Working for the Common Good

Canadian Women Politicians

Reviewed by Beverley Tallon

July 30, 2018

Working for the Common Good highlights the work of eight Canadian women: Agnes Macphail, Thérèse Casgrain, Grace MacInnis, Pauline Jewett, Margaret Mitchell, Lynn McDonald, Audrey McLaughlin, and Alexa McDonough. All were social-democrat politicians who fought against economic and societal inequality, poverty, and injustice and who promoted prison reform, disarmament, and world peace.

Author Madelyn Holmes is an American who became intrigued with Canadian female activists, particularly the large number of them who participated in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party, which became the New Democratic Party in 1961.

Holmes illustrates how each woman’s past skills helped to influence her future political policies. For instance, Macphail, a former rural schoolteacher, took issue with the growth in military cadet training. And, prior to entering into politics, Casgrain ardently campaigned for women’s right to vote in Quebec. When elected, she fought for family-allowance cheques to be issued to mothers, rather than to fathers.

Their work in politics did not come without sacrifice. As Macphail said, “When I am sixty ... I shall probably look back on this life I have chosen and regret every bit of it.... I will wish I had married and had children and had been a happy country woman.”

Working for the Common Good is well-documented and provides an interesting overview of the women’s personal and political lives as well as the inroads they made in Canadian public life.

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