This Week in History


A Fighter

For the week of Monday May 7, 2007

Idola Saint-Jean, activist and feminist, was born on May 9, 1880, in Montréal, to a middle-class family. This provided her a chance to receive an excellent education and become a teacher. She could therefore earn a living without getting married, which was contrary to social norms at the time.

© Canada Post Corporation/Library and Archives Canada 1990-033 CPA
Idola Saint-Jean
© Canada Post Corporation / Library and Archives Canada / 1990-033 CPA
Idola, an uncompromising feminist, was not afraid to speak her mind or challenge beliefs. She used her talents as an orator and journalist to educate women of all social classes about the injustices perpetrated against them. At that time in Quebec, women still did not have the right to vote, even though most Canadian women had won that right provincially between 1916 and 1922. A number of men and women viewed women’s suffrage as a threat to French-Canadian society. Moreover, married women were considered minors under the Civil Code of Quebec. Idola was part of a women’s movement that challenged governments, religious authorities and the biases held at the time to improve the status of women in Quebec.

The Montreal Herald, Friday, November 22, 1929
'- Your property! Tut-tut, woman - don't be ridiculous. Your husband will take care of that an' he'll collect your wages too.'
The Montreal Herald, Friday, November 22, 1929
From 1922 to 1940, Idola’s fight for women’s suffrage became her priority, yet she also devoted her time to other social issues. In 1921 she became a member of the Comité provincial du suffrage féminin, which she left in 1927 to found the Alliance canadienne pour le vote des femmes du Québec. Every year she brought a delegation of women to the National Assembly to express their views, despite frequent ridicule. She promoted her ideas through her column in The Montreal Herald; the Anglophone community was more open than French-Canadian society to electoral reform. Thanks to Idola’s and other activists’ perseverance, women finally won the right to vote on April 25, 1940.

In 1930 Idola became the first Francophone woman to run in a federal election, though without success. She also campaigned for the right of women to keep their wages, buy life insurance and control their bank accounts. She also fought to give women access to professions, particularly law. She demanded no less than equal rights for men and women.

Idola Saint-Jean’s battles helped women to become emancipated and more independent, even after marriage. After winning the right to vote, they lobbied governments for other equally fundamental reforms. Idola Saint-Jean was designated a National Historic Person in 1997.

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