A newly unearthed petition sheds light on how early in her life activist Nellie McClung started raising her voice for women’s rights.

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A newly unearthed petition sheds light on how early in her life activist Nellie McClung started raising her voice for women’s rights.

The 1893 scroll, which collected signatures in support of the women’s suffrage movement in Manitou, Man., included one from a 19-year-old McClung. Not yet married, she signed the document with her maiden name: Nellie L. Mooney.

The scroll included signatures in support of the women’s suffrage movement in Manitou, Man.

GILLIAN POTVIN PHOTO

The scroll included signatures in support of the women’s suffrage movement in Manitou, Man.

The petition also included signatures from McClung’s future husband, Wesley McClung, and several of his family members, both men and women.

Tobi Brown, who discovered the signature while doing general suffrage research in the Manitoba Archives in January, said she couldn’t believe what she found.

"I think I probably stopped breathing," said Brown, a board member for the Nellie McClung Heritage Site in Manitou. "I got really excited because this isn't anything I was expecting to see. Honestly, it was pure luck that this happened to be there."

Read the petition

To His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor and the the Legislature of Manitoba:

The Petition of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of the Province of Manitoba, hereby sheweth:

Whereas the women of the Province of Manitoba compose a large part of the population, and in their various occupations and spheres, contribute to the growth and prosperity of the Province, and...

To His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor and the the Legislature of Manitoba:

The Petition of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of the Province of Manitoba, hereby sheweth:

Whereas the women of the Province of Manitoba compose a large part of the population, and in their various occupations and spheres, contribute to the growth and prosperity of the Province, and

Whereas, in the homes and schools of this Province, in all the movements of moral reform, in temperance and missionary efforts, women have laboured to inculcate the highest and noblest principles of human conduct, thereby promoting the purest patriotism, and

Whereas, in all mental and moral power, and in educational attainments, and in all that constitutes true citizenship, in intelligence, industry, love of home and country, the power to produce wealth and to share national burdens, the average woman has proved herself equal to the average man, and

Whereas the Municipal Franchise granted to the women of this Province has been attended with good results, and

Whereas our Government is founded on the principle of representation by population, and

Whereas, at present only the male portion of the people are represented;

Therefore, the officers and members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the undersigned residents of the Province of Manitoba declare their conviction that it is a contradiction of the law and an injustice to one half the people to deny them a voice in the affairs of the Province;

Wherefore, your petitioners pray that your Honor and the members of your Legislature will be pleased to sanction an Act providing that the rights fo citizenship shall not be abridged or denied on account of sex, but that the Franchise be granted to the women of this Province on an equality with men;

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

Brown said she was at the archives to look more into the wording of some of the earliest petitions that sought to get women the right to vote. She was inspired to do so after going with her two teenage daughters to a women’s suffrage display that celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the 1916 decision that allowed some women in Manitoba to vote.

"I wanted them to have an understanding of how that happened," said Brown.

In 1916, Manitoba became the first province to give some women the right to vote and hold provincial office. That change triggered other provinces to do the same, and finally led to women getting to vote federally in 1919. However, it would be decades before all women won this right; Indigenous people, for example, did not get the federal vote until 1960.

Barbara Biggar, co-chair of the Manitou heritage site’s board, said she hopes the discovery of 19-year-old McClung’s signature will inspire young women and girls to join the fight for women’s rights today.

"People often ask us, ‘When did Nellie become Nellie?' And the answer is: Nellie was always a headstrong, determined young woman," said Biggar. "(She was) willing to step out and commit her name to paper and say, ‘I want to make a difference. I want to fight for the right to vote for women.’"

Biggar said the discovery will also help show people the Manitou roots of the woman famous for her participation in the 1914 "mock parliament" performed to raise money and garner sympathy for women’s suffrage in Winnipeg, and the 1929 Persons Case that resulted in women officially being recognized as people in Canada.

CP PICTURE ARCHIVE/National Archives of Canada</p><p>Nellie McClung.</p>

CP PICTURE ARCHIVE/National Archives of Canada

Nellie McClung.

"I grew up in Manitou, so Nellie McClung was always part of my life," she said. "People in Manitoba always associate her with Winnipeg and with the mock parliament, (but) they don’t always think back to the almost 20 years she was in Manitou."

McClung’s legacy is one that resonates deeply with both Biggar and Brown -- and for Brown, it hits especially close to home as her 18-year-old daughter gets ready to vote in two elections this fall.

"I think for her, realizing the work that went into it generations ahead of her probably will lead to a better understanding and appreciation of everything that they kind of take for granted," said Brown.

The Nellie McClung Heritage Site has photographed the Manitou petition pages, the originals of which remain in the archives. With the help of the Manitoba Museum, the heritage site created its own replica that will be on exhibit in Manitou’s McClung House until the end of September.

caitlyn.gowriluk@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @caitlyngowriluk