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A Person of Principle

For the week of Monday April 10, 2006

On April 14, 1917, Louise Crummy McKinney became the first woman to be sworn into the Alberta Legislative Assembly, and one of the first two women elected to a legislature in Canada and in all of the British Empire.

Louise McKinney
© Ontario Women's Directorate

Born in Frankville, Ontario, on September 22, 1868, Louise dreamed of becoming a doctor, but because of her status as a woman, she became a teacher instead. She first became involved in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in North Dakota. In 1903, she settled in Claresholm, south of Calgary, where she served for over 20 years in a prominent role with the local temperance movement that she founded in the Northwest Territories (which at that time included Alberta and Saskatchewan). She would set up more than 40 chapters of this association. In 1931, she became acting president of the Canadian National Union of the WCTU and vice‑president of the international WCTU.

McKinney was a candidate in the Alberta general elections of 1917; this was the first time that women were allowed to vote in this province. She ran as a candidate for the Non‑Partisan League on a prohibition ticket, believing that the alcoholic beverages industry influenced and controlled most political parties through funding. She won and became the first women elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly. During her term, which lasted until 1921, she helped implement social programs for immigrants, widows (such as the Dower Act), separated women and other oppressed groups in society. However, because of the ineffectiveness of the prohibition law, which had been in effect since 1915, her main issue was always the fight for stricter liquor control laws.

Stamp of Louise McKinney
© Canada Post Corporation (1981). Reproduced with permission.

She was among the only four women delegates involved in the founding of the United Church of Canada. As a women’s rights activist, her greatest achievement at the national level was her involvement in the “Persons Case” with four other women. They were responsible for the British Privy Council’s decision in 1929 to reverse the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1928 ruling stating that, since women were not "persons," they could not serve as senators.

Louise McKinney died on July 10, 1931, in Claresholm, the riding she had proudly represented. This pioneer, leader, suffragette and prohibitionist was designated as a national historic person in 1939 for her political and social initiatives that helped shape Canadian society.

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