"Women belong in the House ...of Commons" Agnes Macphail
How could a girl from Proton Township in Grey County grow up to become the first woman elected to Canadian parliament in 1921?
75 people gathered at the Stone Tree in Owen Sound on May 19 to learn about Agnes Macphail's remarkable journey from a log cabin in Proton Township to the House of Commons in Ottawa and then into our history books. The early years were presented by Dr. Donna Mann, whose research, writing, and efforts to mark sites important in the life of Agnes Macphail earned her the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Marjorie Davison, in character as Agnes, told of Macphail's isolation in the House of Commons and feisty responses to insults. She described Macphail's work over nineteen years as an M.P. before defeat in 1940, and her later election as a member of provincial parliament in 1943.
Kimberley Love reviewed the impact of Macphail's determination and leadership in Parliament. Macphail championed the rights of farmers, miners, women, and prisoners. She campaigned tirelessly for social reform, equal rights, improved conditions and the rehabilitation of prisoners, and equal pay for women. Agnes was the first woman appointed as a member of a Canadian delegation to the League of Nations.
The evening ended with a lively panel discussion about women in political life today. Barb Clumpus, mayor of Meaford; Kathi Maskell, former mayor of Hanover; Colleen Purdon, former Owen Sound councillor; and Deb Haswell, former mayor of Owen Sound discussed their
experiences in municipal government—and its challenges and joys.
The evening concluded with the recognition that progress has been slow over the 94 years since the days of Agnes Macphail. Women represent only 24% of elected officials at the municipal level today, and 25% at the federal level.