The prairie provinces were the first to grant the vote to women: Manitoba did so in January 1916, closely followed by Saskatchewan and Alberta. In Saskatchewan, there was little opposition to woman suffrage—and little campaigning in its favour. The Alberta-Saskatchewan division of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) had endorsed the idea since 1904, and the wife of Premier Walter Scott signed a WCTU suffrage petition in 1909. But despite the quiet support of many women, the Saskatchewan government did not discuss the issue until 1912. British suffragist Barbara Wylie, on a Christmas-time visit to her brother, David Wylie, the Conservative MLA for Maple Creek, addressed public meetings in Regina, Moose Jaw and Maple Creek. MLA J.E. Bradshaw (Conservative–Prince Albert) subsequently proposed in the legislature that it approve women’s enfranchisement in principle; with one exception, and with some jocularity, the members who spoke to the resolution supported it. The Premier later stated that although the government favoured woman suffrage in principle, it would not act without proof that women themselves wanted the vote. The challenge was taken up by Francis Marion Beynon, women’s editor of the Grain Growers’ Guide, and her sister Lillian Beynon Thomas, of the Winnipeg Free Press, who urged their readers to write to Premier Scott to register their desire to vote. Over the next four months, Scott received more than 200 letters, mainly from rural women, arguing on both egalitarian and pragmatic grounds for votes for women.
In February 1913, a women’s meeting held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association (SGGA) circulated a petition for woman suffrage. Between May and December 1913, a petition campaign organized by Violet McNaughton and sponsored by the SGGA produced more than 100 petitions from almost as many rural locations. These petitions were not placed before the Legislature because they were addressed to the Premier. In December, Bradshaw again proposed a resolution supporting woman suffrage, which passed unanimously. The government acknowledged that it had heard from more than 2,000 women during 1913, but said it could not grant the vote to women because the issue had not been discussed during the 1912 election campaign. In early 1914, Political Equality Leagues were established in Moosomin, Battleford and Prince Albert, and the Women’s Grain Growers’ Association (WGGA) was founded, with Violet McNaughton as president. McNaughton recognized that an effective suffrage campaign would need to unite the farm women’s movement with urban women’s organizations. She met with WCTU leaders, including Nellie Andrews and Margaret Armstrong, and agreed to organize a coalition of rural (WGGA) women and urban (WCTU) women to campaign for the vote. The founding meeting of the Provincial Equal Franchise Board (PEFB) in February 1915 resolved that there would be no active campaign during the war; but it decided to raise funds, compile a list of speakers, and reactivate the WCTU petition campaign.
On May 27, a delegation of women formally presented new petitions to the Legislature. In response, Premier Scott did not undertake to introduce legislation, but acknowledged that although he did not have an electoral mandate, public opinion could become strong enough to require action; he urged the women to gather more signatures. Premier Scott met with the Regina leadership of the WCTU and asked them to submit petitions from parts of the province that had not yet been heard from. During the first six weeks of 1916, another thirty-seven villages submitted petitions, and Regina increased its total. In the throne speech of January 1916, the government announced that it would enact woman suffrage; on Valentine’s Day, when another large delegation attended at the legislature to present petitions totalling 10,000 names, the Premier reiterated this commitment. The bill granting Saskatchewan women the right to vote in provincial elections on equal terms with men received royal assent on March 14, 1916.
The Saskatchewan government had reacted to events in Manitoba. There the issue of votes for women had been controversial: Rodmond Roblin’s Conservative government had stood firm against it; the Liberal opposition of T.C. Norris had championed it. The Manitoba Political Equality League was founded in 1912 by leading Manitoba suffragists including Nellie McClung and the Beynon sisters; but success came only after the Roblin government was defeated in August 1915. By September, not only Manitoba but also the Alberta government had indicated their intention to grant woman suffrage during the upcoming legislative session; when Scott saw that woman suffrage was inevitable, he took steps to ensure that Saskatchewan would not be left behind.