P.C., O.C., U.D., Q.C.
First Woman Speaker of the Senate.
Born in Shediac, New Brunswick on May 26, 1899.
Died in Fredericton, New Brunswick on April 11, 1997.
Political Affiliation: Liberal
Legislative Career: Appointed to the Senate on May 19, 1953.
Appointed Speaker of the Senate on December 14, 1972.
Honours and Awards: Sworn to the Privy Council, November 7, 1974. Officer of the Order of Canada (1976).
Muriel McQueen Fergusson, a native of New Brunswick, occupied many positions of authority and influence both in her home province and in the rest of Canada. She will be best remembered for the causes she championed on behalf of Canadian women.
After graduating from Mount Allison University in 1921, Mrs. Fergusson studied law at Dalhousie University, despite her mother's concern that it was an unnecessary expense for a young woman engaged to be married. She articled in her father's office and in 1925, was admitted to the New Brunswick Bar. After her husband's death in 1942, she took over his law practice and slowly won the confidence of most of his male clients who were wary of dealing with a woman lawyer.
Mrs. Fergusson's first experience of sex discrimination occurred when her application for regional director of the Family Allowance program was turned down because only males were being considered. However, she rallied support through the groups she had worked with, forcing the consideration of women. She became the first director of the Family Allowance and later the Old Age Security Programs in New Brunswick. She remained committed to women's rights and made great progress in advancing women into domains formerly open only to men. She was the first woman elected to the Fredericton City Council, and was the first woman deputy mayor of that city until her appointment to the Senate of Canada in 1953.
From 1953 to her appointment as the first female Speaker of the Senate in 1972, Mrs. Fergusson served on various Senate Committees concerned with the welfare of Canadians and the rights of women. In 1975, when she turned 75, she retired. Although she was not bound by the legislation making 75 the mandatory retirement age for Senators, she chose to do so at least in part because she had voted in favour of it.
Among the organizations to which Muriel Fergusson contributed her time, energy and knowledge were the Elizabeth Fry Society, the National Council of Women, the University Women's Club, the IODE, the Girl Guides of Canada and the Zonta Club. She was known by her colleagues as an energetic, wise and witty woman who made an invaluable contribution to the cause of Canadian women.
Macgowan, James. — "Lives lived : Muriel McQueen Fergusson". — Globe and Mail. — May 5, 1997, P. A16.
Peck, Mary Biggar. — The bitter with the sweet : New Brunswick 1604-1984. — Tantallon, N.S. : Four East Publications, 1983. P. 157-164.
Jackson, Richard. — "First woman speaker". — Atlantic advocate. — Vol. 63, no. 8 (April 1973). — P. 17-18.
Mungall, Constance. — "Pattern-breakers of New Brunswick". Chatelaine. — Vol. 50, no. 7 (July 1977). — P. 31, 51.