Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (b at Proton Twp, Grey County, Ont 24 Mar 1890; d at Toronto 13 Feb 1954). Macphail was the only woman elected to Canada's Parliament in 1921, the first federal election in which women had the vote. She served until defeated in 1940.
Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (b at Proton Twp, Grey County, Ont 24 Mar 1890; d at Toronto 13 Feb 1954). Macphail was the only woman elected to Canada's Parliament in 1921, the first federal election in which women had the vote. She served until defeated in 1940. In 1943 she was elected to the Ontario legislature, one of the first 2 women there. She lost her seat in 1945 but was again in the legislature 1948-51. She was also the first woman appointed member of a Canadian delegation to the League of Nations, where she insisted on serving on the Disarmament Committee. Macphail began as a country schoolteacher and was active in the Ontario agricultural co-operative movement and the United Farmers of Ontario. She entered politics to represent the farmers of her region; in office she came also to see herself as representing other women. As MP she first sat as a member of the Progressive Party, with which the UFO was then affiliated. She later sat as an independent and finally as a representative of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation; as MPP she represented the CCF. Although involved in founding the CCF, she distrusted partisanship and did not acknowledge party discipline.
Though modern accounts have tended to deny it, in her own time Macphail was recognized as a feminist. Rural issues such as a protective tariff were always primary for her, but she gave major attention to so-called "women's issues" such as prison reform. She was the founder of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada and was largely responsible for the establishment in 1935 of the Archambault Commission to investigate Canada's prisons. Her feminist antimilitarism included active participation in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (but she reluctantly voted for Canada's entry into WWII). She supported women's acquisition of civil rights, although she was not an active suffragist. She was a friend of Nellie McClung and admired Thérèse Casgrain's suffragist efforts in Québec, and she welcomed the decision in the Persons Case. She was responsible for Ontario's first equal pay legislation (1951). After her electoral defeat, she supported herself by journalism, public speaking and organizing for the Ontario CCF, but she suffered from lack of money and poor health. She died just before a Senate appointment was to be announced.
D. French, "Agnes Macphail," in The Clear Spirit, ed Mary Quayle Innis (1966); M. Stewart and D. French, Ask No Quarter (1959).