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Cairine Wilson

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Cairine Wilson, First Canadian Woman Senator

Cairine Wilson, First Canadian Woman Senator

Library and Archives Canada / C-008408

About Cairine Wilson:

In 1930 Cairine Wilson became the first woman appointed to the Canadian Senate, just months after the Persons Case gave women the right to sit in the Senate. It was 23 years before another woman was appointed to the Senate in Canada. Cairine Wilson was also Canada's first woman delegate to the United Nations.

A fluently bilingual mother of eight, well connected politically and from an affluent family, Cairine Wilson spent over 30 years in the Canadian Senate, and was best known for her support of the causes of refugees. Throughout her Senate career, Cairine Wilson also supported issues involving the rights of women and children, more progressive divorce legislation, and was a proponent of Medicare.

Birth:

February 4, 1885 in Montreal, Quebec

Death:

March 3, 1962 in Ottawa, Ontario

Profession:

Homemaker and social worker

Political Affiliation:

Senatorial Division:

Rockliffe, Ontario

Senate Career of Cairine Wilson:

  • The daughter of Liberal Senator Robert Mackay, Cairine Wilson was well connected in the Liberal Party. Canadian prime ministers Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Mackenzie King were both friends of the family and her husband Norman Wilson had been a Liberal member of parliament before they married.

  • Cairine Wilson's first political office was president of the Eastern Ontario Political Association in 1921.

  • She chaired the founding committee of the Ottawa Women's Liberal Club in 1922 and was its president for three years.

  • Cairine Wilson was also honorary president of the National Federation of Liberal Women of Canada.

  • Prime Minister Mackenzie King appointed Cairine Wilson to the Senate in 1930. Wilson was the first woman appointed to the Canadian Senate. Many expected Alberta Conservative Emily Murphy, who had led the fight in the Persons Case which paved the way for women to sit in the Senate, to be appointed, but Wilson's work in Liberal party political organization took precedence.

  • Cairine Wilson's husband was not in favour of his wife taking paid work and went so far as to inform the Governor General that his wife did not want the position. Cairine Wilson went ahead and accepted the position.

  • Cairine Wilson worked on 13 Senate committees during her years as a Senator, and was the first woman to be appointed Chair of a Senate standing committee, the Senate committee on Immigration and Labour.

  • Cairine Wilson worked with the League of Nations Society in Canada, and was president from 1936-42. In 1938 she publicly opposed the Liberal government's approval of the Munich Agreement.

  • From 1938 to 1948 Cairine Wilson served as chairman of the Canadian National Committee on Refugees. She fought against anti-semitism and was an active supporter of the causes of refugees at a time when the country was largely against liberalizing immigration.

  • In 1949, Cairine Wilson became Canada's first woman delegate to the United Nations.

  • Cairine Wilson died in 1962, while still a Senator.

See also: 10 Firsts for Canadian Women in Government

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