6 Awesome Women in Vancouver History

Comments 1 by Rebecca Bollwitt

As a proud sponsor of the 2015 YWCA Women of Distinction Awards, and having been a sponsor since 2010, I get to witness an amazing awards night once a year where extraordinary women from around Metro Vancouver are celebrated for their contributions to their industries and their communities. With the deadline for nominations closing on January 22nd, I thought it would be fun to look at just a few women from Vancouver’s history who were also quite remarkable:

6 Awesome Women in Vancouver History

Helena Rose Gutteridge organized the BC Women’s Suffrage League. She also took a leading role in the Vancouver Trades and Labor Council and became a champion of affordable housing. In 1937, she was elected Vancouver’s first woman alderman.

1937: Mayor George C. Miller administers the oath of office to Vancouver’s first alderwoman Miss Helena Rose Gutteridge. Photograph attributed to D’Arcy. Archives# Port P276.1

Sara Ann McLagan was the first woman telegrapher in BC — Chuck Davis believed she was the first in Canada too — and at just 14 years old she took over the New Westminster telegraph station. In 1884 she married John McLagan, founder and editor of the Vancouver Daily World. When he died in 1901, and she became the first woman publisher of a daily newspaper in Canada. She was also managing editor, editorial writer, proof reader and occasional reporter.

Sister Frances
Sister Frances Redmond, who was referred to as “Vancouver’s little Florence Nightingale”, founded one of Vancouver’s earliest hospitals, St. Luke’s Home on the 300 block of East Cordova Street. When she received the “Good Citizenship Medal” from the City of Vancouver in 1929 one journalist wrote: “There are no women in British Columbia braver and more devoted to their calling than Sister Frances. She is a very bright, cheery, charitable lady, and makes hosts of friends where she is known.”

1957: Aldermen Don McTaggart, J.W. Cornett,
George Cunningham, Anna Sprott. VPL# 42553.
Province Newspaper Photo.

Anna Sprott
On top of her business, education, and radio history, Anna Sprott (Sprott-Shaw Wireless and Radio School, Sprott-Shaw Community College) ran for Vancouver City Council in 1949 and was elected on her first try. She would serve on council longer than any woman in Vancouver history (1949-1959), winning re-election for three terms. Anna was also the first woman to serve as acting mayor of Vancouver.

1951 Naval Portrait of Doreen Patterson Reitsma

Doreen Reitsma
Doreen Reitsma was the first woman from BC to enter Canada’s postwar Navy, thanks to the encouragement of Eleanor Roosevelt, the longest-serving First Lady of the United States.

On January 26, 1955, Doreen helped inspire Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and his cabinet to create a permanent and fully integrated regular force for women in the Royal Canadian Navy. This decision — the first in the Commonwealth — paved the way for thousands of Canadian women to follow in her footsteps.

E. Pauline Johnson
Pauline Johnson was the child of a Mohawk chief and an Englishwoman and as a writer and poet, she traveled across North America and England giving readings of her work and performing on stage. She retired to Vancouver and continued to write for the Province basing her articles on stories shared by her friend Chief Joe Capilano of the Squamish people of North Vancouver. She also gave Lost Lagoon its name and inspired Margaret Atwood to write a libretto for an opera. After she succumbed to breast cancer in 1913, Vancouver mourned Pauline Johnson’s death by declaring the day a civic holiday.

Important woman in Vancouver history

A few more honourable mentions:
Mary Ellen Smith was the first female BC MLA and the first woman cabinet minister in the British Empire. In 1917 there were many firsts for women in BC. Helen McGill became the first woman to be appointed a judge of the juvenile court, and Evlyn Farris became the first woman on the UBC Board of Governors and would serve for more than 20 years. [Source]

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  1. SeanWednesday, March 9th, 2016 — 4:50pm PST

    The male/female ratio in Vancouver around 1910 was at least 8:1 and much higher in the winter months. Johnson and Gutteridge must have found it overwhelming at times. Vancouver didn’t have an equal number of men and women until the 1950s.

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