Radical History: Women in Lower Canada, 1832

As we discussed in class, Canadian history is often told from the perspective of white men – the predominant writers of history in the last 200 years. But how does history change when we start asking different questions? Howard Zinn discusses this in his article What is Radical History, and suggests that if we ask questions from a different perspective, we find answers that have not been addressed before.


Photo from Rethinking Canada, 6th edition, by Gleason, Meyers, and Perry (2006).

What if we asked questions about the role of women in Canadian History? Let’s start!!

Here is an article by Bettina Bradbury entitled Women at the Hustings. It is an account of women’s participation inn the 1832 election in Montreal, which arguably, was one of the most contentious and violent in Canadian history. Not only was this about class, but certainly about gender.

What does this article suggest about the role of women in 1832 and what does it suggest about the doing of history in terms of including all perspectives?

13 thoughts on “Radical History: Women in Lower Canada, 1832

  1. It’s interesting how the oppressed and marginalized seem the first to break their societal roles. Not out of selfishness or want, but out of need. To state their dissatisfaction with the status quo, and it’s deplorable effects on them. Then later on how the politicians and common people take up the cause giving it momentum

  2. It’s curious how the politicians began trying to prevent women from voting after the election in 1832 – they would not be doing this without reason. Its clear that the politicians may have felt threatened by the female voters, however the reason for this is not clear. According to the Constitutional Act of 1791, these women (as long as they possessed enough land) should have all been allowed to vote, and yet the politicians wanted to go against the Constitutional Act and prevent the women from voting. Obviously the women were very important in the 1830’s and 1840’s, as they possessed enough power to intimidate the politicians into making such a decision – the women must have had a great influence.
    If we heard this history told by another person (white, male politician from the 1830’s perhaps) I’m sure we would hear a different story than what we got from Bradbury, so the challenge for everyone in putting together their own version of what happened is to figure out which elements of which story are true and which are exaggerations made to enhance each story.

  3. I know I’m not really answering the question you asked but I’m impressed and surprised by the force of feminism in Canada in the 19th century. Personally when I think of feminism in Canada I think back to what was probably a 5th grade education of history involving Nellie McClung and The Famous Five, who’s efforts didn’t take place until the 1920’s. As far as I was concerned, there was almost no feminism in Canada before Nellie McClung, so I guess my question would be more so why have I never heard about this before? As well, should the Manitoba curriculum include early feminism in the elementary curriculum (if it doesn’t already) and why/why not?

  4. Regarding Jens post above, i wonder why a women’s role in history isn’t apart of our curriculum swell. As far as i remember, in middle school, we were taught predominately about John A. MacDonald and Louis Riel. We did projects on men and their significance to Canadian culture and a typical test question would be involving some triumphant thing a MAN did. Never women. Previous to any of this talk about women and history I had totally forgot that women would have had a significant impact on history. Now that this is brought to my attention it is plain as day that a mans writings of history or a mans doings to make history is so much more heavily weighted over a women’s. It’s interesting, i think it’s a huge flaw in our curriculum. Each gender should be getting equal playing time in “history” so why aren’t they and will that ever change?

  5. Women’s roles in history are just as important to learn about and be aware of as the men’s of that time. They are equal genders, therefore should receive equal treatment. Now, in the 1830’s the women definitely were not treated equally, but their voting was the beginning of many decades of change. I believe to be properly educated on a subject you should know as many views and perspectives as you can. So I think having the women’s views from this part of history should definitely be part of the curriculum.

  6. As the society back in the 1800s was heavily male-oriented, the women’s rights to vote along with ideas that women possessed “an air of superiority to the husband” seems to have posed threat for men at the time. The strong enforcement of masculinity and power as well as prejudice within societies limited female involvement in politics, as their votes were sought to have a negative impact and were unwanted. Women have been fighting for their own role in societies for centuries, and it is questionable whether the various steps taken to fulfill this were just and sincere. Only woman who were unmarried or widows were subject to owning property and autonomy, while married woman became immediately dependant upon her husband. Feminism has been an ongoing discussion and it is clear from Bradbury’s article that different historians carry different perspectives, and are influenced by particular aspects to think a certain way.

  7. I agree with Celine that in order to be truly educated on a subject we need to know all sides to a story. On a related note, when I was working on the Manitoba 1870 article for our WordPress sites, I found an old document from grade six Canadian History. It was a paper explaining how William McDougall was a founding father or Manitoba. It was interesting to compare what we were being taught in middle school to the perspectives of Riel’s provisional government we were shown in Mr. Henderson’s class. Although both papers contained the same information, they were very differently biased regarding the true founding force in Manitoba’s history. Bringing this comment back on topic, I feel this situation is the same with women’s perspectives which are unfortunately scarce in history. I do not feel that it is the curriculum’s fault because its details are vague and open for interpretation. The issue likely stems from a societal norm of historical male dominance that people have come to accept. Therefore, we must be careful to approach all sides of history to make sure that we do not fall into this common trap. The very fact that women were not allowed to vote shows that they had enough power for people to worry about the effects of their vote.

  8. Jen’s comment really sparked my curiosity. Yes I did know that women’s rights was an issue back in the nineteenth century but I wasn’t aware as to the reasons behind the struggle and the reasons women were oppressed in the first place. I find it interesting that most of my background knowledge on women’s rights (which is very little as sad as it seems) it all comes from Canadian History class this year and we still haven’t fully indulged into the topic, and besides Celine’s presentation of Emily Carr. And from class as Mr. Henderson said, there’s only so much class time to teach Canadian History that at least covers three centuries of events, depending on where you start, why is the curriculum like the way it is now? Surely women’s rights is important enough of a subject to educate and expose our youth?

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