The Local Council of Women of Halifax
The First Two Decades, 1894-1914
By the 1890s, women in Halifax and across Canada had created a plethora of organizations devoted to serving and reforming society. From the middle of the nineteenth century, women had been working through church and community organizations to improve the often-harsh social conditions faced by women, children, and the poor. As the century unfolded, improved communications and transportation made it possible for women to link their organizations across provinces, regions, and the country as a whole. National church societies and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, for example, kept women in touch with one another and aided in the struggle for reform.
In August of 1894, Lady Ishbel, Countess of Aberdeen, visited Halifax, Nova Scotia. Lady Ishbel was an ardent feminist, wife of Canada's new governor general, and president of the newly established National Council of Women in Canada (NCWC) in Toronto. Lady Ishbel invited women's organizations in Halifax to gather together. On August 30, 1894, representatives from 44 women's groups met at Government House - Protestant and Catholic organizations, charities, cultural groups, sporting clubs, and more. From that meeting, the Local Council of Women of Halifax (LCWH) was formed. Emma MacIntosh was named their first president and Edith Archibald was appointed the Council's secretary. The membership represented the multi-faith, non-partisan character of the NCWC, which the Halifax Council emulated.
The founding of the Local Council of Women of Halifax opened the door for what Edith Archibald called "the magnificent services of women." Led in its early years by a group of determined and energetic women, the LCWH campaigned successfully for women's right to vote, to serve on the city's School Board and City Council, and to represent the women of the city on a host of other public and charitable boards and agencies. In 1897, they founded the local Victorian Order of Nurses, and campaigned for a wide range of public health reforms. Members demonstrated their special concern for children by establishing the first supervised public playgrounds in Canada in 1906. Their efforts were began a movement across of North America – the Playground Movement – to establish similar safe places for children. In its first two decades, the LCWH campaigned tirelessly to improve conditions for women and children in Halifax. The reform causes the Council embraced reflected the concerns of many women across the country, and tell us a great deal about the difficulties Nova Scotian women faced at the turn of the last century.
The Halifax Council is unique among local councils in Canada because of the "Council House," a special Victorian villa with an unusual story. The house, designed by prominent architect, James C. Dumaresq, was built in 1903 for Halifax businessman, reformer, and philanthropist, George Wright. Wright was an admirer of the work of the LCWH, so, in 1912, while in England, he drew up a will that named the Council as the heir to his beautiful 14-room house. Two days later, Wright boarded the Titanic to sail back to North America, and lost his life on that fateful voyage. The house's historical significance has been recognized by the City of Halifax and is the site of the Canada Parks and Monument Board plaque commemorating the women’s suffrage movement in Canada and Edith Archibald's contribution therein.