Monday, September 27, 2010

Calgary City Council Election History - First Female Alderman

When our 100th council is elected on Oct. 18, it will be an important milestone in our history. Our past is full of important landmark moments, including the historic December 1917 election that paved the way for women in Calgary’s municipal government.

Hannah Elizabeth Rolinson Gale, better known as Annie Gale, became the first woman in Canada and the British Commonwealth, to be elected to a position in any level of government. She served as alderman for The City of Calgary municipal council.

Annie was born in Netherton, West Midlands, England. She was one of the first women to take the Oxford Entrance Examinations in the early 1890s. Although she passed, women did not actually attend Oxford University at that time.

She later married an engineer, William Gale, and the couple decided to immigrate to Canada. In 1912 with they arrived in Calgary with their two young sons.

Between 1912 and 1917, Annie became well-known for her volunteer work in Calgary. She was actively involved in the community, working to improve the quality and lower the cost of fresh vegetables, as well as issues related to the lack of affordable heat and free hospitals.

According to A Guide to Canadian Women in History The Canadian Magazine noted in a 1917 article about Annie, "She is exactly the type of woman who should be in public life--a feminine, gracious, magnetic personality without agression or bombast; a woman with a charming platform manner which does not come off the instant she reaches the bottom step and stands on the floor of the hall; the type of woman of whom the West is justly proud." 

After women gained the right to vote in Alberta Anne ran in the 1917 city council election in Calgary. Remarkably, at a time when there were no women in government in Canada, Annie made history and won a seat.

She was determined to make changes and wasn’t one to shy away from controversy, saying, "I have always believed that the mission of women in political life was to clean-up politics."

During her three terms as alderman, Annie served on various committees and worked hard to reform prison conditions and establish municipally-owned hospitals. She resigned from council in 1923, and the next year was elected as a trustee to the Calgary School Board.

It wasn’t until 1927 that a second female, Edith Patterson, was elected to council. Patterson served from 1927 until 1932 and was a strong advocate for public education. In our latest three-year council term, we had three female aldermen out of a possible 14. We have yet to have a woman hold the position of mayor.

Annie Gale has a Junior High School named after her in Calgary's northeast community of Whitehorn.

Related Calgary City News Posts:
For more information please visit or A Guide to Canadian Women in History.

***Image: Annie Gale and sons William and Henry.

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