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Louise McKinney

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Detail of statue of Louise McKinney by Barbara Paterson, on Parliament Hill in OttawaThe purpose of a woman's life is just the same as the purpose of man's life—that she may make the best possible contribution to the generation in which she is living.

                          —Louise McKinney

Louise McKinney was the first woman elected to government in Canada--a choice made by both men and women. In 1917, in the first election in which women were allowed to run for office or given the vote, McKinney ran as a Non-Partisan League (NPL) candidate in Alberta. She ran for the NPL because she believed liquor and brewing companies influenced the major political parties through their donations. She won a seat in the election, as did Nursing Sister Roberta MacAdams, but because she was sworn into the Alberta Legislature before Sister MacAdams, McKinney has the distinction of being the first.

McKinney organized 20 Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) chapters in the West, serving as president of the Alberta and Saskatchewan Union for 20 years. Under her guidance, the WCTU strongly influenced the political and social growth and development of Alberta. The WCTU stood not merely for temperance but also for promoting a Christian lifestyle. Many social reform movements had the support of the WCTU, which played a major part in obtaining the franchise for women in 1916. Social service and immigrant work were also important areas of focus for the organization. However, McKinney's focus was on the temperance movement. She believed in the educational value of prohibition campaigns and was active in promoting her views on the negative effects of alcohol and smoking. She had a major role in the 1915 provincial campaign to ban alcohol, which made Alberta the second province to adopt prohibition.

McKinney was significantly involved in politics; but often questioned partisan practices. The power of liquor contributions to political party funds was an issue that she took a stand on by not belonging to either of the two major parties. When the NPL was established in Alberta she gave it her enthusiastic support. She was persuaded to occupy candidacy in Claresholm during the 1917 provincial election and to her own surprise, was successful, becoming the first female legislator in the British Empire.

McKinney also became known very quickly as one of the most capable debaters in the Assembly when bills were introduced and debated. She was interested in legislation to aid people with disabilities, and consistently pressured the government until prohibition laws were made more effective. Her major initiative was the improvement of the legal status of widows and separated wives. McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards drafted a bill which she introduced which was passed to become the Dower Act, one of Alberta's most progressive laws. A strong proponent of women's rights, McKinney urged the adoption of social welfare measures for immigrants and widows.

McKinney was a delegate to the final Methodist General Conference in 1925. She attended the first General Council of the United Church of Canada and signed the Basis of Union as one of the Commissioners—one of only four women and the only woman from Western Canada. Back then, the Temperance Union's members were powerful activists who took on taboo issues such as family violence.

Defeated in her second election in 1926, McKinney subsequently retired from active politics. In 1929, she was one of the five women of Alberta who carried the appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which finally established the status of women as "persons" under the British North America Act of 1867. In recognition of that work, McKinney was made a World Vice-President of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE).

On January 23, 1930, the Calgary Women’s Canadian Club held a victory lunch in the Crystal Ballroom of the Palliser Hotel for the Famous 5. When it was McKinney’s turn to speak, as noted in the Alberta, she called on women, "to dream big and act honourably."

The women's organizations of Alberta raised a fund to honour this nation builder by having her portrait painted by J. Forster, of Toronto. Sittings were interrupted by her death, but the portrait was completed from photographs and now hangs in the Legislative Building in Edmonton.

Many paid tribute to Louise McKinney on her death in 1931. Tributes came from men and women in public life all over Canada, and from WCTU leaders from many different countries who dropped hundreds of white ribbons into her coffin. Nellie McClung said of her: "Mrs. McKinney was a great lover of people and because she loved them she could not look with complacency on any of life's evils."

Louise McKinney died at Claresholm, the home of her legislative seat, on 10 July 1931, aged 63. Her gravestone reads only "Mother."

 
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