Dr. Margaret Stovel McWilliams

(1875-1952)

Margaret Stovel McWilliams, the first female graduate in Political Economy at the University of Toronto, moved to Winnipeg in 1910 where her involvement in civic and provincial social and educational issues soon expanded nationally and internationally.

As past president of the University of Winnipeg’s University Women’s Club (UWC), she was a founding member and first president of the national Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) in 1919. Her interest in promoting education at the international level prompted her to join with UWC leaders in the USA and England to form the International Federation of University Women (IFUW) and to become its first vice-president.

McWilliams is credited in Kinnear’s Social Gospel with stating in 1923: “The gift of a university education carries with it an obligation, to make return of service. Canadian democracy is committed in its very foundation to education, and this great experiment in human values demands . . . the intelligent support of those who have enjoyed its benefits.” These sentiments have been at the heart of CFUW from its beginning. The scholarship program initiated by her in 1920 has grown to an annual million-dollar contribution at the club and national levels combined.

Credited with reviving the Manitoba Historical Society in 1944, McWilliams served as its president from 1944 to 1948. She was the second female alderman of the City of Winnipeg, serving from 1933 to 1940, where she was active in introducing legislation of benefit to women and children, including relief administration during the drought period.

She was active in the Red Cross, National Council of Education, National Council of Women and the Women’s Canadian Club, and was a frequent delegate to international conferences representing CFUW, IFUW, the federal government and other organizations, authoring numerous relevant articles. For over 30 years she held her monthly continuing-education class in politics “Current Events” to which women came by the 100s. Her writing included the books The Women of Red River (1923), Manitoba Milestones (1928), This New Canada (1948) and she co-authored If I Were King of Canada (1931).

McWilliams foresaw problems for women post-Second World War and urged then-prime minister McKenzie King to include in his rehabilitation planning, a committee to study the problems of women who were moving from the armed forces and war industries to civilian life. When McKenzie King set up the Federal Advisory Committee on Reconstruction in 1943, she accepted an appointment as chair of the Subcommittee on Post-War Problems of Women. Its subsequent report became best-selling material for women’s discussion groups and contained 12 major recommendations, many of which were still timely a generation later.

Following her death in 1952, CFUW established the Dr. Margaret McWilliams Pre-Doctoral Fellowship in her honour and in 1955, a literary award was established by her husband, former Lieutenant-Governor Roland F. McWilliams, to encourage the study and interpretation of the history of Manitoba by authors of scholarly books, popular books, local histories, and other works.

Her legacy continues!


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