Journalist, feminist and pacifist, Francis Beynon
The year that is now a month old – 2016 – is the year of the monkey on the Chinese Zodiac. It’s also very much the year of diversity, for many reasons. We’re welcoming thousands of refugees from Syria and elsewhere, and we’re celebrating a century of women being involved in the political process.
It was January 28, 1916 that Manitoba became the first jurisdiction in the British Empire where women were allowed to vote. As we celebrate that, it’s wise to remember that women’s suffrage was not universal by any means for quite a while after that winter day in the middle of the First World War.
We should say a special thank you here to Wendy Lill, a multi-talented writer who did a great deal to bring this particular chapter of prairie history to life. It was while she was working for the CBC in Winnipeg in the early 1980’s that Wendy wrote a play called The Fighting Days. The story of the battle for votes for women was told through Francis Beynon, one of the first women whose byline appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press. Everyone this past week has mentioned Nellie McLung, but it was Frances Beynon and a few others who argued that Nellie and her small band were responsible for a very serious division when it came to women’s suffrage.
The first votes were only given to women who were born here, British subjects they all were then. ‘Foreign women’ weren’t allowed at the polling places for quite a few years. After all, some of them came from places that our King and Country were battling on the fields of France. Ms. Beynon was steadfast in her belief that this was simply not fair. In her wonderful play, Wendy Lill describes how Frances paid a heavy price, both personally and professionally.
How about Indigenous women who are much talked about these days? When were they finally given ballots? Would you believe 1960? It’s worth taking the time to read all the history, not just the headlines.
I’m Roger Currie