First Woman Senator: Cairine Reay Mackay Wilson (1885–1962)
It was controversial when Prime Minister Mackenzie King appointed Cairine Wilson as
Canada’s first female senator from among many candidates. But the senator would prove herself to not only be a good politician; She would make a name for herself as a compassionate champion of refugees and immigrants and as a zealous supporter of women in politics. Cairine Mackay was born into an affluent Montreal family, the eighth child of Robert and Jane Mackay. Robert Mackay was a Liberal senator, and politics was often discussed in the Mackay home. As a young woman, Cairine Mackay became familiar with Parliament Hill because she often joined her father on his regular trips to Ottawa.…show more content… This occurred four months after the ruling in the Persons Case, in which women were identified as persons and thus gained the right to be senators. Her appointment was controversial for several reasons. Some Canadians felt it inappropriate for the first female senator to be Anglophone; Others were angry that the first woman appointed to the Senate was one who had “never raised a finger in the fight to win for women the right to sit in the red chamber at Ottawa.”
Despite initial criticism, Senator Cairine Wilson proved herself time and time again through action. As a former private secretary once said, “Cairine Wilson never, never turned anybody away from her office.” She encouraged other women to be informed citizens and to vote. She took particular interest in topics like divorce, health care, labor issues, and education.
She was not afraid to speak out for what she believed in — for example, Cairine Wilson fought the disenfranchisement and later the deportation of Japanese Canadians, but her efforts were in vain. Another example is when she spoke out openly against the Munich Agreement, at a time when the Liberal government approved of the