Nellie McClung

Nellie McClung
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta
In office
18 July 1921 (1921-07-18)  28 June 1926 (1926-06-28)
Succeeded by John Lymburn, Charles Weaver, Charles Gibbs, Warren Prevey and David Duggan
Constituency Edmonton
Personal details
Born Helen Letitia Mooney
(1873-10-20)20 October 1873
Chatsworth, Ontario
Died 1 September 1951(1951-09-01) (aged 77)
Victoria, British Columbia
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Robert Wesley McClung[1]
Occupation Social activist
Known for Women's rights activist

Nellie Letitia McClung, (born Helen Letitia Mooney; 20 October 1873  1 September 1951), was a Canadian feminist, politician, author, and social activist. She was a part of the social and moral reform movements prevalent in Western Canada in the early 1900s. In 1927, McClung and four other women: Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby, who together came to be known as "The Famous Five" (also called "The Valiant Five"),[2] launched the "Persons Case," contending that women could be "qualified persons" eligible to sit in the Senate. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the current law did not recognize women as such. However, the case was won upon appeal to the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council—the court of last resort for Canada at that time.


Historical plaque honouring McClung, located just south of Chatsworth, Ontario
Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King unveiled plaque to the Valiant Five in the Person's Case

Nellie McClung Mooney was born at Chatsworth, Ontario in 1873, the youngest daughter of John Mooney, an Irish immigrant farmer and a Methodist, and his Scottish-born wife, Letitia McCurdy. Her father's farm failed and the family moved to Manitoba in 1880.[3] She received six years of formal education and did not learn to read until she was ten.[4] She later moved with her family to a homestead in the Souris Valley of Manitoba.[5] Between 1904 and 1915,[6] Nellie McClung, her husband Wesley, a pharmacist, and their five children,[7] resided in Winnipeg, Manitoba where, from 1911 until 1915, McClung fought for women's suffrage. In both the 1914 and 1915 Manitoba provincial elections, she campaigned for the Liberal party on the issue of the vote for women. She helped organize the Women's Political Equality League, a group devoted to women's suffrage. A public speaker known for her sense of humour, she played a leading role in the successful Liberal campaign in 1914.[5] She also played the role of the Conservative Premier of Manitoba, Sir Rodmond Roblin, in a mock Women's Parliament staged in Winnipeg in 1914 under the auspices of the Canadian Women's Press Club. The theatrical effort was designed to expose the absurdity of the arguments of those opposed to women's suffrage by pretending to debate whether or not the franchise should be granted to men. Nellie and her colleagues celebrated the defeat of the Roblin government in August, 1915 but by the time Manitoba became the first province in Canada to grant women the vote on 28 January 1916, under the new Liberal government, she had already moved to Edmonton, Alberta.[6] In Edmonton, she continued her career as an orator, author, and reformer.[8] In 1921, McClung was elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly as a Liberal. She then moved to Calgary, Alberta in 1923, and dedicated herself to writing. She had already written her first novel, Sowing Seeds in Danny, published in 1908. A national bestseller, the book was succeeded by short stories and articles, McClung wrote in several Canadian and American magazines.

McClung's house is in Calgary, Alberta, her residence from 1923 to the mid-1930s, still stands and is designated a heritage site.[8] Two other houses in which McClung lived have been re-located to the Archibald Museum[9] near La Rivière, Manitoba in the Rural Municipality of Pembina where they have been restored. The houses are open to the public. The McClung family residence in Winnipeg is also a historic site.[10] Her great causes were women's suffrage and the temperance. She understood that the First World War had played an important role in broadening the appeal of women's suffrage. The manpower shortages during this time required widespread female employment, making the image of the sheltered female not applicable to Canadian circumstances.[3] It was largely through her efforts that in 1916 Manitoba became the first province to give women the right to vote and to run for public office.[11] After moving to Edmonton, she continued the campaign for suffrage. She championed dental and medical care for school children, property rights for married women, mothers' allowances, factory safety legislation and many other reforms. McClung was a supporter of the then popular social philosophy of eugenics and campaigned for the sterilization of those considered "simple-minded". Her promotion of the benefits of sterilization contributed to the passage of eugenics legislation in Alberta.[12] While arguing for equitable divorce laws, of which she was a longtime supporter, McClung once asked, "Why are pencils equipped with erasers if not to correct mistakes?" [3]

McClung was active in many organizations. She founded the Winnipeg Political Equality League and the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada—"the largest adult education movement in Canada"—and the Women's Institute of Edmonton, of which she was the first president. She was active in the Canadian Authors' Association, the Canadian Women's Press Club, the Methodist Church of Canada, the Calgary Women's Literary Club, among others.[13]

She sat as a Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta from 1921 to 1926, in opposition to the government of the United Farmers of Alberta. Her opportunity to press for women's rights was limited because women were not taken seriously.[3]

She was one of The Famous Five (also called The Valiant Five), with Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy and Louise McKinney. The five put forward a petition, in 1927, to clarify the term "Persons" in Section 24 of the British North America Act 1867. This section had served to exclude women from political office. The petition was successful, clearing the way for women to enter politics in Canada.[11]

McClung was the grandmother of Alberta judge John McClung.


In 1954, Nellie McClung was named a Person of National Historic Significance by the government of Canada. A plaque commemorating McClung is located on the west side of Hwy 6, 1 km south of Hwy 40, Chatsworth, Ontario.[14] In addition, the "Persons Case" was recognized as a Historic Event in 1997.[15]

In October 2009, the Senate voted to name Nellie McClung and the rest of the Five Canada's first "honorary senators."[16]


In Famous Five statue, Parliament Hill, Ottawa



See also


  1. "Nellie McClung 1873–1951". Famous Women in Canada. Mount Allison University / The Centre for Canadian Studies. 2001. Archived from the original on 2 March 2010. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  2. Kome, Penney (1985). Women of Influence: Canadian Women and Politics (1st ed.). Toronto: Doubleday Canada. pp. 31–32. ISBN 978-0-3852-3140-4.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Strong-Boag, Veronica (2004). "McClung, Nellie Letitia (1873–1951)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. pp. 278–2799. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/65562. (subscription required (help)).
  4. Sanderson, Kay (1999). 200 Remarkable Alberta Women. Calgary, Alberta: Famous Five Foundation. p. 23. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  5. 1 2 Hallett, M.E. (1 April 2008). "Nellie McClung". The Canadian Encyclopedia (online ed.). Historica Canada. Retrieved 29 September 2015..
  6. 1 2 Nutkin, Harry; Gutkin, Mildred (Autumn 1996). "Give Us Our Due! How Manitoba Women Won the Vote". Manitoba History. The Manitoba Historical Society. 32. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  7. Conrad, Margaret; Finkel, Alvin, eds. (2006). History of the Canadian Peoples: 1867 to the present. Volume 2 (Fifth ed.). Toronto: Pearson, Longman. p. 134. ISBN 0-3215-3908-7.
  8. 1 2 Nellie McClung House. Canadian Register of Historic Places.
  9. "Archibald Museum (RM of Pembina)". Historic Sites of Manitoba. Manitoba Historical Society. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  10. "McClung House (97 Chestnut Street, Winnipeg)". Historic Sites of Manitoba. Manitoba Historical Society. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  11. 1 2 Library and Archives Canada. Nellie Letitia (Mooney) McClung. Celebrating Women's Achievements. Archived 29 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. Marsh, James (March 6, 2013). "Eugenics: Keeping Canada Sane]". The Canadian Encyclopedia (online ed.). Historica Canada. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  13. Encyclopedia of Canadian Adult Education. "Nellie McClung". University of the Fraser Valley. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
  14. McClung, Nellie Mooney National Historic Person. Directory of Federal Heritage Designations. Parks Canada.
  15. Persons Case National Historic Event. Directory of Federal Heritage Designations. Parks Canada.
  16. "Alberta's Famous Five named honorary senators". The Globe and Mail. The Canadian Press. 11 October 2009. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
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