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Social Activism Before Social Media


Mar 12 2014
Passionate Christian leader Nellie McClung spoke out against indignity at every level.

Editor's note: Today's post continues our Women's History Month series, connecting our contemporary efforts for justice with the evangelical women who came before us. We will feature "women of character, courage, and commitment" each Wednesday in March.

If Nellie Letitia McClung lived today, her Twitter bio would sound like many of ours: Christian, author, activist, wife, mother.

But long before evangelical women took to social media and blogs to speak out about their callings and passions, this Canadian suffragist and politician fought the social norms of a different time to draw attention to the marginalized in society.

In the early 20th century, McClung joined one of North America's most pressing and popular social causes—the temperance movement—after seeing the devastation alcohol abuse wrought on families. Through the Women's Christian Temperance Union, she lobbied to legislate the ban on alcohol and help those who suffered from its effects. McClung went on to lead other provincial and national women's organizations as well as hold political office.

Like our contemporary push for social justice, McClung's involvement grew from an understanding of human equality before God, regardless of status, gender, or ethnic background. She was a woman ahead of her time, persistent in speaking out in the face of heckling criticism from men and women alike that "nice women don't want the vote." McClung did not back down despite the incredible resistance she faced—a kind of resistance we in 21st-century North America know little about. The trolls who criticize us online existed for McClung and her movement in real life; they shouted back in person, turned down their reforms from high positions in public office, and overlooked the concerns being brought forth by the WCTU.

While today's technology opens up the world's struggles to us, McClung traveled extensively for the sake of the cause. Through the relationship she formed, she was able to change people's minds and hearts.

Even as her work gained national and international recognition, she remained focused on serving people in her community and, even more intimately, in her own home. For women who feel that their ordinary lives and spheres can accomplish little, for the increasingly vocal segment of Christian wives and moms longing to do more for the Kingdom, they can look to Nellie McClung's example.

She served where God placed her and reached out to those in her immediate vicinity. During World War I and the years that followed, immigrants flocked to Canada. Many found a haven in the McClung home. As a wife, mother, and popular speaker, Nellie McClung required domestic help. She regularly employed young immigrant women in her home, and not only paid them well, but assisted them with learning to speak English, and to read and write.

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