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Themes - Activism

Kay Livingstone

Photograph of Kay Livingstone


Social activist, radio host


Kay Livingstone is perhaps best known for her role in organizing the first National Congress of Black Women in 1973, but her life was devoted to social activism - as a member of many groups, including the Canadian Negro Women's Association.

Kay was born in 1918 to James and Christina Jenkins of London, Ontario. Her parents were themselves active in the Black community, founding the newspaper Dawn of Tomorrow. She showed an early interest in the performing arts, studying first in London, then at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and later at the Ottawa College of Music.

During the Second World War, Kay worked at the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in Ottawa, where she married George Livingstone in 1942. It was in Ottawa that she began a career as a radio host with "The Kathleen Livingstone Show", a career she would continue with their move to Toronto, where she hosted programs on several stations including the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). She also became a leading amateur and professional actress.

Her involvement with the Canadian Negro Women's Association (CANEWA) began in late 1950, when she joined a Toronto women's social club then known as the Dilettantes. Kay lost no time in changing both the name, and the club's focus. As the new organization's first president, she encouraged the other members to take up service projects. An early CANEWA undertaking, and one which would continue throughout the group's existence, was the provision of scholarships to deserving Black students. Later activities included the organization of the Calypso Carnival (forerunner of the Caribana Festival) as a fundraiser for other service projects.

Kay served as the president of CANEWA from 1951 to 1953, although she continued to act as a strong influence in the group for many years afterwards. She was the guiding force behind CANEWA's most public success: the first National Congress of Black Women, which was held in Toronto from April 6 to 8, 1973. Eighteen months in the planning, the Congress brought together 200 women from across Canada. Workshops were held on subjects such as education, single parents, and senior citizens, and resolutions on many subjects were passes.

Perhaps most importantly, the Congress inspired the delegates to maintain close ties with each other, leading to further conventions at Montreal in 1974, Halifax in 1976, Windsor in 1978, and Winnipeg in 1980. It was at the Winnipeg meeting that the Congress of Black Women was formed, an organization which today has over 600 members and is one of Kay Livingstone's legacies.

In addition to her activities with the Congress and CANEWA, Kay held positions with organizations such as the National Black Coalition of Canada, the Canadian Council of Churches, the United Nations Association, the Legal Aid Society, Heritage Ontario, and her local YWCA council.

In the last years of her life, Kay worked as a consultant to the Privy Council of Canada, travelling the country in preparation for a conference on visible minorities in Canada (a term with which she is credited with coining). One of the people she met on these travels was Carrie Best; it is a credit to Kay Livingstone's influence that after her death in 1975, Ms. Best formed the Kay Livingstone Visible Minority Women's Society in her honour, an organization which to this day provides educational funding for deserving young women.


Braithwaite, Rella. — The Black woman in Canada. — [S.l. : s.n., 1976]. — 70 p.

Braithwaite, Rella; Benn-Ireland, Tessa. — Some Black women : profiles of Black women in Canada. — [Toronto] : Sister Vision Press, 1993. — 119 p.

Hill, Lawrence. — Women of vision : the story of the Canadian Negro Women's Association, 1951-1976. — Toronto : Umbrella Press, 1996. — 95 p.

Sadlier, Rosemary. — Leading the way : Black women in Canada. — Toronto : Umbrella Press, 1994. — 72 p.

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