1827-1834: Julie Papineau & Other Quebec Curios

Part of “Division and Resistance”, 1827-1963

Julie Papineau, detail of a portrait by Alfred Boisseau, c. 1872. Source: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 2897920 Julie Papineau, detail of a portrait by Alfred Boisseau, c. 1872. Source: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 2897920

The views of the Patriotes on women and the right to vote seemed, in retrospect, contradictory when we look at their stance and the amount of support that women would give the party. In 1834, Louis-Joseph Papineau was reported in the Parliamentary proceedings of La Minerve as appealing to the “modesty of women” to prohibit male relatives from forcing them to go to what was often violent proto-elections and went so far as to say that preventing women from voting would prevent “many inconveniences”. However, French Canadian women of the era that had the right to vote would vote overwhelmingly for Papineau’s Parti Patriote. Perhaps Papineau wasn’t thinking of his wife at the time he made those statements.

Up to the mid-1800s, women of Upper and Lower Canada that owned a certain amount of property were able to use a loophole in the Constitution Act of 1791 in order to vote: the Act simply stated that people that owned property had such an ability. Some women who owned property, oftentimes widows, could exploit this loophole and gain the ability to vote. This being the 1700s, the women of Upper and Lower Canada may have been the first women with the ability to vote in North America. Papineau’s wife, Julie Bruneau, was even able to state her political party of choice in the elections in the early 1800s.

Julie’s life and force of character, which survive through her letters and other historical papers, seem to depict a modern woman of her times. The daughter of a merchant, she attended a school taught by Ursuline nuns, though later in life, she would become anticlerical like her husband. Letters between Papineau and his wife spoke about domestic life and their children’s progression as well as politics. Julie, unlike the women her husband spoke of, was an ardent supporter of the Patriote cause and would form a women’s organisation dedicated to her and her husband’s viewpoints. On top of a very interesting political life, she would have nine children with her husband. Four of these children would survive into adulthood, but only two of these children, one son and one daughter, would manage to live beyond forty years old.

During Papineau’s political career in the Canadas, he would often be absent at home, whether it was for domestic purposes or a trip to London to save the separation of the Canadas. When Papineau went into exile in the United States, Julie would eventually join him with their children. After it was safe for the Papineau family to return to the now united Canada, it would be she who would convince Papineau to return into politics, however short this return would be.

Though perhaps there were many women such as Julie Bruneau encircling her, some even joining her community of like-minded women Patriotes, the rights of women following the union of Upper and Lower Canada following the Lower Canada rebellions would restrict a woman’s right to vote. With the publication of the Civil Code of Lower Canada, women’s rights would further degrade with women being classified in the same category as minor children and adults incapable of caring for themselves.