A Liberal-Labour Lady
The Times and Life of Mary Ellen Spear Smith
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A Liberal-Labour Lady restores British Columbia’s first female MLA and the British Empire’s first female cabinet minister to history. An imperial settler, liberal-labour activist, and mainstream suffragist, Mary Ellen Smith (1863–1933) demanded a fair deal for “deserving” British women and men in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She strove to shift Liberal parties leftward to benefit women and workers, while still embracing global assumptions of British racial superiority and bourgeois feminism’s privileging of white women. In the BC legislature until 1928, Smith campaigned for better wages, pensions, and greater justice, even as she endorsed anti-Asian, settler, and pro-eugenic policies. Simultaneously intrepid and flawed, Smith is revealed to be a key figure in early Canada’s compromised struggle for greater justice.
As an acclaimed scholarly chronicler of Canadian, especially British Columbian, herstory, Veronica Strong-Boag is determined that Mary Ellen Spear Smith will not slip from recorded memory.- Phyllis Reeve
Not quite a woman for her times, let alone ours, Smith seemed destined to disappear. Until, that is, Strong-Boag took on the task, uncovering both the good and the bad, using Smith as a lens onto gender relations and gender politics, British Columbia and Ottawa, and electoral politics and the power of connection. The result is a refreshingly complex picture of early twentieth-century Canada and of the crooked path to power.- P.E. Bryden, University of Victoria