Many of the challenges remain, but the political contributions women have made in our communities is remarkable
“BC is very diverse, and people of diverse backgrounds need to see themselves reflected in every area of life so that they know that they can attain any career that they want to achieve in Canada.”
This weekend (January 24th) British Columbia celebrates a milestone. 103 years ago, in 1918*, Mary Ellen Smith became the first woman ever elected to the BC legislature -- this, at a time, when women were not even officially recognized as persons.
Three years later in 1921 she became the first woman not only in Canada, but in the British Empire, to be appointed as a cabinet minister and eventually the first female Speaker. In a speech to the Legislature Smith remarked, “Not only did the women of my fair city stand behind me... but the men were there, too." She was re-elected in the 1920 and 1924 general elections.
As a legislator, she introduced a law in 1918 establishing a minimum wage for women and girls, and helped enact laws establishing juvenile courts, allowing women to sit as judges, creating social welfare support for "deserted wives", passing laws protecting women in the workplace, and establishing a pension for mothers.
“I wasn’t aware of this history”, observed Shelly Jan, a candidate for BC’s Conservatives in last October provincial election. She continued, “BC is very diverse, and people of diverse backgrounds need to see themselves reflected in every area of life so that they know that they can attain any career that they want to achieve in Canada.”
Christine Clarke, another former Conservative candidate and a previous party president, had this to say. “We have come a long way since Ms. Smith blazed the trail for women in politics and the issues of the day are certainly different. I can tell you that a hundred years later, being a woman did not enter into my decision to run – in large part due to the work of pioneers such as Mary Ellen Smith.
Instead, my candidacy was rooted in my strongly held conservative beliefs that we could be a stronger, healthier, more fiscally stable province for the benefit of all British Columbians.”
Speaking from his home in Ft. St. John, Conservative BC leader remarked, “At a time when we not only accept, but welcome, diversity and embrace the important role women play in our governments, it’s still difficult to fathom the courage it must have taken for this woman to step forward to fight for the things she believed in.”
“Many of the challenges remain, but the political contributions women have made in our communities are remarkable,” he concluded.
*Elections BC, Electoral History of BC (https://elections.bc.ca/voting/outreach-and-education/electoral-history-of-bc/) ... also see references for 1920 and 1924
BC Legislative Assembly – Mary Ellen Smith: First woman elected to the Legislative Assembly (1918) and first woman in the British Empire to be appointed a cabinet minister – without portfolio (1921)
Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada unveils plaque honouring Mary Ellen Spear Smith (1863-1933)
Mary Ellen Smith: First Female Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia