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Sketches of Canada for December 6th!

Canadian History for Kids: Agnes Macphail

It took 54 years after confederation to happen! But finally a woman would be elected to Canada’s House of Commons.

December 6th, 1921 Agnes Macphail made history by becoming the first woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons. This Canadian History for Kids, Sketches of Canada, looks at the life and political career of Agnes Macphail.

Agnes Macphail was born in Proton Township, Grey County, Ontario on March 24, 1890. Macphail did not come from a family of wealth or great influence. It took her two years, but Agnes finally convinced her family to let her go to high school and she made up for lost time by graduating in half the normal time. She became captain of the girls’ basketball team and led discussions in the Literary Society. She attended the teachers college in Stratford, and afterwards taught in schools in southwest Ontario. While working in Sharon, Macphail became active politically, joining the United Farmers of Ontario (UFO) and its women’s organization, the United Farm Women of Ontario. She also became a columnist for the Farmers’ Sun around this time.

After amendments to the Elections Act by the Conservative Party government in 1919, Macphail was elected to the House of Commons as a member of the Progressive Party of Canada for the Grey Southeast electoral district (riding) in the 1921 federal election. She was the first woman Member of Parliament (MP) in Canada. Macphail was re-elected in the 1925, 1926, and 1930 federal elections.
At the 1921 federal general election, there were 235 ridings in Canada. Only four women ran. None represented the major Liberal or Conservative parties. Macphail’s campaign fund totalled about $600, mostly from one-dollar donations. She made no special play for the votes of women. Rather, her fiery speeches, which drew large crowds, were mostly about the plight of farmers and other workers. The three female candidates in other ridings were not elected.

For the first fourteen of her years in Parliament, Macphail’s was the only female voice there. She was rumoured on several occasions to have been offered a Cabinet post by Prime Minister Mackenzie King, if she or the Progressives would join his Liberals. But she preferred to keep her independence and not have to follow the official line of a governing party.
And what did she accomplish in almost two decades on the opposition benches? Macphail constantly challenged the main theory of the time that women were destined only to be wives and mothers.

After Macphail lost her seat in the Ontario legislature, a campaign began to convince Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent to appoint her to the Senate. The Prime Minister was reluctant but, apparently, eventually decided to announce her appointment in the spring of 1954. But it was too late, because on February 11, 1954, at the age of 63, Macphail suffered a heart attack and died two days later in Wellesley Hospital in Toronto. She was laid to rest beside her parents in a cemetery in Priceville, Ontario, back home in Grey County.

And that’s this weeks Canadian History for Kids, Sketches of our Canada.

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