28 January 1914, Manitoba, Canada
Nellie McClung was a Canadian suffragette from the province of Manitoba. Following a statment from the Premier of Manitoba, Sir Redmond Roblin, that giving women the vote would be tantamount to breaking up the home, McLung and fellow suffragettes staged a mock parliament. This was the most famous speech. Manitoba granted women the vote on 28 January 1916, exactly two years later.
(Hands in front, locking fingers with the thumbs straight up, gently moving them up and down, before speaking….Teeter back on heels.) Gentlemen of the Delegation, I am glad to see you. (Cordial paternalism) Glad to see you—come any time, and ask for anything you like. We like delegations—and I congratulate this delegation on their splendid, gentlemanly manners. If the men in England had come before their Parliament with the frank courtesy you have shown, they might still have been enjoying the privilege of meeting their representatives in this friendly way.
But, gentlemen, you are your own answer to the question; you are the product of an age which has not seen fit to bestow the gift you ask, and who can say that you are not splendid specimens of mankind? No! No! any system which can produce the virile, splendid type of men we have before us today, is good enough for me, and (drawing up shoulders, facetious) if it is good enough for me—it is good enough for anybody.
But my dear young friends, I am convinced you do not know what you’re asking me to do (didactic, patient); you do not know what you ask. You have not thought of it, of course, with the natural thoughtlessness of your sex. You ask for something which may disrupt the whole course of civilization. Man’s place is to provide for his family, a hard enough task in these strenuous days. We hear of women leaving home, and we hear it with deepest sorrow. Do you know why women leave home? There is a reason. Home is not made sufficiently attractive. Would letting politics enter the home help matters? Ah no! Politics would unsettle our men. Unsettled men mean unsettled bills—unsettled bills mean broken homes—broken vows—and then divorce. (Heavy sorrow, apologetic for mentioning unpleasant things.)
(Exalted mood) Man has a higher destiny than politics! What is home without a bank account? The man who pays the grocer rules the world. Shall I call men away from the useful plow and harrow, to talk loud on street corners about things which do not concern them? Ah, no, I love the farm and the hallowed associations—the dear old farm, with the drowsy tinkle of cowbells at eventide. There I see my father’s kindly smile so full of blessing, hardworking, rough-handed man he was, maybe, but able to look the whole world in the face…. You ask me to change all this.
(Draw huge white linen handkerchief, crack it by the corner like a whip and blow nose like a trumpet) I am the chosen representative of the people, elected to the highest office this fair land has to offer. I must guard well its interests. No upsetting influence must mar our peaceful firesides. Do you never read, gentlemen? (Biting sarcasm) Do you not know of the disgraceful happenings in countries cursed by manhood suffrage? Do you not know the fearful odium into which the polls have fallen—is it possible you do not know the origin of that offensive word “Poll-cat”, do you not know that men are creatures of habit—give them an inch—and they will steal the whole sub-division, and although it is quite true, as you say, the polls are only open once in four years—when men once get the habit—who knows where it will end—it is hard enough to keep them at home now! No, history is full of unhappy examples of men in public life; Nero, Herod, King John—you ask me to set these names before your young people. Politics has a blighting, demoralizing influence on men. It dominates them, pursues them even after their earthly career is over. Time and again it has been proven that men came back and voted—even after they were dead.
So you ask me to disturb the sacred calm of our cemeteries? (Horrified) We are doing very well just as we are, very well indeed. Women are the best students of economy. Every woman is a student of political economy. We look very closely at every dollar of public money, to see if we couldn’t make a better use of it ourselves, before we spend it. We run our elections as cheaply as they are run anywhere. We always endeavour to get the greatest number of votes for the least possible amount of money. That is political economy.
(Responding to an outcry—furious) You think you can instruct a person older than yourself, do you—you, with the brains of a butterfly, the acumen of a bat; the backbone of a jelly-fish. You can tell me something, can you? I was managing governments when you were sitting in your high chair, drumming on a tin plate with a spoon. (Booming) You dare to tell me how a government should be conducted?
(Storming up and down, hands at right angles to the body) But I must not lose my temper (calming, dropping voice) and I never do—never—except when I feel like it—and am pretty sure I can get away with it. I have studied self-control, as you all know—I have had to, in order that I may be a leader. If it were not for this fatal modesty, which on more than one occasion has almost blighted my political career, I would say I believe I have been a leader, a factor in building up this fair province; I would say that I believe I have written my name large across the face of this province.
But gentlemen, I am still of the opinion, even after listening to your cleverly worded speeches, that I will go on just as I have been doing, without the help you so generously offer. My wish for this fair, flower-decked land is that I may long be spared to guide its destiny in world affairs. I know there is no one but me—I tremble when I think of what might happen to these leaderless lambs—but I will go forward confidently, hoping that the good ship may come safely into port, with the same old skipper on the bridge. We are not worrying about the coming election, as you may think. We rest in confidence of the result, and will proudly unfurl, as we have these many years, the same old banner of the grand old party that had gone down many times to disgrace, but thank God, never to defeat