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First woman Senator.
First woman appointed Chair of a Senate Standing Committee (Immigration and Labour)
Born in Montreal on February 4, 1885.
Died in Ottawa on March 3, 1962.
Political Affiliation: Liberal
Legislative Career: Appointed to the Senate in 1930. Served until her death in 1962.
Honours and Awards: Knight of the Legion of Honour (France), 1950.
Cairine Reay Mackay was born in Montreal and as a young woman, frequently accompanied her Liberal Senator father on trips to Ottawa where they often stayed at the home of family friend and then Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. She married Norman Wilson, Liberal Member of Parliament for Russell in Ontario in 1909 and raised a family of eight children.
She became active in the Victorian Order of Nurses, the Young Women's Christian Association, the Salvation Army and other groups. She also helped found the Twentieth Century Liberal Association and the National Federation of Liberal Women of Canada, serving as President of the latter from 1938 to 1948.
Mrs. Wilson was appointed as the country's first woman Senator in 1930 by Prime Minister King only four months after the ruling in the "Persons Case" which had been pursued by the "Famous Five" and determined that women were "qualified persons" and so eligible to sit in the Senate. As a Senator, Mrs. Wilson championed issues such as divorce and immigration and was unafraid to take a stance contrary to the Prime Minister's, as in the case of the Munich agreement. Her concern for refugees was marked by personal acts of kindness in addition to her service as president of the League of Nations Society of Canada. She became Canada's first woman delegate to the United Nations General Assembly in 1949, first woman to chair a Senate Standing Committee (Immigration and Labour) and chairman of the Canadian National Committee on Refugees. For her work with refugee children, she was given the honour of Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1950.
Johnson, J.K., ed. - The Canadian directory of Parliament, 1867-1967. - Ottawa : Public Archives of Canada, 1968. - P. 604.
Iacovetta, Franca. - "A Respectable Feminist: The Political Career of Senator Cairine Wilson 1921-1962". - Beyond the vote : Canadian women and politics. - Ed. Linda Kealey and Joan Sangster. - Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1989. - ISBN 0-80202677X. - P. 63-85.
Knowles, Valerie. First person: a biography of Cairine Wilson, Canada's first woman senator. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1988.