Martha Louise Black: Adventurer and Politician

Martha Black ©Library and Archives Canada / C-023354

For the Week of Monday, October 14, 2019.

On October 14, 1935, Martha Louise Black (née Munger) was elected to the House of Commons, making her the second woman in Canadian history to serve as a Member of Parliament.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1866, Martha Munger spent her early life in the United States, where she met her first husband and raised two sons. At the height of the Klondike gold rush, she received an offer from the family of a deceased miner who allegedly discovered a fortune of gold dust in the newly established Yukon Territory. Martha was offered half the inheritance if she went to retrieve it. Therefore, in 1898, she travelled with her brother and cousin to Dawson City, Yukon. After arriving, she realized she was pregnant, so she decided to remain in Dawson City for the birth of her third son in 1899. Unable to find the inheritance promised to her, she returned to the United States later that year. However, she did not stay away for long. In 1900, she brought her children to Yukon, which became their permanent home. Martha found employment as an overseer for a bunkhouse and later two mills, often working 19-hour shifts.

In 1904, after a long separation ended in divorce from her first husband, Martha married George Black, who represented the Government of Canada in the Territory as Commissioner of Yukon between 1912 and 1918. His position provided her with an influential platform within the community. Martha Black established the Yukon Chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) in 1913, through which she organized charitable balls and other social functions. She also collected and researched species of Yukon flora, earning her a fellowship in the Royal Geographical Society.

During the First World War, the Yukon Chapter of the IODE raised over $150,000 for the war effort while Martha Black’s husband and youngest son were serving in France with the Yukon Infantry Company. She went to England to help directly with Canadian efforts to raise funds and build support for the war effort. As a volunteer with the Red Cross, she conducted hospital tours, visiting wounded servicemen. She also organized the sending of letters, food, clothing, and money to soldiers overseas.

After the war, George Black served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Yukon until 1935, when illness forced him to resign. Martha Black ran in his place as an Independent Conservative and campaigned extensively across Yukon—then Canada’s largest constituency by area. She won and became the second woman elected to the House of Commons. She served as MP until 1940, when she retired in favour of her husband, who had regained his health.

In 1948, Martha Louise Black, a designated national historic person, received an Order of the British Empire for her life achievements. She died nine years later, at the age of 91.

2019 marks 100 years since the founding of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC). Find out more on the HSMBC website.