Trailblazers of the First 100 Years
Article published in Lifestyles 55
I was honoured to support the Manitoba Legislative Assembly Education and Outreach Program in introducing a new permanent exhibit in our legislature to honour women trailblazers of the first 100 years.
It can be a daunting challenge to be the first to break down barriers or glass ceilings.
It can be daunting to work, survive, and thrive in a political environment where women are so underrepresented. It takes courage, strength, and determination.
The number of women elected into our provincial legislature has barely changed in decades. We need to change that. We must change it. There is much research now that explains why this is important.
One of the reasons it is important is that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” See her! Be her! We need role models to inspire women and girls to show them that there is a place for them under this dome.
We need to showcase and celebrate these women because they have led the way, broken through the barriers, and have become successful.
In the first 100 years of women getting the right to run for office only 51 have been elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly as MLAs as compared to over 850 men and only a small number have served as officers of the Legislative Assembly.
The Trailblazers of the First 100 Years exhibit honours, celebrates, and uplifts the achievements of these women who have paved the way for future generations. They are:
Edith Rogers is the very first woman to be elected to the Manitoba Legislature as an MLA in 1920. She spent her time in politics focused on issues surrounding social welfare and served her constituents for twelve years.
Elin Salome Halldorson is the first Icelandic woman elected to the Manitoba Legislature. She served from 1936 to 1941.
Thelma Forbes is the first female Speaker of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly as well as the first female cabinet Minister. It is interesting to note that when she was elected as Speaker of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly she was only the second female Speaker in the entire commonwealth. Her time in office spanned the decade from 1959 to 1969.
Muriel Smith was elected to the Manitoba Legislature in 1981 and is the first woman to serve as Deputy Premier. Ms. Smith served from 1981 to 1988.
Sharon Carstairs is the first woman in Manitoba to lead an Official Opposition Party in 1988. Ms. Carstairs served from 1986 to 1994.
Bonnie Mitchelson holds the impressive title of being the longest serving female MLA with thirty years of continuous service. She is also the first and only woman to lead the Provincial Progressive Conservative Party. Ms. Mitchelson served from 1986 to 2016.
Rosemary Vodrey became, in 1993, the first woman to be appointed as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General in Manitoba. She served from 1990 to 1999.
Rosann Wowchuck is the first female Minister of Agriculture and Food in 1999. Later, in 2009 she became the first female Minister of Finance. Ms. Wowchuk served from 1990 to 2011.
I am so honoured to have been noted on the wall as well. I started the Nellie McClung Foundation which established a monument on the Legislature grounds commemorating the Famous Five. I was the first Manitoban to chair the Canadian Region of the Commonwealth Women’s Parliamentarians. I have served since 1998.
Theresa Oswald became the first female Minister of Health in 2006. Ms. Oswald served from 2003 to 2013.
Flor Marcelino is the first visible minority woman elected to the Manitoba Legislature. She is the first visible minority woman to be appointed to cabinet, and the only woman to lead the Provincial New Democrat Party. Ms. Marcelino has served since 2007.
Amanda Lathlin is the first indigenous woman elected to the Manitoba Legislature. Ms. Lathlin has served since 2015.
The first women to hold the role of officers are also trailblazers and must be recognized for their important part in our history.
Carol Bellringer is the first female Provincial Auditor for the Province of Manitoba. Ms. Bellringer served from 1992 to 1996 and 2006 to 2014.
Patricia Chaychuk, is the first female to be Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. Ms. Chaychuk has served as Clerk of the Assembly since 2000.
Irene Hamilton is the first Manitoba Ombudsman who is a woman. Ms. Hamilton served from 2005 to 2012.
Janet Mirwaldt became the first female Children’s Advocate. Ms. Mirwaldt served from 1999 to 2006.
Shirley Strutt is the first female Legislative Counsel. Ms. Strutt served from 1987 to 2001.
And finally, Shipra Verma is the first and current woman to serve as Chief Electoral Officer. Ms. Verma has served since 2013.
We hope that other women and girls will see this exhibit and be inspired by the achievements of these Trailblazers and perhaps decide that they want to follow in their footsteps.