Thérèse Casgrain

Thérèse Casgrain, née Marie Thérèse Forget (July 10, 1896 – November 3, 1981) was the first woman head of a political party in Quebec.

Thérèse Casgrain was the daughter of Lady Blanche MacDonald and Sir Rodolphe Forget, an eminent lawyer, financier, Conservative politician and philanthropist. On January 19, 1916, she married lawyer Pierre Casgrain, who, as a Liberal Member of Parliament, became Speaker of the House of Commons and Secretary of State under Prime Minister Mackenzie King. They had two daughters and two sons.

Thérèse Casgrain was involved in political, social and labor activities all her life. Following the First World War, she served on the federal Minimum Wage Board. From the 1920s, she campaigned for many needed reforms, most notably for women's suffrage in Quebec and from 1928 to 1942, she was president of the League for Women's Rights. Her leadership led to her founding the French Junior League, the French Federated Charities and the Société des concerts symphoniques de Montréal. She was also a member of the National Health Council and the National Welfare Council. During the Second World War, she helped organize the Wartime Prices and Trade Board and was instrumental in establishing the Consumer Branch of this board. She was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her wartime services.

In the 1942 federal by-election, Thérèse Casgrain was the Independent Liberal candidate in the Charlevoix-Saguenay riding, the same seat held both by her father and by her husband - until his appointment as a judge of the Quebec Superior Court. From 1942 to 1962, she ran unsuccessfully nine times for public office, both federally and provincially.

In 1946, Thérèse Casgrain joined the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) because she "had long seen how badly Canada needed a political party centred upon the common good rather than on the promotion of personal interests." In 1948, she was chosen one of the national vice-chairpersons of the CCF Party. When elected leader of the Quebec wing in 1951, she became the first woman to head a political party in Quebec. She served as provincial leader three times until 1957. In 1955, the provincial party name was changed to Le Parti social démocratique du Québec in order to more clearly indicate its objectives and to be more easily translatable than the former CCF title. Thérèse Casgrain later became president of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Quebec, the strong labour-based party that evolved out of the CCF.

In 1961, Thérèse Casgrain founded the Quebec branch of the Voice of Women, a movement dedicated to world peace. As the branch's national president, she was its delegate to many international conferences. In 1967, the year designated by the United Nations for the celebration of human rights, she set up the Fédération des femmes du Québec to effectively coordinate the efforts of various women's organizations in the province. As well, she served as president of the Ligue des droits de l'homme, the Quebec Medical Aid to Vietnam Committee and the French section of the Canadian Adult Education Association. She was also vice-chair of the Consultative Committee on the Administration of Justice in Quebec. In 1969, she became president of the Canadian Consumers Association for Quebec. It was pressure from this organization that inevitably led to Canada having a Minister for Consumer Affairs.

On October 8, 1970, Prime Minister Trudeau summoned Thérèse Casgrain to the Senate, where she sat as an Independent. After a tenure of only nine months, she reached the mandatory senator's retirement age of 75. From that time, she began to work against compulsory retirement from any job.

Right up until her death at the age of 85, she continued to actively campaign for Canadian charities and consumer rights. Although born to affluence, Senator Casgrain steadfastly battled against an indifferent and ultra-conservative society, not only for women's rights, but for reforms that benefited both men and women alike. She was a true humanist.

The Thérèse F.-Casgrain Fellowship for Research on Women and Social Change in Canada is offered through a national competition administered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council on behalf of the Thérèse F.-Casgrain Foundation. The Foundation was created in 1982 to perpetuate the memory of Senator Casgrain and to continue her work in the areas of social justice and the advancement of women.

Honours and Awards

Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.); Officer of the Order of Canada (O.C.), 1967; Companion of the Order of Canada (C.C.), 1974

In 1967, the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada awarded Thérèse Casgrain its medal as the "Woman of the Century" for Quebec, and the Société de criminologie du Canada awarded her its medal as "the person who has been most distinguished in the defence of human rights and the ideals of justice in our society".

In 1979, in recognition of her tireless leadership of the effort for women's right to vote in Quebec, she was a recipient of the Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case.

Between 1968 and 1981, she received honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degrees from 12 Canadian universities: Université de Montréal in 1968, McGill University, Trent University, and Queen's University in 1974, University of Waterloo, Bishop's University, Notre Dame University of Nelson (British Columbia), Mount Saint Vincent University, York University, and University of Ottawa in 1979, Concordia University in 1980, and University of Windsor in 1981.

Related sites


Benson, Jo-Anne Mary. — "Her Matters of Fact : Little-known Outstanding Women of History: Thérèse F. Casgrain (1896-1981)." — Woman : Canadian Women's Quarterly Newsmagazine. — (Winter 1999). — P. 29.

Bertrand, Réal. — Thérèse Casgrain. — Montreal : Lidec, ©1981. — 63 p. — (Célébrités canadiennes).

Casgrain, Thérèse F. — "The Canadian Constitutional Challenge: A Search for Direction and Accommodation." — Canadian Confederation Forum (1977-1978, Hamilton). — Proceedings of the fifth session of the Canadian Confederation Forum, McMaster University, November 1977 — April 1978. — Hamilton : McMaster University, 1978. — P. 77-84.

Casgrain, Thérèse F. — A Woman in a Man's World. — Translated by Joyce Marshall. — Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, ©1972. — 192 p. — Also published in French under the title : Une Femme chez les hommes.

Dadson, True. — "The Gentle Heroine: Thérèse Casgrain." — The Golden Strings. — Toronto : Griffin House, 1973. — P. 35-47.

Lazarus, Morden. — "Marie Thérèse Casgrain 1896-1981." — Six Women Who Dared. — Toronto : CPA Publishers, ©1983. — P. 25-28, 38.

Let's Face the Facts, No. 22: Address to the Men and Women of Canada by Madame Pierre Casgrain. — Ottawa : Director of Public Information for Canada, 1940. — 4 p. — Address given over a national network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Sunday night, Dec. 15, 1940, at the invitation of the Director of Public Information for Canada.

Munnings, Gladys. — "Thérèse Casgrain." — Canadian Women of Distinction: Emily Ferguson Murphy, Agnes Campbell, Thérèse Casgrain, Molly (Mary) Brant, FrancesAnne [sic] Hopkins. — Newmarket, Ont. : Quaker Press, 1993. — P. 17-24. — (A philatelist's view of Canada).

The National Forum as Broadcast December 11, 1938 over the National Network of the CBC: Position of Women in Canada. Speakers Irene Parlby, Madame Pierre Casgrain [and] B.K. Sandwell. — Toronto : Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1938. — [12 l.] — Reproduced from typescript. Broadcast December 11, 1938 over the national network of CBC.

Thérèse Casgrain : Une femme tenace et engagée. — Texts collected by Anita Caron and Lorraine Archambault. — Sainte-Foy : Presses de l'Université du Québec, 1993. — 393 p. — (Les Leaders politiques du Québec contemporain). — Texts presented during a colloquium held at the Université du Québec à Montréal, March 20-22, 1992.

Trofimenkoff, Susan Mann. — "Thérèse Casgrain and the CCF in Quebec". — Canadian Historical Review. — Vol. 66, no. 2 (June 1985). — P. 125-153. — Reprinted in Beyond the Vote : Canadian Women and Politics. — Ed. Linda Kealey and Joan Sangster. — Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1989. — P. 139-168.

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