Who Was Nellie McClung? What Did She Do?

Canadian Women's Activist and One of Five Women Who Fought the Persons Case

Nellie McClung, Canadian Women's Rights Activist
Nellie McClung, Canadian Women's Rights Activist. Cyril Jessop / Library and Archives Canada / PA-030212

A Canadian women's suffragist and temperance advocate, Nellie McClung was one of the "Famous Five" Alberta women who initiated and won the Persons Case to have women recognized as persons under the BNA Act. She was also a popular novelist and author.


October 20, 1873, in Chatsworth, Ontario. Nellie McClung moved with her family to a homestead in Manitoba in 1880.


September 1, 1951, in Victoria, British Columbia


Teachers College in Winnipeg, Manitoba


Women's rights activist, author, lecturer and Alberta MLA

Nellie McClung's Causes

Nellie McClung was a strong advocate for the rights of women. Among other causes, she promoted

  • the vote for women
  • temperance
  • women's property rights and the Dower Act
  • factory safety legislation
  • old age pensions
  • public health nursing services

Although at the time progressive in her attitudes, she has been criticized more recently, along with other members of the Famous Five, for her support of the eugenics movement. Eugenics was popular in Western Canada with women's suffrage and temperance groups, and Nellie McClung's promotion of the benefits of involuntary sterilization, especially for "young simple-minded girls," was instrumental in getting the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act passed in 1928. That act was not repealed until 1972.

Career of Nellie McClung

Nellie McClung was active in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) throughout her career. She published her first novel Sowing Seeds in Danny in 1908.

In Winnipeg, from 1911-14, Nellie McClung fought for women's suffrage. In the 1914 and 1915 Manitoba provincial elections, she campaigned for the Liberal party on the issue of the vote for women.

Nellie McClung helped organize the Winnipeg Political Equality League, a group devoted to helping working women. A dynamic and witty public speaker, Nellie McClung lectured frequently on temperance and women's suffrage.

In 1914, Nellie McClung played the Premier, Sir Rodmond Roblin, in the mock Women's Parliament organized by the Canadian Women's Press Club to show the absurdity of the arguments of those opposed to giving the vote to women. She moved to Edmonton, Alberta in 1915.

In 1921, Nellie McClung was elected to the Alberta legislative assembly as an opposition Liberal for the riding of Edmonton. McClung was defeated in 1926.

Nellie McClung was one of the "Famous Five" in the Persons Case which established the status of women as persons under the BNA Act in 1929. Nellie McClung was the first woman member of the CBC Board of Governors in 1936.

In 1938, Nellie McClung was the only woman member of the Canadian delegation to the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.