Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BOOK: Nellie McClung by Charlotte Gray

Nellie McClung by Charlotte Gray, 204 pages

Women Unbound; Canadian authors

If you are Canadian, you might remember Nellie McClung from her Canadian Heritage Minute, "Take it from me, nice women, don't want the vote" as she mocked the Manitoban premier. She was also a member of the Famous Five, women, led by Emily Murphy who challenged the British North American act that stated women were not persons under the law, and could not sit in the Senate. Where were we Canadians be without our history lessons from Canadian Heritage Minutes?

Gray has written an insightful, readable biography, as is her specialty (Sisters in the Wilderness and Reluctant Genius: The Passions and Inventions of Alexander Graham Bell.) With little primary material to work with, (Nellie's daughter burned all her journals and mementos after her mother died) she brought Nellie McClung to life. Nellie was vivacious and quick witted, and an excellent orator. She was a real leader in the West, and took on any injustice she felt was important, a leader in the first wave of feminism. She was not perfect, but admitted her mistakes, and valued her family and home. That's what she was fighting for: for women and their families to have the best life they could. Gray shows the life that allowed and led Nellie to be the leader she was, including her loving husband. She was an amazing woman, and I'm pleased that I've read more about her.

I picked this for the Women Unbound Challenge, check out the blog here. Reading the book lists of other participants, I was feeling like I was picking easier books, so I am pleased to be able to add this leader in the feminist movement in Canada to my list. Nellie got the vote for Manitoban woman in 1916, and then went on speaking tours in the US before they got the national vote in 1920. She was also an early advocate for the ordination of women in the United Church.

I just happened to pick up this book at the library, and was pleased to see that it is a part of a series called Extraordinary Canadians, edited by John Ralston Saul and published by Penguin. Famous Canadian authors write biographies about other famous Canadians. Here's a partial list of the editions that I am interested in, either for the subject, or the author:
  • Lord Beaverbrook, David Adams Richards
  • Emily Carr, Lewis DeSoto
  • Tommy Douglas, Vincent Lam (Keifer Sutherland's grandfather!)
  • LM Montgomery, Jane Urquhart
  • Lester B Pearson, Andrew Cohen
  • Marshall McLuhan, Douglas Coupland
  • Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Nino Ricci
  • and even more


  1. I really enjoyed this one and to learning so much more about McClung. So far, I've only read four of the Extraordinary Canadians series (Trudeau, Pearson, Beaverbrook, and McClung) and I'm really looking forward to working through the rest of the series (I've currently got the L.M. Montgomery one out from the library).

  2. Ever read anything by McClung herself? I read a short story by her last year and enjoyed it.

  3. A few years ago, I saw a book about Nellie McClung and passed it up, not knowing who she was. Kick me.

    Boo on the daughter for burning all those papers!

  4. the captive reader - I popped over and read your reviews - the Beaverbrook looks interesting, you reviewed it very well. I'll stop by to see the LM when your done.

    john - no, I'll look into it. Good luck with Yellowknife, I really enjoyed it. Nellie was a real character, with lots of humor.

    chris - I felt so patriotic reading it!

    bybee - right in the butt!
    Gray wondered if Nellie wanted her private life left private, and asked her daughter to burn them. She kept her private life quite separate, so it is a possibility.


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