At different times in history and in different cultures, women have held political power. The Iroquois, for instance, had a matrilineal kinship system, and female elders participated in decision-making and could even vote to depose a hereditary male chief.

In the 18th and early 19th century, women in jurisdictions as diverse as Sweden, the Corsican Republic, Massachusetts Colony, state of New Jersey, the British colony of Sierra Leone and Kingdom of Hawai’i had some entitlement to vote.

Most times, though, that freedom was short-lived. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that organized efforts to get women the vote began. Here’s a timeline on the march of suffrage, along with a recap of other notable landmarks in Canadian political history for women. /Gregory Beatty

1866 Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton found the American Equal Rights Association. Previously involved with temperance and anti-slavery causes, they began publishing a women’s rights newspaper, The Revolution, in 1868, and in 1869 they founded the National Woman Suffrage Association.

1869 Wyoming becomes the first U.S. territory to grant women the vote. Utah follows in 1870.  

1870 The Icelandic Women’s Suffrage Society under leader Margret Benedictsson is formed in Winnipeg.

1881 The Isle of Man, then a British dependency, grants women property owners the right to vote.

1893 New Zealand, then a self-governing British colony, grants all adult women the vote.

1907 Finland, then part of the Russian Empire, becomes the first European country to adopt suffrage. Norway follows in 1913, and Denmark enacts suffrage in 1915.

1910 The National Council of Women issues a call for suffrage in Canada.

1912 The Political Equality League is formed in Manitoba to advocate for suffrage.

1916 Women 21 years and older are granted the right to vote in provincial elections in Manitoba (Jan. 28), Saskatchewan (March 14) and Alberta (April 19).

1917 B.C. and Ontario enact suffrage. Federally, women who were war widows or relatives of Canadian soldiers serving overseas were granted a special right to vote under the Wartime Elections Act. The move was partly tactical for Unionest PM Robert Borden to boost support for conscription.

1918 Women 21-plus who were “not alien born” (i.e., were born in Canada or elsewhere in the British Empire) and met provincial property requirements were given the right to vote in federal elections. That same year, Nova Scotia granted women the vote. New Brunswick followed in 1919, Prince Edward Island in 1922 and Newfoundland in 1925.

1920 The U.S. passes the 19th Amendment (popularly known as the Anthony Amendment) granting women the right to vote.

1940 Quebec becomes the last province to grant women the provincial vote.

1960 Indigenous women (and men) are granted the right to vote. before that, they were only able to vote if they renounced their Indian status and related treaty rights.

1979 The U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women identifies suffrage as a basic right.

2015 Saudi Arabia grants women the right to vote.


1895 Maria Grant becomes the first woman elected to office in Canada, serving as a school board trustee in Victoria.

1902 Margaret Haile becomes the first female candidate in a provincial election, running for the Canadian Socialist League in Toronto.

1917 Louise McKinney and Roberta MacAdams of Alberta become the first women elected to a provincial legislature.

1921 Agnes Macphail of the Progressive Party of Canada becomes the first female Member of Parliament after being elected in Ontario. That same year, Mary Ellen Smith of B.C. becomes the first female provincial cabinet minister.

1929 The British Privy Council overturns a previous Supreme Court decision and rules women are “persons” under the British North America Act and therefore eligible to serve in the Senate.

1930 Cairine Wilson is appointed to the Senate by Liberal PM Mackenzie King to represent Ontario. In 1949, Wilson breaks further ground by becoming Canada’s first female delegate to the United Nations.

1936 Barbara Hanley becomes Canada’s first female mayor in Webbwood, Ont. In 1951, Charlotte Whitton is elected the first female mayor of a major city: Ottawa.

1958 Ellen Fairclough is appointed Secretary of State by Progressive Conservative PM George Diefenbaker, becoming the first female federal cabinet minister.

1980 Alexa McDonough becomes the first female leader of a political party with legislative standing when she’s elected leader of Nova Scotia’s NDP.

1982 Bertha Wilson appointed the first female justice in the Supreme Court of Canada.

1984 Jean Sauvé becomes Canada’s first female Governor General.

1989 Audrey McLaughlin becomes the first female leader of a federal political party with representation in the House when she’s elected to lead the NDP.

1991 Rita Johnson replaces Bill Vander Zalm as Social Credit leader in B.C., becoming the first female premier. That same year, Nellie Cournoyea is chosen by consensus of elected members to be the Northwest Territories premier.

1993 Kim Campbell becomes the first female prime minister when she succeeds Brian Mulroney as P.C. leader. Campbell serves from June until the party’s defeat in the October general election. That same year, Catherine Callbeck of P.E.I. becomes the first woman to win the premiership via a general election.

1994 Delia Opekokew is the first women to run for the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations.

2000 Beverley McLachlin is appointed Canada’s first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

2015 The newly elected Liberals led by Justin Trudeau become the first federal government to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet.