Click the button at the end of this line to go back to the Famous Firsts
The names appearing below are just a fraction of the Canadian
women of accomplishment. Check out The Famous Canadian Women 's
section ON THE JOB which contains mini profiles of 2000
Canadian Women of Achievement.
Beckwith) Born Fredericton, New Brunswick March 10, 1796. Died November
28, 1867. She wrote the first work of
fiction by a native born Canadian to be published in Canada.
Her novel was called St Ursula’s Convent or The Nun of Canada,
Containing Scenes from Real Life” (1824). She wrote this book when she
was only 17 years old! She would continue publishing her writings while
she raised 6 children!
Miles. Born Rhode Island, U.S.A. 1820. Died Brooklin, New York, U.S.A.
1877. Mary was born a free Black Quaker and was privileged to be
educated , graduating from Normal School (Teacher’s College) in
Lexington, Massachusetts. She was one of the first Black women teachers
in North America. In 1847 she met her future husband Henry Bibb ( d.
1854) who was an escaped slave, at an anti-slave rally in New York City.
The couple were wed a year latter and settled in Boston. In 1850 the
couple fled to Canada after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law which
could have caused Henry to be re-enslaved. Settling in Sandwich, Canada
West (now known as Windsor, Ontario) the couple played a key role in the
famous Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves settle in Canada.
The co-published the newspaper The Fugitive Voice beginning
in 1851. Mary is credited with being the
first Black woman journalist in Canada.
sister-in-law Mary Shadd Cary would become the first Black woman
publisher of a newspaper. Mary Bibb also operated a dress making
business and taught both adult Black and their children in a class in
her own home. She fought for Black schooling in the area for several
years. After Henry’s death she carried on until 1871 when she returned
to the USA. She and Henry were declared Persons of National Historic
Significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 2002.
Section15.ca ; Merna Forster 100 more Canadian Heroines;
Famous and Forgotten Faces (Toronto; Dundurn Press, 2011.
Born January 9, 1845. Died June 6, 1924. This was the pen name of Laure
Conan, author of nine novels of French Canadian Life. She was a witness to
She was the first French Canadian female novelist.
novels centered on the 3 driving forces of French Canadian life, family,
nation, and religion.
Valancy Crawford. Born December 25, 1847
Dublin, Ireland. Died February 12, 1887 Toronto, Ontario. . Isabella emigrated with her family
from Ireland around 1857. At one point when life was at its worst
for the family they became acquainted with Richard Strickland of
Lakefield, Upper Canada (now Ontario) and his famous writing sister
Susanna Moodie (1803-1885) and Catherine Parr Trail (1802-1899) and this
is perhaps when Isabella began writing. In 1869 the family settled in
Peterborough, Ontario and she published her 1st poem in the Toronto Mail
newspaper on December 24, 1873. After the death of her father in
1875 she began publishing popular verse and serialized novels in
publications in Toronto and New York City, U.S.A. By 1876 she was living
in Toronto, Ontario. In 1884 she published her only book; Old
Spookses' Pass, Malcolm's Katie and Other Poems. She would be the
1st important woman poet in Canada.
A complete collection of her works was published posthumously. She
had died in poverty and for years her body lay in an unmarked grave. A
fundraising campaign was begun in 1899, and on 2 November 1900, a
six-foot Celtic Cross was raised above her grave, inscribed: "Isabella
Valancy Crawford / Poet / By the Gift of God."
Born L’isle-Verte, Lower Canada February 26, 1863. Died January 7, 1910. A
well known personality in Montreal society she was a pioneer feminist
lecturer and writer.
She is considered the
first woman journalist in French Canada. She joined the staff
of the weekly newspaper La Patrie in 1891. Here column was written for
almost then years under the nom de plume of Francoise. She would go on in
her career to found Le Journal d Francoise, published from 1902-1909 . She
also would publish books of her short stories. In 1900 she was one of the
Canadian government representatives to the famous Paris International
Exhibition. In 1904 the government of France named her as an “Officer de
Born Galway, Ireland 1864. Died 1915. After the death of her first
husband, Kit immigrated to Canada in 1884. She turned to journalism to
support herself and her two children after the death of her second
husband. Boarding a boat in Florida she landed in Cuba as the
world’s 1st female war correspondent in 1898
during the Spanish American War.
She would work with the Toronto Mail newspaper until she retired.
Her full page column not only discussed fashion but reported in her
personal outspoken manner all the top topics of the day. She would be a
member of a group of women reporters who went to the World’s Fair in 1904.
It was during this trip that she helped found the Canadian Women’s Press
Josephine Dandurand. née Marchand Born St John, New Brunswick 1862. Died 1925. Like most early
women writers she would use a pen name to sign her writing. She was known
as Josette. A strong feminist she championed the role of women in
Quebec society. In 1892 she founded le coin de feu which was the
first women’s literary review in Canada. She was also a strong orator and
was often called the female Laurier. Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
He had a reputation as a great orator so it was a strong comparison for
Josephine. In 1898 she was the first Canadian
woman to be made an officer of the French Academy in France. In
1900 she was the government appointed Canadian Commissioner to the famous
Paris Exhibition. In 1901 in her work, Two systems of art, she proposed
government provide funding for the arts. This was a full 50 years before
the Canada Council of the Arts.
Eaton. Onoto Watanna Born Montreal, Quebec. 1875. Died
April 8, 1954. She was the 8th child of 14 children of a
British silk merchant and a Chinese mother, Grace, who had lived with
missionaries. Both she and her older sister would take to the art of
writing. Winnifred was a writer in many arenas from newspaper articles,
magazines and journals, short stories, successful novels ( some of which
became plays and movies) cookbooks, and movie scripts. She was 14 when she
had her first newspaper article published. At seventeen she left home to
wander to Jamaica and New York City. Although she was of Chinese she
choose a Japanese pen name Onoto Watanna since Japanese novels were more
popular. She married Bernard Babcock but the marriage was short lived. In
1917 she married Frances (Frank) Fournier Reeve and moved to settle to a
ranch in Calgary Alberta for a couple of years before she once again had
wanderlust ending up in Hollywood and New York once again. In 1932 she
returned to her husband in Calgary to basically settle. She took an
interest and founded the Little Theatre. She was the 1st known writer of Asian descent to be published in America.
Her first novel, Mrs Nomé
of Japan was published in Chicago in
and was republished in 1999. Her granddaughter Diane Birchall who wrote Onoto Watanna, a biography
Sara Anne McLagan
née Maclure. Born 1855,
Belfast, Ireland. Died March 20, 1924, Vancouver, British Columbia. She
came to New Westminster, British Columbia with her family in 1859 to
join their father a surveyor with the Royal Engineers. At 15 she was
working for her father as a telegrapher. In 1875 she was promoted to the
Victoria Office. She resigned in 1884 as the Victoria Office Manager.
She married and the couple moved to Vancouver where she became a
co-founder of The Vancouver Daily World newspaper with her
husband James C. McLagan. After his death in
1901, she continued as president
and editor, publishing with her brother Frederick S. Maclure (1864 –
1941).She is considered to be the first
woman newspaper editor. She sold her successful paper in 1905
but continued to write about women’s issues. Sara was a member of the
Canadian Women's Press Club (CWPC). She was one of the original
founders in 1904 of the Canadian Women’s Press Club and helped to set up
the British Columbia Institute of Journalists. She was a founding member
in 1894 of the Local Council of Women in Vancouver, serving as president
1898-1900. From 1903-1907 she was the provincial Vice-principle of the
National Council of Women. Working with Lady Aberdeen’s Victorian Order
of Nurses a training home for nurses was established in the city. She
was also a founding member and president of the Art, Historical and
Scientific Association as well as a worker with the I.O.D.E. and the
Source: “Sara Anne McLagan” by Linda Hale, Dictionary of Canadian
Biography. Online (Accessed December 2012)
L. Jack. (née Hayr)
Born Northampton, England January 1, 1839. Died February 15, 1912.
She was Canada’s 1st professional woman garden writer.
When she moved to Canada, she used her gardening skills to
experiment and make a profit.
Her skills became known throughout North America and she was
written up in American publications.
While she wrote and published short stories and poems, it is
her horticultural articles for which she is remembered.
Her book The Canadian Gardener : A pocket Help of the Amateur
was published in 1903
and set the gardening standard for all of pre World War 1 Canada.
Born Six Nations Indian Reserve, Canada West (Ontario) March 10, 1861.
Died March 7, 1913. Canada’s 1st renowned
native poet she was also the first native born cultural ambassador.
She was working towards unity for all peoples and the land when most
settlers were only thinking of human unity. She took her works all over
Europe where she performed her readings in her native dress. Her native
name was Tekahionwake. She was the 1st woman
honoured by Canada Post
to be featured on
a Canadian postage stamp in 1961.
Marie Jeanne Annie Saint-Amant) Born July 1, 1892 L’Avenir, Quebec. Died
August 4, 1928, Winnipeg, Manitoba. She was educated by the sisters of
L’Assomption and L’Ecole Norman (Teacher’s College) Laval graduating
with diplomas in both English and French. She was diagnosed with
tuberculosis and spent 2 years at a sanatorium in New York State, U.S.A.
During this time she occasionally sent articles to newspapers in
Montreal. In 1914, back in Canada she and her sister, Marie moved to
Gravelbourg Saskatchewan to teach. In 1918
the editor of the first French language newspaper in the
province, La Patriote de l”Ouest, sought Annette out to become
the editor of the women’s page. Annette moved to Prince Albert
Saskatchewan and became the 1st
francophone woman journalist in Saskatchewan.
Her writings reached rural women throughout the province and her
works included poems, stories along with helpful hints. Soon she created
a second column, Le Coin des Enfants which encouraged children to write.
On December 26, 1918 she married Donatien Frémont ( -1967) the
assistant editor of the paper. The couple had one child. In 1923 the
family moved to St. Boniface, Manitoba where Donatien was Chief Editor
for La Liberté Annette soon became editor for the women’s
section. After her death, Donatien produced a collection of her
writings, L’ Art d’être heureuse. (Montréal 1929.
Herstory, the Canadian Women’s Calendar 2006 Coteau Books, 2005;
Dictionary of Canadian Biography online Accessed April 2013.
October 11, 1868, Quebec. Died May 1936. Her 1st job as a
journalist was with Le Monde illustré where she was hired in 1900
to write the women’s page. Her pen name was ‘Attala’ or ‘Atala’. In 1904
she was a member of the group of 16 women who took a Canadian Pacific
train trip to cover the St. Louis World’s Fair. On the train trip home
the women formed the Canadian Women’s Press Club that would survive as
an organization for 100 years. After the trip Léonaise worked in a post
office until she retired in 1929. Later in life she would return to
writing sporadically for various Quebec journals.
She was the 1st
woman in Quebec to publish a volume of poetry, Fleurs sauvages in
1910. She wrote for La Terre de chez
nous, a weekly agricultural newspaper until 1931 when she had an
accident that had her in a coma for 63 days. She slowly recuperated and
published a second book of poetry in 1934 called Feuilles tombées.
A feminist to the last, her will specified that capital funds to her
sisters did not require signature of their husbands. At this time,
Quebec law required husbands to endorse inheritance cheques for wives to
receive the monies.
Linda Kay. Sweet Sixteen (McGill Queens University press, 2012) .
Book: Léonaise Valois: femme de lettres by Louise Warren
Elsie Alice Lipsett-Skinner Journalist
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. Died January 29, 1935, Montreal, Quebec. The
young Lipsett family moved to Toronto when Genevieve was just an infant.
Later they relocated to Winnipeg and back to the U.S.A. settling in New
York. From 1900-1903 she attended New York Normal School (Teachers
College) and in 1904 she was off to Manitoba to teach. She found herself
working from 1904 through 1917 with the Winnipeg Telegram newspaper as a
reporter and editor to the “Sunshine Department of the paper. Outside of
the office she served in 1909-10 as Secretary for the Winnipeg Branch of
the Canadian Women’s Press Club. In 1910 she served as Director of the
Anti-Tuberculosis Society. On June 6, 1911 she married Winnipeg
businessman Robert Curtis Skinner, whom she stated was a staunch
supporter of herself as a modern working woman. In 1912 she joined the
Political Equality League, an organization dedicated to the advancement
of women’s rights including the right to vote. In 1918 she and her
younger brother Robert Lipsett started the Lipsett-skinner Press News
Bureau specializing in Publicity Campaigns. It was a memorable year for
Genevieve as she graduated in law from the University of Manitoba as the
1st qualified married woman in this field. By 1919 she saw
the end of her marriage and was once again working back at the Telegram.
In June 1920 she was an unsuccessful
candidate for the Progressive Conservative party running for the
Manitoba Provincial Legislature. Later that same year
she began working for the Vancouver Sun
Newspaper out of British Columbia. She would spend the next five years
as an official Parliamentary correspondent in Ottawa, the 1st
woman member of the Press Gallery. By 1926 she was writing for
the Montreal Star newspaper. In the late 1920’s she toured
England and Ireland lecturing about the Dominion of Canada. In 1933 her
picture was hung on the Ottawa Press Gallery wall along with her male
colleagues. While in Montreal she served four years as President of the
local branch of the Canadian Women’s Press Club. At her funeral in
Montreal large floral displays were presented from the CWPC and Prime
Minister Mackenzie King.
Memorable Manitobans. Online. (Accessed June 2014) ; “Associates
Mourn Noted Journalist.” Montreal Gazette February 21, 1935 ;
Obituary. Winnipeg Tribune January 30, 1935.
Gwethalyn Graham Erichse-Brown). Born January 18, 1913. This author
would use only her first 2 names.
Her novel Earth and High Heaven was the first Canadian novel to
top the American bestseller list (1945).
This same novel would win a Governor Generals Award, would sell for movie
rights (alas it was never to be a movie) and would be translated into
Braille and 18 different languages! She continued to write but always in
the shadow that she could never do as well with another novel. She wrote
articles on immigration, anti-semitism and women’s issues. Later in her
career, she successfully turned her talents to writing TV Scripts.
Born March 10, 1861 Six Nations Indian Reserve, Canada West (now Ontario). Died March 7, 1913
Vancouver, British Columbia. Her Mohawk name was Tekahionwake, meaning
double life. Her mother was from England and her father a Mohawk
hereditary clan chief. She was raised learning both English and Mohawk
languages and was homeschooled until she was 14 when she attended
Brantford Central Collegiate graduating in 1877. In 1884 she published
her 1st full length poem, My little Jean in Gems of Poetry magazine out
of New York, U.S.A. It was during this decade that she began to be
published regularly in the Toronto Globe, Saturday Night
magazine and the Week. She became Canada’s 1st renowned native
poet she was also the 1st native born cultural ambassador. She
worked towards unity for all peoples and the land when most settlers
were only thinking of human unity.
She took her poetry all over Europe where she performed her
readings in her native dress. In 1912 a collection of her poems
was published, Flint and Feather which as been one of the best-selling
titles of Canadian poetry republished many times. She retired from the
stage in 1909 and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where she wrote
of the Squamish people of North Vancouver.
In 1922 a
cairn was erected at the burial site in
Vancouver's Stanley Park , with an inscription reading in part, "in
memory of one whose life and writings were an uplift and a blessing to
In 1945 Pauline Johnson was designated a Person of National Historic
Significance. On the Centennial of her birth
in 1961 Canada Post issued a
commemorative stamp with her image making her the 1st woman, other than
the Queen, the 1st author, and the 1st aboriginal Canadian to appear on
a Canadian stamp.
There are 4 schools named in
her honour and her birth home, Chiefwood is listed as a National
Historic site. Her biography by Charlotte Gray was published in 2002 and
available at your public library. That same year Tekahionwake:
Collective Poems and Selected Prose was published containing all of
Pauline's poems found to that date.
Born Kangiqusujuaq, Quebec. An esteemed story teller whose stories and
legends have been broadcast for years on the CBC radio she draws on her
traditional upbringing. She had her feet firmly planted in both the
traditions of her people and the modern worlds. As an author she is
the first author to publish a novel in the Inuktitul
language. She has translated the Roman Catholic Book of Prayer
into Inuktitut so that her people my learn in their own language. She has
compiled an encyclopedia of traditional Inuit knowledge, legends and
natural history so that the traditional spoken knowledge may be passed to
all who seek knowledge of the unique culture of her people. In 1999 she
received an National Aboriginal Achievement Award for her contributions to
heritage and spirituality.
Ringwood. (née Phares) Born Anatone, Washington U.S.A. August 13, 1910. Died May
24, 1984. In 1941 she received the Governor General's Award for
outstanding service to Canadian drama. She
was the first Canadian playwright to publish a volume of collected plays
Born March 22,
1909. Died July 13, 1983. As a young woman she trained as a teacher at the
Winnipeg Norma School (Teachers College). Between 1929 and 1937 she would
teach in the backwoods of Manitoba and would later record and publish her
memories her experiences in La Petit Poule d'eau. This novel would
become a stable for English Canadian school children to read in their
French language classes. A 3 time winner of the Governor General’s Award
in Literature in 1947, 1957 and 1977, as well as international award
holder, she is one of the most important Canadian writers of the Post
World War II Era in Canada. Some of her works have been translated into 15
the year she won her first Governor General
Award for Bonheur d'occasion ( translated into English as the
Tin Flute) ,
she became the
first woman elected into the Royal Society of Canada.
Marshall Saunders. Born Milton, Nova Scotia April 13, 1861. Died February 15, 1947.
Margaret originally wrote under the name Marshall Saunders to hide her
identity. While it was just becoming somewhat respectable for women to be
writers when Margaret was publishing her works, writings by women were not
best sellers. In 1894 she wrote Beautiful Joe, a story of an abused
dog, for a competition sponsored by the American Humane Society. It won
first prize! Beautiful Joe would became
the first Canadian book to sell more than
1,000,000 copies. It was translated into more than 14
Born Binghamton, New York, U.S.A. November 17, 1935. Educated in the
U.S.A. and Scotland, this writer taught in England prior to moving to
Canada to continue her studies to earn her MA at the University of British
Columbia. She has published numerous short stories and full length novels.
She was the first Canadian Woman to be
invited to serve as Writer in Residence and the University of Edinbourough
back to the top