WGST 1F90 Date: September 19 th Lecture:
First and Second Waves
Maternal (social) feminism & Equal Rights Feminism
Military Voter’s Act, 1917 Wartime Elections Act, & 1918 Women’s Franchise Act
Grassroots feminism & Institutionalized Feminism
1. Use of waves metaphor to describe the women’s movement.
2. We are currently in the third wave (late 1980’s)
3. Much is obscured when we explore the women’s movement—highly complex social movement.
4. Divisions between waves are often artificial; women did not stop organizing, being active between the waves.
1. The nineteenth century was a time of activism, reform and hopes for a more just world (in the face of racism and sexism)
2. Part of the Christian reform movement and social purity movements of the 19 century
3. First wave women activists found their roots in the church auxiliaries, local women’s groups and organizations, or
4. Many causes were forwarded by active women: kindergarten, women’s jails, homes for prostitutes, Children’s Aid
Society, Home Economics in schools, etc.
5. Goals: achieve the same rights for women that men had- feminists took two approaches to this end: Maternal Feminism
& Equal Rights Feminism
Maternal (Social) Feminism: Religion as an Entry Point to the Public Realm
1. Religious faith was the underpinning for women’s activism
2. Many women used religion as a way to legitimate their activities in the public realm (public and private (women’s) realm
3. Women activists of the 19th century faced harsh criticism as they become increasingly active.
4. Employed two strategies or rationalizations for their work: maternal feminism or social feminism and equal rights
Maternal (Social) Feminism
1. Believed women had a moral and biological superiority to men (essentialism)
2. Superiority should guide their mothering not in the home, but in the nation
3. Maternal feminists argued their responsibilities rested not just in improving women’s lives, but the county 19 Century Realms of Women and Men. (Diagram)
Private Realm: “women’s world” of volunteer work, church home, family, unpaid employment (informal power
Mothers of the nation
Public Realm: “men’s World” politics, paid employment, high education (formal power)
Temperance and Maternal (Social) Feminism
1. Early concern of maternal fems: temperance & prohibition
2. Prohibition believed alcohol was the downfall of the family unit; a moral issue
3. Blamed crime, violence in the home, political corruption and family breakdown on alcohol
4. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded by Letitia Youmans in 1874, was the national organization of
women who were fighting for the banning of alcohol.
5. Getting the vote was not in the early cards for maternal feminists
No Vote, No Voice
1. WCTU members realized that without the vote and right to participate in politics, the temperance movement was
2. By 1891, the WCTU formally endorsed women’s suffrage at all levels of government.
3. Other organizations that used the maternal or social feminism included the YWCA, various missionary societies and the
Girls’ Friendly Society
Equal Rights Feminists: Supporting Sameness
1. Some first wave feminists supported ‘sameness’ or equal rights feminism
2. Equal rights feminists, unlike their maternal feminist counterparts, did not emphasize women’s role as mothers to justify
their political activism.
3. Equal rights feminists emphasized women’s sameness as men
Equal Rights Feminism
1. Premise of equal rights/sameness feminism: “certain rights are human rights, regardless of gender” (Adamson, Briskin
and McPhail, 1988, p. 33).
2. Equal rights feminist focused on women’s enfranchisement, property and custody laws, access to education and
guardianship of ones children
3. Women’s access to higher education owes a great deal to equal rights feminists
World War I and Feminist Activism
1. 1914: WW1 required women’s work and support (over 35, 000 women worked)
2. Cdn. war effort provided opportunities for women to participate in public life in a unique manner; women volunteered,
helped established organizations to assist families, and entered the paid labor force.
3. Women suffragist also used this time to continue to push for women’s vote on a national level
4. War actually helped women in the fight for suffrage 5. Between the years 1916 and 1925 all provincial governments (beside Quebec) acquiesced to feminist activism and
pressure and granted women the right to vote.
6. At the federal level, women’s franchise was achieved in three phases:
1917 Military Voter’s Act: vote to women nurses serving in the war
1917 Wartime Elections Act: franchise to the wives, widows, mothers, sisters and daughters of those alive or deceased who have Page |
served in the Canadian or British Military or naval force 3
1918 Women’s Franchise Act: passage of the federal enfranchisement to women who were over the age of 21 and British
Subjects, and who possessed the same qualifications as men required for the provincial franchise
Forgotten Women: Racism at Work
1. The right to vote did not extend to all women
2. Women of Asian descent, like their male counterparts, could not vote because they were not eligible to become British subjects.
3. Vote denied to Native/Aboriginal women, who, along with Native/Aboriginal men remained disenfranchised under the terms of
the Indian Act until 1960.
Major Achievements of First Wave Feminists: we owe 5 key rights to first wave femi