Divided by the Ballot Box: The Montreal Council of Women and the Election of 1917

TitleDivided by the Ballot Box: The Montreal Council of Women and the Election of 1917
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsBrookfield, Tara
JournalCanadian Historical Review
Start Page473
Date Published12/2008

Prime Minister Robert Borden created the Wartime Elections Act in September 1917 – a move that granted temporary voting rights to women who had close relatives serving in the military. Their votes were positioned as key to winning the war because it was assumed that newly enfranchised wives and mothers would support Borden’s controversial conscription plans to reinforce their husbands and sons at the front. Suffragists across the country were divided by the act’s limited enfranchisement and its connection to conscription. This turmoil reached its pinnacle in Montreal, a city that was at the centre of nationalistic and ethnic strife caused by the war, and triggered rifts within the city’s largest Anglophone women’s organization, the Montreal Council of Women. One result of this tension was the impeachment trial of the council’s long-time president, Dr Grace Ritchie-England, for her criticism of the Wartime Elections Act and conscription during the 1917 federal election. Calling attention to the resistance of and conflicts between middle-class club women who were normally viewed as hegemonically supportive of the war effort widens our understanding of women’s disparate opinions and activism during the First World War and the fragile nature of suffragists’ political unity.

Short TitleDivided by the Ballot Box
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