CELEBRATING WOMEN IS NOT HARD. What’s hard is trying to make a list limited to just 10 great women activists. But, we gave it a shot. Just to get things rolling.
We offer this list as a place to start. It is a list to be added to. A list that needs to grow into the dozens, hundreds, thousands. Exactly how long it should be will depend on you.
We invite you to send us the names and info about women you think should be on a list of great women activists.
Use the Send Us Your Stories button at the bottom of this item to do that.
Check out our list to give you some inspiration.
TEN GREAT WOMEN ACTIVISTS
“Just get the thing done and let them howl.”
Nellie McClung was a Canadian feminist, politician, author, and social activist with a sense of humour.
She once staged a mock parliament attacking votes for men. It was largely through her leadership efforts that in 1916 Manitoba became the first province to give women the right to vote and to run for public office.
She championed dental and medical care for school children, property rights for married women, equitable divorce laws, mothers’ allowances, factory safety legislation and many other reforms.
In 1927, McClung and four other women launched and eventualy won the “Persons Case,” contending that women could be “qualified persons” eligible to sit in the Senate.
Viola Desmond was a Canadian Black Nova Scotian businesswoman who challenged racial segregation at a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in 1946.
She refused to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre and was convicted of a minor tax violation for not paying an additional one-cent tax due on the seat she sat in. Desmond’s case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada.
Viola is slated to appear on our $10 bill in 2018.
(1930 - 2003)
Rosemary Brown won a seat in the BC legislature as an NDP candidate in the BC election in 1972. The win made her the first Black Canadian woman to be elected to a Canadian provincial legislature.
During her 14 years as MLA, Brown created a committee to remove sexism in British Columbia’s educational material and was instrumental in the formation of the Berger Commission on the Family.
She also ran for leadership of the federal NDP in 1975. With the slogan “Brown is Beautiful,” she broke colour barriers in the federal arena.
Brigette DePape worked as a page in the Canadian Senate. In 2011 she stood in silent protest during the Throne Speech in the Senate. She held up a homemade sign with the message “Stop Harper!”
This action led to her prompt dismissal. Brigette explained that she disagreed with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policies.
(1918 - 2012)
Madeleine Parent was a Canadian labour, feminist and aboriginal rights activist.
Her achievements included her work in establishing the Canadian Textile and Chemical Union and the Confederation of Canadian Unions. She was a vocal proponent of abortion rights as well as aboriginal rights. She was a prominent figure in the 1946 Montreal Cotton Strike.
In 1955, she was arrested for seditious conspiracy by the government of Maurice Duplessis. After a six-month incarceration, she was acquitted.
The bridge carrying Quebec Autoroute 30 over the Beauharnois Canal was named Madeleine Parent Bridge in her honour.
A park named after her was opened in southwest Montreal in 2016.
(1944 - 2011)
Nancy Riche was a major figure in the Canadian labour movement and one of the key figures in Newfoundland and Labrador and federal NDP.
As secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, she was an outspoken critic of free-trade deals pursued by the federal government in the 80s and 90s.
Nancy received many honours including the Elijah Barayi Award from Congress of South African Trade Unions for her contribution to the struggle against apartheid
Nancy believed strongly in the power of an alliance between the labour movement and the women’s movement and did whatever she could to strengthen that alliance.
(1918 - 1993)
Grace Hartman was the first woman elected leader of a national union in Canada. She was elected the national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in 1975.
In 1981 she went to jail for counselling an illegal strike; she insisted that hospital workers, legally barred from striking, must have full collective bargaining rights.
She was a life-long champion of women’s rights inside and outside of the labour movement.
Cindy Blackstock is a member of the Gitksan First Nation with 25 years of social work experience in child protection and indigenous children’s rights.
She is an influential voice within the Aboriginal, social work and child rights communities. Cindy has spoken out about the systemic inequalities in public services experienced by First Nations children, youth and families.
In 2016 she won national and international acclaim with a victory on behalf of indigenous children before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, showing they were being shortchanged by Ottawa. The Globe and Mail called her “Canada’s ‘relentless moral voice’ for First Nations equality”.
Ask Cindy Blackstock if she has children and she comes back with an unusual response: “Single and no kids, except the 163,000-plus that I’m honoured to work with on equity issues.”
Eileen Tallman Sufrin
Eileen Sufrin led the first strike of bank employees in Montreal in 1942. However, her biggest battle, and the highlight of her career, was her attempt to unionize employees at Eaton’s, Canada’s largest department store at the time. Of the 30,000 Eaton’s workers across Canada, Sufrin and her team were able to organize 9,000 employees between 1948 and 1952.
The drive to unionize Eaton’s ultimately failed. But the pressure it put on Eaton’s did bring Eaton’s workers increased salaries, pensions and other benefits.
Eileen Sufrin is a member of the Canadain Lasbour Hall of Fame. She was awarded a Governor General’s Medal in 1979, one of seven Canadian women honoured on the 50th anniversary of the Person’s Case.
( 1957- 1985)
Tribute to Maria Ociepka in the Ontrario Legislature April 26 1988:
Yesterday, here at the Legislature, an organization which calls itself LIFT, Low Income Families Together, held a day-long vigil in memory of Maria Ociepka.
Maria Ociepka died suddenly at age 28 on September 12, 1985, but in her few years as a welfare activist she made an indelible mark and left a memory which burns bright. She founded the province-wide Mothers’ Action Group in 1981 to give a voice to her moms, as she called them—sole-support mothers—and to the poor in general.
As co-ordinator of the Mothers’ Action Group, she developed the first formal alliance between social service workers and the clients they serve. A single mother herself, she was poor all her life. She was fearless in defence of her moms as she fought the bureaucratic barriers they had to overcome, but she was respected at every level of government because she did her research well. She knew policies, she knew legislation and regulations forward and backwards, and she had a penetrating analysis of the poverty system.
If she cared for any more than the moms, it was the kids who were trapped in poverty, whose dreams and hopes would be cut short by a society whose wealth could wipe out their poverty if it but cared enough. Maria Ociepka gave new hope to those who were too beaten down to care. Like her friends in vigil yesterday, we too would do well to pause for a few moments to remember her.
(1890 – 1954)
“Most women think politics aren’t lady-like. Well, I’m no lady. I’m a human being.”
Agnes Macphail was the first twice: she was the first woman elected to parliament in Canada, where she served from 1920 to 1941. She was also one of the first two women elected to the Ontario Legislature,
Macphail objected to the Royal Military College of Canada in 1924 on the grounds that it taught snobbishness and provided a cheap education for the sons of the rich and again in 1931 on pacifist grounds.
She became the first president of the Ontario CCF in 1932. However, she left the CCF in 1934 when the United Farmers of Ontario pulled out.
She was always a strong voice for rural issues. Her strong concern for women in the criminal justice system led her to found the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada. She also championed pensions for seniors and workers’ rights.
She lost her federal seat in the 1940 election.
She won election as a CCF MPP in Ontario in 1943. She was one of the the first two women elected to the Ontario Legislature.
Agnes Macphail was responsible for Ontario’s first equal-pay legislation, passed in 1951. She was defeated in elections later that year.
Following her defeat Agnes was barely able to support herself through journalism, public speaking and organizing for the Ontario CCF.