Women Who Changed Canadian Political History

In Canada, women were first granted the right to vote in 1918, and one year later gained the right to run for election in the House of Commons. 1921 marks the first election in Canadian history that included female candidates.

In honour of International Women’s Day, and the endless number of brave, intelligent Canadian women in government, we’ve pulled together a list of women who changed the face of Canadian political history.

1. The Famous Five

  • The Famous Five were a group of Canadian women – Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards – who pioneered the women’s suffrage movement and fought tirelessly to have women considered “persons.” Their famous case, which came to be known as the “Persons Case,” established the constitutional ruling in 1929 that women were in fact “persons,” and as such were now eligible for appointment to the Senate.

2. Agnes Macphail

  • Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons in Canada (elected in 1921). She served until her defeated in 1940. Agnes was an astute advocate for women’s rights, famous for the following saying: “I want for myself what I want for other women, absolute equality.”

3. Cairine Wilson

  • Cairine Wilson was the first woman appointed to the Canadian Senate. She was appointed by Prime Minister MacKenzie King, shortly after the Persons Case declared women’s eligibility.

4. Ellen Fairclough

  • Ellen Fairclough was the first woman Federal Cabinet Minister in Canada. In 1957, Ellen was appointed Secretary of State by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, and one year later became Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

5. Bertha Wilson

  • In 1982, Bertha Wilson became the first woman justice on the Supreme Court of Canada. She was a strong supporter of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which came into force the very year she joined the court, and is well known for striking down Criminal Code restrictions on abortion in 1988 (R v. Morgenthaler).

6. Jeanne Sauvé

  • Jeanne Sauvé was the first Canadian woman Governor General, one of the three first women members of parliament to be elected from Quebec, the first woman federal cabinet minister from Quebec, and the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons. She was appointed Governor General of Canada by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1984.

7. Audrey McLaughlin

  • Audrey McLaughlin became the first Canadian woman leader of a Federal political party when elected as leader of the New Democratic Party in 1989. She was first elected to the House of Commons in 1987, representing the Yukon.

8. Kim Campbell

  • In 1993, Kim Campbell became the first Canadian woman Prime Minister in history. Although her term as Prime Minister was short, she can take credit for a significant number of Canadian political firsts: she was also the first woman Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the first woman Minister of National Defence, and she was the first woman elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

9. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin

  • Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin is the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. She was the third woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and has served since the year 2000.

10. Kathleen Wynne

  • Elected in 2013, Kathleen Wynne is the first female premier of Ontario and the first openly gay head of government in Canada.

Here’s to all these (and many more) amazing, Canadian women! Happy International Women’s Day.

The Famous Five (2)

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