January 18, 2022


Only The Finest Women

Opinion: ‘I won … in spite of being a woman.’ Remembering the indomitable Agnes Macphail, 100 years after she was elected to parliament

Agnes Macphail, pictured on her 59th birthday, was the initial female MP in the country’s background. She served as a federal member of parliament for 19 decades.The World and Mail

Allan Levine is a historian whose most current ebook is Specifics are Unprintable: Wayne Lonergan and the Sensational Café Culture Murder.

With the new opening of the 44th Canadian Parliament, a record 103 women of all ages – of 338 MPs – representing five political functions took their seats. Approximately a century ago, following the election of Dec. 6, 1921, the 14th Parliament experienced only one particular girl among the 235 associates, the to start with feminine MP in the country’s history: the indomitable Agnes Macphail.

The election had resulted in a trim – but not durable – the vast majority for the Liberals, led by their new leader, William Lyon Mackenzie King. Disillusioned with the two standard events and opposed to significant tariffs, many voters in rural Ontario and the West had opted for the freshly designed agrarian oriented Progressive Party. In 1921, the Progressives gained extra seats than the Conservatives no 3rd celebration experienced at any time attained that feat.

The 1921 election also marked the 1st time a substantial range of girls could vote federally, with the exception of most Indigenous gals across the state, Chinese gals in Saskatchewan, and Japanese, Chinese and South Asian gals in British Columbia (as stipulated by legislation in each individual province). Four ladies had operate, but only Macphail, a United Farmers of Ontario-Progressive, experienced defeated her male Liberal and Conservative opponents in the rural Ontario riding of Gray Southeast. (By then, 7 gals had been elected to legislatures in the four Western provinces.)

Provided the various road blocks she confronted, her accomplishment was outstanding. As she afterwards recalled, “I won that election in spite of staying a female.” At the time, Macphail, lifted on a farm in Gray County, Ont., in the rural area south of Georgian Bay, was a 31-12 months-old former college teacher. She was to be an MP for the up coming 19 decades.

Immediately after she was originally picked out as the UFO-Progressive candidate in Gray Southeast, some of the males in the using grumbled about the end result. On the marketing campaign trail, it was no better. Macphail was nonetheless a sharp and witty orator usually completely ready to tangle with hecklers. “Don’t you want you had been a man?” 1 fellow shouted at her. “Yes,” she retorted, “don’t you?” The crowd cheered.

Immediately after her victory, she was dealt with as a political novelty and obtained a lot awareness in the press, even though not the form she appreciated. In a January, 1922, feature report in Maclean’s magazine, she was hailed as “the only M. P. who can – Bake, churn sew, hitch, cook dinner, milk, teach, chat – and do ‘em all effectively!” And like the feminine politicians who have followed her, journalists frequently commented on her overall look and costume and the point that she was nevertheless single. Although she had male suitors, she under no circumstances married and experienced to repeatedly answer inane inquiries about her position as a “spinster.” She was also originally shunned by quite a few of the male MPs who could not accept a girl in the Residence of Commons.

Macphail put in her political profession battling for equality for women, decency in politics, jail reform, and peace and global co-operation as the very first woman Canadian delegate to the League of Nations in 1929. As her biographer Terry Crowley information, she was additional enlightened than most white Canadians of her technology in that she believed persuasive immigrants to assimilate to a white Anglo great was impractical and wrong. “The strategy of folks of British inventory that they are outstanding is absurd,” she explained in 1928. “We have not authorized individuals from other international locations to make contributions which would make Canada, not a very little England or a minor Terrific Britain, but Canada.”

Still, she would have been the last human being to say that she was ideal. And, she wasn’t. Like many of us, her attitudes and actions have been contradictory. Even with her almost multicultural check out of newcomers, there is no denying that she was a white lady of her periods and shared some of the prejudices that we are brief to condemn currently. Indigenous peoples and their plight in prisons or in other places did not concern her. And as was the scenario with other liberal-minded social reformers, she recognized the popular eugenics theories of the day that pressured sterilization of mentally challenged men and women was crucial. Or as she so bluntly place it at a farm association conference in 1935, “I just speculate how a great deal longer we’re likely to allow for subnormal people to create their sort. It is a blasphemy of the worst form. You farmers – would you want the worse kind of your cattle to be seed-bearers?”

Not as well long just after she arrived in Ottawa, she became disenchanted with numerous of her far more moderate Progressive colleagues, who were being information to support the King federal government with handful of concerns questioned. In 1924, she and 10 other Progressives fashioned a faction identified as the “Ginger Group” to combat for their vision for economic co-operation. Quite a few users, including Macphail, performed crucial roles in the establishment of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) eight decades later. But she feared communism and its suppression of freedom. She vehemently opposed alleged communists in the CCF ranks, which led to her leaving the social gathering for a several yrs.

Just after she was defeated in the 1940 election, she rejoined the CCF and served two phrases as an Ontario MPP in 1943, she and Rae Luckock, also of the CCF, have been the 1st two females elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. There, she ongoing her combat for women’s equality and financial legal rights just before getting rid of her seat in the 1951 provincial election. In the many years that followed, prime minister Louis St. Laurent was thinking about appointing her to the Senate. But right before that was finalized, she died early in 1954 a few months prior to her 64th birthday.

Her flaws notwithstanding, a century later on Macphail’s historic legacy stays intact. She did not want specific therapy mainly because she was a woman – just the opposite. Questioned again by Maclean’s in 1949 whether or not she’d instead be a man, she replied: “My respond to is: No. I’d fairly be a girl – if the planet would deal with me as it treats a man.”

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