Give us the Vote and We’ll Take a Seat
It’s been almost a hundred years since women’s suffrage became a reality in Canada and three years afterward, on Dec. 6 1921; Agnes Macphail was elected as the first female member of Parliament. Macphail represented her home riding of South-East Grey County (now the riding of Grey-Bruce) until defeat in 1940.
The attention she garnered was not always positive; the former schoolteacher was criticized for her independence, belief in equal rights and what was considered nonconformist behaviour. However, Macphail persevered and advocated for fair treatment of farmers, the rights of minors and marginalized groups such as women and immigrants and for penal reform – Macphail is considered responsible for the establishment of the Archambault Commission to investigate Canada’s prisons.
The accomplishments didn’t end there, Macphail was also the first appointed female member of a Canadian delegation to the League of Nations as well as one of the first two women elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 1943. She also founded the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada to address issues affecting women and girls in the justice system.
Macphail’s example didn’t exactly usher in a wave of change, more like a slow ripple. It was another 14 years before the second female member of Parliament, Martha Black, was elected and even today women only represent 25 per cent of the House of Commons. We’ve come part-way baby.