International Women’s Day
Women have played a crucial role in shaping Canada in the past and continue to do so in the present. In celebration of International Women’s Day, let’s review the contributions of five notable Canadian women whose courage helped to break gender barriers for women in our country.
Dr. Emily Howard Jennings Stowe (1831-1903)
Emily Stowe was a women’s rights and suffrage activist, the first woman principal of a public school in Upper Canada, and the first female doctor to practice in Canada.
Denied entrance to Canadian medical schools because she was a woman, she attended New York Medical College for women, graduating in 1867. She returned to Toronto to set up her practice, becoming the first female doctor in Canada, though she was not licensed to practice medicine until 1880.
In 1883, Stowe helped to organize the Women’s Medical College in Toronto, allowing women to study medicine in Canada.
Emily Murphy (1868-1933)
Emily Murphy was a women’s rights activist, jurist, author, and first female magistrate in Canada and in the British Empire. Murphy was a self-taught legal expert and her efforts helped to pass the 1911 Dower Act in Alberta, which protected a woman’s right to one-third of her husband’s property.
Murphy, along with four other women, spent 12 years fighting for women to be declared “persons.” They won their fight in 1929, allowing women to serve in the Senate.
Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld (1904-1969)
“Bobbie” Rosenfeld was a Canadian athlete, Olympic medalist, and sportswriter. She represented Canada in the Amsterdam 1928 Summer Olympic Games, the first time Canada’s team included female athletes. She took gold in the 4 x 100 metre relay and silver in the 100-metre race.
Mary Two-Axe Earley (1911-1996)
Mary Two-Axe Earley lost her Indian status by marrying a non-Indigenous man, and as a result she was barred from going back to live on her reserve when she was widowed. For more than two decades, she lobbied to have the discriminatory law changed, and in 1985 she was successful. Her efforts benefited about 16,000 women.
Commander Josée Kurts joined the Canadian Forces in 1988. In 2009, she became the first woman to command a major Canadian Warship (Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Halifax).
In 2019, she became the first female commander of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), one of the four naval groups operated by the 29-member alliance.