MARCH 24, 1890 - FEBRUARY 13, 1954
Agnes Macphail, born on March 24th, 1890 in Grey County Ontario, is a very well-known name to most Canadians. She is most popularly remembered as the first woman in Canadian Parliament as well as an advocate of many maligned groups. However, she began her life as a small-town farm girl who stated that doing housework held no appeal to her and would assist her father in the care of their animals, despite her father’s belief that no girl should be doing farm work. However, Ms. Macphail knew that she did not want to work as a farmer forever and went on to study at the Owen Sound Collegiate School as well as the Normal School for teachers.
While teaching Ms. Macphail became very involved in different agricultural communities such as the Ontario agricultural co-operative movement and the United Farmers of Ontario organization. The UFO was involved in providing education about farming as well as working towards social and political change for farmers. From this group came several auxiliary groups such as United Farm Young People and United Farm Women, of which Ms. Macphail was also a member. The UFO won a large victory in the 1919 provincial election and during that time Ms. Macphail represented the South-East Grey County in the House of Commons.
In 1921 Canada held its first federal election in which women could vote and Ms. Macphail was elected to serve as a Member of Parliament for the Grey South-East riding for nearly 20 years, for she was defeated in 1940. Ms. Macphail’s original intentions upon entering politics were to represent the farmers of her riding she also worked as an advocate for prisoners, women, miners and immigrants throughout her time in politics. While many admired her determination to represent marginalized groups there was a large number of people who considered Ms. Macphail to be too soft and “womanly” or would accuse her of things like treason or communism.
Farmers benefitted from Ms. Macphail’s time in Parliament as she denounced high tariffs that served manufacturers to the detriment of farmers. She also insisted that farmers deserved more recognition and respect than they received, and fought tirelessly on the behalf of her rural constituents.
In addition to her time in politics, Ms. Macphail was a member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which aimed to relieve the financial burdens many suffered from during the Great Depression. She was also a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom where she argued against military spending, cadet training and the tendency to glorify war and empire. Ms. Macphail was also a part of a Canadian delegation of the League of Nations, of which she was the first female member.
Ms. Macphail accomplished many impressive things by the time of her death in February of 1954. Her work for farmers, women, immigrants, prisoners and many other groups was truly admirable and make her a significant persona in Canadian history.