A Liberal-Labour Lady: The Times and Life of Mary Ellen Spear Smith
Published by: UBC Press
Imprint: UBC Press
Published: November 2021
Imprint: UBC Press
Page Count: 288 Pages
Illustrations: 17 illus., 6 b&w photos
Dimensions: 6.10 x 9.10
288 Pages, 6.10 x 9.10 x 0.90 in, 17 illus., 6 b&w photos
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This authoritative biography of Mary Ellen Smith (1863–1933) – British Columbia’s first female MLA, the British Empire’s first female cabinet minister, and a BC suffragist – recovers from obscurity an audacious but imperfect champion in the struggle for greater democracy in early twentieth-century Canada.
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.
Born in England in 1863, the daughter and wife of miners, she emigrated to Nanaimo, BC, in 1892. As she became a well-known suffragist and her husband Ralph won provincial and federal elections, the power couple 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. Ralph’s 1917 death launched Mary Ellen as a candidate in a tumultuous 1918 Vancouver by-election. 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, Mary Ellen Smith is revealed to be a key figure in early Canada’s compromised struggle for greater justice.
Introduction: Worker, Settler, Liberal, Feminist
1 Setting the Stage in British Mining Villages, to 1892
2 Replenishing the Empire, 1892–1900
3 From Nanaimo to Ottawa and Back Again, 1900–11
4 Boom, Bust, War, and Death, 1912–17
5 Independent Liberal Lady? 1917–20
6 From Hope to Disillusion, 1920–28
7 On the Margins, 1928–33
Conclusion: British Columbia’s Famous Pioneer
Politician: Making History