immigrant women. As these marginalized groups began to assert their own rights, the women’s movement reflected greater diversity, all with the continuing concern of social reform, justice and equality.

This outdoor exhibition features reproductions of portraits that celebrate the unique history of the struggle for women’s rights in Canada.

Nellie McClung

Portrait of Nellie McClung
Nellie McClung by Cyril Jessop, around 1915–1920 Reproduction Library and Archives Canada / e010933901

In 1914, Nellie McClung and the women of Manitoba’s Political Equality League staged a satirical play called Women’s Parliament, in which men were denied the vote. Thanks to the continued advocacy of McClung and others, less than two years later, Manitoba became the first province to expand the franchise to women.

Agnes Macphail

Portrait of Agnes Macphail
By Yousuf Karsh, 1934 Reproduction Library and Archives Canada / c021562

In 1921, Agnes Macphail became the first woman elected to the House of Commons, in the first federal election in which women had the vote. Despite opposition and ridicule, Macphail was an outspoken advocate of labour and women’s rights. She founded the Elizabeth Fry Society in 1939 to help women prisoners.

Thérèse Casgrain

Portrait of Thérèse Casgrain
Thérèse Casgrain by George Nakash, around 1935–1940 Reproduction Library and Archives Canada / a123482

Thérèse Casgrain founded the Ligue des droits de la femme in 1921 to tackle problems affecting women in Quebec, including their inability to vote provincially. After a 20-year struggle, the women of Quebec became the last to win the right to vote and to run for office provincially.

The Honourable Cairine Wilson

Portrait of The Honourable Cairine Wilson
The Honourable Cairine Wilson By George Horne Russell, around 1930 Reproduction Library and Archives Canada / e011079612

Cairine Wilson became Canada’s first female senator in 1930, only four months after the ruling in the Persons Case determined that women were “qualified persons” and eligible to sit in the Senate. In 1949, she became Canada’s first woman delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.

Doris Anderson

Portrait of Doris Anderson
Doris Anderson By Barbara Woodley, 1989 Reproduction Library and Archives Canada / e010973512

As chair of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Doris Anderson campaigned for women’s rights to be better recognized in the Canadian Constitution. In 1981, she became the catalyst for a lobbying campaign that resulted in men and women being defined as equal under the law in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Rosemary Brown

Portrait of Rosemary Brown
Rosemary Brown By Barbara Woodley, 1990 Reproduction Library and Archives Canada / e010933904

Rosemary Brown entered the political arena as an advocate for members of visible minorities and for women’s rights. In 1972, Brown became the first Black woman elected to a Canadian legislature. Three years later she became the first Black woman to seek the leadership of a federal political party.

Adrienne Clarkson

Portrait of Adrienne Clarkson
Adrienne Clarkson by Bryan Adams, 1990 Reproduction Library and Archives Canada / e008406026

In 1942, Adrienne Clarkson and her family fled the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada. Clarkson broke through gender and racial barriers, becoming an accomplished journalist, broadcaster, and the Governor General of Canada. She was the first Chinese Canadian to be appointed to the vice-regal position.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin

Portrait of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin by Joe Plaskett, 2002 Reproduction Library and Archives Canada / c150123

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin’s judicial career began with an appointment to the Vancouver County Court in 1981. Overcoming institutional barriers in a male-dominated profession, she became Chief Justice of Canada in 2000, the first woman to occupy the position in a Commonwealth nation’s Supreme Court.

Dr. Emily Howard Stowe

Portrait of Dr. Emily Howard Stowe
Dr. Emily Howard Stowe by Herbert E. Simpson, around 1880-1903 Reproduction Wilfrid Laurier University Archives & Special Collections

Dr. Emily Howard Stowe was a pioneering Canadian physician and suffragette, and the first woman to practise medicine in Canada. In 1877, she helped found the Toronto Women’s Literary Guild, Canada’s first suffrage group set up to fight for women’s rights and improved working conditions.

Edith MacTavish Rogers

Portrait of Edith MacTavish Rogers
Edith MacTavish Rogers by Gauvin Gentzel, around 1921 Reproduction McTavish and Campbell family fonds, Manitoba Archives

Edith MacTavish Rogers was the first woman elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly in 1920. Serving until 1932, she was instrumental in making changes to the Child Welfare Act. These changes made it possible for more women to access financial support for the care of their children.

Bertha Clark Jones

Portrait of Bertha Clark Jones
Bertha Clark Jones by Greg Southam, 2007 Reproduction © Edmonton Journal. Credit: Greg Southam

Bertha Clark Jones was a powerful Métis activist in the Aboriginal women’s movement. In the late 1960s, she co-founded the Voice of Alberta Native Women’s Society and later became first president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Throughout her life, she promoted and defended Indigenous ancestral laws, spiritual beliefs, language and traditions.

Françoise David

Portrait of Françoise David
Françoise David by Pierre-Luc Daoust, 2012 Reproduction © Pierre-Luc Daoust

In 1995, Françoise David, then president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec, helped organize the first Bread and Roses March against poverty, re-engaging the women’s movement. More than 800 women marched for 10 days to the city of Québec. That event inspired a global grassroots movement among women’s organizations.