January 28, 2019

Winning with Humor: 'Should Men Vote?'


Significant Speeches , On This Day , Public Speaking , Seen|Read|Heard

"Of course, with the customary hot-headedness of reformers, you never thought of that. Oh, no, just like a man, you never thought of the expense . . . "

– From Nellie McClung's speech "Should Men Vote?"

Nellie McClung and other Canadian suffragists were told repeatedly that nice women didn’t vote. Manitoba’s premier Rodmond Roblin said in January 1914 that if women voted it would be "a retrograde movement … it will break up the home."

McClung, a skilled orator and writer, countered that remark with humor. On January 29, 1914, she played the leading role in a mock parliament at the Walker Theater in Winnipeg, where she gave the speech “Should Men Vote?”

Her approach lampooned Roblin and the many reasons she and her fellow suffragists had heard for denying women the vote. Here are some excerpts:

Manhood suffrage would plunge our fair province into a perfect debauchery of extravagance, a perfect nightmare of expense. Think of the increased size of the voters list—we have trouble enough with it now.

In the United States of America, when men vote, there is one divorce for every marriage, for politics unsettle men, and that leads to unsettled bills, and broken furniture, and broken vows. When you ask me for the vote, you are asking me to break up peaceful and happy homes and wreck innocent lives, and I tell you again, frankly, I will not do it

McClung’s delivery was reported to have been over-the-top, getting big laughs from the largely female audience. McClung became a sought after speaker. Women secured the right to vote in Manitoba two years later.

McClung moved to Alberta before the right to vote was granted in Manitoba, so continued her fight in Alberta until women in all of Canada were allowed to vote in 1918. 

From 1921 to 1926, she served in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

She was also a member of The Famous Five, five women who petitioned in 1927 for women to be legally considered persons so they could be appointed to the Canadian Senate. Rejected by Canada’s Supreme Court, their case was overturned in 1929, a victory for women’s rights.

While McClung is admired for her speaking, her success as a novelist, her work on women’s rights, and as an advocate for the poor, she leaves a complicated legacy.

Find McClung’s full speech “Should Men Vote” here and one analysis of why that speech was so successful here.  

And here’s an interview with a woman who witnessed the speech as a young girl recalling the impact it had:

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