Agnes Macphail

Agnes Campbell Macphail (March 24, 1890 – February 13, 1954) was the first woman to be elected to the Canadian House of Commons, and the first woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

After graduating from teacher's college in Stratford, Ontario, Agnes Campbell Macphail accepted several rural teaching positions in southwestern Ontario. She became involved in politics while she was working in Sharon, Ontario, where she joined the United Farm Women of Ontario and attended meetings of the United Farmers of Ontario (U.F.O.). She wrote a column for the Farmers' Sun and frequently spoke on behalf of U.F.O. political candidates.

Despite resistance to the nomination of a female candidate, Macphail triumphed in the 1921 federal general election to become the first woman ever elected to the House of Commons. Amid opposition and ridicule from fellow Parliamentarians, Macphail took a particular interest in both the representation of her rural constituents and the fight for penal reform. Perhaps best known for the latter, her efforts came to fruition in 1936 when a Royal Commission was established to scrutinize the penal system, subsequently exposing extremely poor prison conditions and reiterating the suggestions for reform which Macphail had fought to implement.

Defeated in the general election of 1940, she began writing a column on agricultural issues for The Globe and Mail. However, she returned to the political arena in the 1943 Ontario election as the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) candidate for the riding of East York.

With Rae Luckock she was one of the two first women to be elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. New Members of Provincial Parliament were usually sworn in by alphabetical order; however, on February 23, 1944, Agnes Macphail was sworn in first, making her the first Ontario woman member, and Rae Luckock was sworn in as the second. After losing her seat in 1945, she was re-elected for a final term in 1948.

Throughout her career, Macphail strived to implement changes in a variety of areas including disarmament, international cooperation, and social reforms. At the time of her death in 1954, she was being considered for an appointment to the Canadian Senate.

Related sites


Crowley, Terry. — Agnes Macphail and the politics of equality. — Toronto : J. Lorimer, 1990.

Crowley, Terry. — "Agnes Macphail and Canadian working women". — Labour / Le travail. — Vol. 28 (Fall 1991). — P. 129-148.

Macphail, Agnes. — Agnes Macphail on convict or citizen? : the urgent need for prison reform. — Toronto : Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, Literature Dept., [194-?].

Pennington, Doris. — Agnes Macphail, reformer : Canada's first female M.P. — Toronto : Simon & Pierre, c1989.

Russell, William. — "Agnes Campbell Macphail (1890-1954)". — Miscellaneous research papers. — [Ottawa] : National Historic Parks and Sites Branch, Parks Canada, Dept. of Indian and Northern Affairs, 1977. — P. 133-150.

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