Saturday, April 9, 2011

Agnes Macphail and Canadian Working Women

By Terry Crowley
Labour/Le Travail
Fall 1991

Agnes MacPhail
"I am a feminist" informed Canada's fïrst woman MP to a Toronto audience in 1927, "and I want for women the thing men are not willing to give them, absolute equality. We will not get it this year but we will get it next."

The intricate interplay between feminism and equality that characterized the thought of Agnes Macphail during her 30 years in politics has eluded historians. While each ideal informed the other, equality rather than feminism stood at the core of her social and political outlook. Believing that women were as diverse as men, Macphail strove to improve conditions for those groups of people whom she considered to be the most disadvantaged: farmers, workers, and the disabled. In championing the cause of working women, Macphail brought their concerns to public attention and assisted in providing programs designed to improve their material situation. She played a key role in the process that saw the Canadian state shed its 19th-century narrowness in order to serve a broader range of citizens in new ways.

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