Reclaiming History

November 3, 2016

This blog is about articles and other pieces of writing written by or about me. The following review is on a chapbook I put together in 1985 and was written by a friend of mine. Both of us were involved in Manitoba’s feminist community and began writing in those days. To this day, we still are having pieces of our work published.

Char and I recently got together after not seeing each other since both of us lived in Winnipeg which is around 29 years ago. She has lived in northern BC while I chose the ‘softer’ climes of Salt Spring Island for 16 years before finally taking up a nomadic/gypsy/traveller lifestyle for the past four years.

Here is the review:

Prairie Fire

Volume VII, No. 3

by Charlynn Toews

Women Rights/Writes, Some Herstorical Profiles of Western Canadian Writers by Tanya Lester, Winnipeg: self-published, 1985, 90 pp., $5.95 paper.

Did you know that Canada had a national feminist newspaper, published from 1915 – 1921, which advocated temperance and female enfranchisement? Did you know that Manitoba women were the first to win the right to vote in provincial elections? Don’t feel too bad if you don’t, when books such as Western Civilization: A brief history (1979), with 466 pages of text, devotes all of ten lines in four short passages to “suffragettes”. (For comparison, “slavery” and “racism” are referred to in 33 separate places, while “sexism” doesn’t even rate an entry in the index.)

In Women Rights/Writes, a collection of essays on women who have made significant contributions to Canadian life, Tanya Lester shows she is committed to overcoming the historical neglect of women’s achievements.

The history of women winning the vote in Manitoba, for example, is a vivid and inspiring story of fortitude, satirical humour, and vibrant characters. Years before Wendy Lill’s “The Fighting Days” was stages to packed audiences at Prairie Theatre Exchange, Tanya Lester began her research into The Political Equality League, the lives of Frances and Lillian Beynon. Lester’s chapter, “A Tale of Two Sisters’, tells the story of these pioneering journalists. In Lillian’s “Home Loving Hearts” section in the women’s pages of the Free Press Prairie Farmer, recipes and household hints flanked demands for political equality.. Frances’s readers from The Grain Grower’s Guide backed female enfranchisement when Liberal leader T.C. Norris sought the farm vote in 1915: “On January 28, 1916, T.H. Johnson, acting premier and the son of an Icelandic suffrage pioneer, moved the third reading of the Woman Suffrage Bill.”

Another Icelandic woman bringing her culture’s feminism to Manitoba was Margret Benedictsson, who published the newspaper Freyja (“woman”) from 1898 to 1910. Benedictsson translated and published articles on women’s rights, went on speaking tours to promote both her newspaper and women’s equality, and established the first Icelandic suffrage association in North America.

Margaret “Ma” Murray was a British Columbian woman who also edited and published a newspaper. Beginning in 1934 with the Bridge River-Lillooet News and continuing with the Cariboo News and the Alaska Highway News until 1973, Murray’s editorials were filled with four-letter words, grammatical errors, and controversy. Although she was vehemently opposed to feminism, she exercised her enfranchisement to the extent of running as a Social Credit candidate, notwithstanding her M.L.A. husband’s Liberal electioneering.

Other profiles in this small paperback volume include that of Faith Fenton, a Toronto-based journalist who covered the Yukon gold rush in the late 1800s; E. Cora Hind, another Manitoba suffragist and the first woman to get a pass to the floor of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, having gained a remarkable reputation of being able to predict accurately the size of harvest, failing only twice in 29 years; Vera Lysenko, a Winnipeg novelist who wrote about Ukrainian heritage in the 1940s and ’50s; and a short piece on Women’s Century, the newspaper of the National Council of Women in Canada.

Most of these articles are the product of original research, gleaned from long hours of detective work in national and provincial archives, and from interviews with the women’s family and friends. In her Foreword, Lester writes:

Certainly, I took social studies in grade school, history courses in high school and

completed a university degree in history ignorant of the face these women lived,

wrote and raised hell as strong women and feminists. When I discovered these

women, it was like finding old friends I never knew I had.

The women in Women Rights/Writes should be introduced to anyone who likes to think women were “given’ the vote, to those who seek to understand and to teach our political history, and to young women writers who may not realize what a rich tradition is behind them.


Tanya has authored four books: Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader (can be purchased from the author or from, Friends I Never Knew, Dreams and Tricksters and Women Rights/Writes.

To read more posts on this blog go to  and

Tanya is also a psychic who does tarot, tea leaf reading, psychic channeling, gypsy card reading and mediumship. She is also a reiki master and fulltime house sitter. To get information about her services go to or her pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Google. You can contact her directly at or call her cell at 250-538-0086.







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