Nellie McClung, born Nellie Letitia Mooney (20 October 1873 – 1 September 1951), was a Canadian feminist, politician, author, and social activist. She was a part of the social and moral reform movements prevalent in Western Canada in the early 1900s. In 1927, McClung and four other women: Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby, who together came to be known as "The Famous Five" (also called "The Valiant Five"), launched the "Persons Case," contending that women could be "qualified persons" eligible to sit in the Senate. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that current law did not recognize them as such. However, the case was won upon appeal to the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council—the court of last resort for Canada at that time.
Nellie Letitia Mooney was born at Chatsworth, Ontario in 1873, the youngest daughter of John Mooney, an Irish immigrant farmer and a Methodist, and his Scottish-born wife, Letitia McCurdy; her father's farm there failed and the family moved out to Manitoba in 1880. She only received six years of formal education and didn't learn to read until she was ten. She later moved with her family to a homestead in the Souris Valley of Manitoba. Between 1904 and 1915, Nellie McClung, her husband Wesley (a pharmacist) and their five children resided in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In Winnipeg, from 1911–15, Nellie McClung fought for women's suffrage. In the 1914 and 1915 Manitoba provincial elections, she campaigned for the Liberal party on the issue of the vote for women. She helped organize the Women's Political Equality League, a group devoted to women's suffrage. An effective speaker with a sense of humour, she played a leading role in the successful Liberal campaign in 1914. Nellie McClung played the Manitoban Premier, Sir Rodmond Roblin, in a mock Women's Parliament in Winnipeg organized by the Canadian Women's Press Club in 1914. Her performance showed the absurdity of the arguments of those opposed to giving the vote to women. Nellie and her colleagues celebrated the defeat of the Roblin government in August 1915 but she moved to Edmonton, Alberta just before Manitoba became the first province in Canada to grant voting privileges to women on 28 January 1916. In Edmonton, she continued her career as an orator, author, and reformer. In 1921, McClung was elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly as a Liberal. She then moved to Calgary, Alberta in 1923 where she dedicated herself to her prolific writing career. McClung was the grandmother of outspoken Alberta judge John McClung.
The McClung house in Calgary, Alberta, where she resided from 1923 to the mid-1930s, still stands and is recognized as a heritage site. Two other houses in which McClung lived have been re-located to the Archibald Museum near La Rivière, Manitoba in the Rural Municipality of Pembina where they have been restored. The houses are open to the public. The family residence in Winnipeg is also a historic site.
McClung once said "Why are pencils equipped with erasers if not to correct mistakes?" when arguing for the support of equitable divorce laws, of which she was a longtime supporter.
Her great causes were women's suffrage and the temperance. She understood that the First World War had played an important role in broadening the appeal of women's suffrage because the manpower shortages required widespread female employment, making the image of the sheltered female more obviously inapplicable to Canadian circumstances. It was largely through her efforts that in 1916 Manitoba became the first province to give women the right to vote and to run for public office. After moving to Edmonton, she continued the campaign for suffrage. She championed dental and medical care for school children, property rights for married women, mothers' allowances, factory safety legislation and many other reforms. McClung was also a supporter of the then popular social philosophy of eugenics and campaigned for the sterilization of those considered "simple-minded". Her promotion of the benefits of sterilization contributed to the passage of eugenics legislation in Alberta.
She published her first novel Sowing Seeds in Danny in 1908. A national bestseller, it was succeeded by short stories and articles in several Canadian and American magazines. She served as a Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta from 1921 to 1926. As an opposition member, her opportunity to press for women's rights was limited, because women were not taken seriously.
She was one of The Famous Five (also called The Valiant Five), with Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy and Louise McKinney. The five put forward a petition, in 1927, to clarify the term "Persons" in Section 24 of the British North America Act 1867. This section had served to exclude women from political office. The petition was successful, clearing the way for women to enter politics in Canada.
Among other honours, in October 2009, the Senate voted to name Nellie McClung and the rest of the Five Canada's first "honorary senators."