Out of the women’s associations formed in the late 19th century, emerged a suffrage movement that continued to gain momentum until women began to appear in the political and economic spheres. Combined with the moral and social atmosphere that developed during the First World War, women stepping into positions vacated by servicemen, expanding their role in the community, and politicians’ growing awareness that their position on female suffrage could swing the vote in an election, worked together to speed the process of getting women the vote to its inevitable conclusion.
One of the founding members of the National Council of Women of Canada, Dr. Augusta Stowe-Gullen, was the first woman to obtain a medical degree in Canada, and was a leader of the women’s suffrage movement. At first some Council members were less than enthusiastic about the need for universal suffrage, but, in the end, the National Council pressed for women’s suffrage in representations to provincial legislatures and the federal parliament. In 1918, the passing at the federal level of the Act to Confer the Electoral Franchise Upon Women rewarded their efforts.
A major thrust through the years has been the appointment of women magistrates and women to boards, delegations, and commissions. In 1897, minutes from a local Council record an early success – the first women trustees appointed to the school board in New Westminster, B.C. Throughout the twentieth century, many letters, briefs and telegrams have gone to the government asking for the appointment of women to boards, tribunals and international delegations. The government has responded, if slowly. In the 1930s, NCWC President Winnifred Kydd and Nellie McClung were members of Canadian delegations to the League of Nations. In 1930, Cairine Wilson, an active member of the Ottawa Council of Women, became the first woman to be appointed to the Senate.