Born in 1921 and christened Hilda Doris Buck, Doris Anderson was born to Rebecca Laycock Buck and Thomas McCubbin. She remembers her early years as happy ones, growing up in the Calgary boarding house which her mother ran independently to support the family. Her father entered their lives and married her mother just before Doris's eighth birthday. A difficult and domineering man, he had a strong influence over her mother regarding Doris's upbringing, leaving Doris confused and unhappy; she was chastised for being too forward and unladylike. As an adolescent, Doris found it increasingly difficult to accept her mother's vision of a traditional life based on marriage and children and looked to women such as her unmarried teachers as role models for an independent life.
Doris graduated from teachers' college in 1940 and earned enough money teaching in rural communities in Alberta to put herself through university. In 1945, she graduated from the University of Alberta and travelled to Toronto to pursue a career in journalism. She held a variety of jobs including copyeditor for the Star Weekly, researcher and writer for radio host Claire Wallace, and copywriter in the advertising department at Eaton's. Realizing that opportunities for women in journalism were severely limited, Doris decided in 1949 to travel to Europe to try her hand at fiction writing. Although able to sell short stories to Maclean's and Chatelaine magazines, she discovered that she did not want to earn a living writing fiction. She did, however, write three novels in later years.
Doris Anderson returned to Canada in 1950 and, in 1951, began her long association with Chatelaine when she was hired as an advertising promotion person. Through hard work and determination, Doris advanced to the positions of associate and managing editor. She finally became editor in 1958, a post which she held until 1977. At the time of her marriage to lawyer David Anderson in 1957, she notes in her autobiography, Rebel Daughter, "that what I wanted more than anything was to be able to look after myself and make sure that every other woman in the world could do the same". She continued to work after her marriage and the births of her sons, Peter, Stephen and Mitchell.
As editor of Chatelaine, Doris Anderson was determined to give her readers "something serious to think about, something to shake them up". She included articles on the legalization of abortion, battered babies, the outdatedness of Canada's divorce laws and female sexuality as well as informative, practical pieces for working women. An editorial supported the push for a royal commission on the status of women and other articles examined social issues such as racism and the plight of Canada's Native peoples. Some readers felt that she was turning "a nice wholesome Canadian magazine into a feminist rag" (Rebel Daughter, p. 151), however, circulation, which was 480 000 when Doris became editor, increased to 1.8 million by the late 1960s. The content of Chatelaine, during that period, placed it in the vanguard of second-wave feminism in North America.
After losing a by-election for a seat in the House of Commons in 1978, Doris Anderson accepted a Liberal government appointment as chair of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women (CACSW) in 1979. Her term coincided with the campaign for inclusion of women's rights in the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In February 1981, government interference resulted in the cancellation of the CACSW National Conference on Women and the Constitution. Doris Anderson resigned as chair, an act which became the catalyst for an intensive lobbying campaign and an ad-hoc conference attended by some 1 300 women in Ottawa. In April 1981, Article 28, which stated that "Not withstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons", was added to the Charter.
Doris Anderson continued to have a full and productive career throughout the 1980s and 90s. From 1982 to 1984, she was president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. She was a columnist for the Toronto Star from 1982 to 1992, chancellor of the University of Prince Edward Island from 1992 to 1996 and chair of the Ontario Press Council from 1998 to 2005. Among the many awards and honours she has received are: LL.D. (Hon.) University of Alberta, 1973; Officer, Order of Canada, 1975; YWCA Woman of Distinction Award, 1982; Persons' Award, 1991; LL.D. (Hon.) University of Waterloo, 1992; LL.D. (Hon.) Simon Fraser University, 1997; LL.D. (Hon.) York University, 1997.
She died on March 2, 2007, at age 85.