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Long before they had the right to vote or to stand in federal and provincial elections, Canadian women were participating in organizations devoted to developing education, particularly in rural areas, promoting stricter liquor laws, supporting their churches and fighting for women's rights, among other worthy causes. They were dedicated to improving social conditions and the quality of life for their fellow Canadians. So, when they became eligible to participate in the electoral process, it did not take long for them to have an impact.
On March 14, 1916, most women in Manitoba became eligible to vote in provincial elections, with women in other provinces soon following suit. Federally, women became able to vote on May 24, 1918, and in 1929 Canadian women were legally declared "persons" and were granted the right to become members of the Senate. Since then, hundreds of Canadian women have moved forward with perseverance and conviction to participate in affairs of state and some have become head of state.
Canada is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. In practical terms this means that Canadians recognize The Queen as our head of state. As The Queen's representative, the Governor General carries out Her Majesty's duties in Canada on a daily basis and is Canada's de facto head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces. The first woman to hold this office was the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé in 1984.
At the provincial level, the Crown is represented by the Lieutenant Governor. In 1934, the Department of Justice decided that women could hold this position but the first such appointment did not come until 1974 when the Honourable Pauline McGibbon became Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Since then, over a dozen women have held the office in all provinces except for Newfoundland and Labrador.
In all three territories, the Canadian federal government is represented by the Territorial Commissioner and several women have served in this office since Ione Christensen became the first woman Territorial Commissioner of the Yukon Territory in 1979.
The positions of Governor General, Lieutenant Governor and Territorial Commissioner, are, to a large extent, ceremonial in nature but there are real and symbolic powers attached to the offices and it is important that women have the opportunity to contribute to these positions.
In order to select representatives from this growing group, Library and Archives Canada has chosen to focus on "First Women" such as the first woman Governor General, the first women Lieutenant Governors, the first women Territorial Commissioners, the first woman member of Parliament, the first women elected to Provincial and Territorial Legislatures and selected provincial firsts.