The first female MLA elected 100 years ago, June 29

MLA, Edith McTavish Rogers was a Métis woman born in Norway House whose accomplishments included introducing the legislation that created the Winnipeg Foundation.

 Manitoba Liberals are marking the 100th anniversary of the election of Manitoba’s first female MLA, Edith Rogers McTavish,

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June 29, 1920, was Manitoba’s first election after women had been granted the right to vote thanks to suffragists like Nellie McClung, another Manitoba Liberal.

According to the Manitoba Historical Society, Edith Rogers was “born at Norway House on 26 April 1876, daughter of HBC Chief Factor Donald Campbell McTavish and Lydia Catherine Christie. On 1 June 1898, she married Robert Arthur Rogers, with whom she had four children.”

The Manitoba Liberal Party of the day asked Rogers to run as a star candidate to represent Winnipeg.

Among her credits: In 1921, she introduced the legislation that incorporated The Winnipeg Foundation. An active advocate of the Child Welfare Act, she was re-elected in 1922 and 1927.

 

The Manitoba Historical Society recounts, “Newspaper accounts tell us that she was a Winnipeg delegate to the International Congress of Social Welfare Workers in Milwaukee in July of 1921 where she spoke of the Winnipeg Foundation. In April of 1922 she was Manitoba’s representative at the PanAmerican Conference of Women Voters at Boston where she addressed the group, mentioning Manitoba’s advanced social legislation in the area of welfare.

“Her major concerns, like those of the other early women legislators, were traditional concerns of women-health, education, child welfare and the mothers’ allowances. Some of her legislative achievements were the Mothers’ Allowance Act and the introduction of a bill to give widows increased power over estates left by their husbands.” 

She was particularly active in social-welfare work, including a term as President of the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg and was the only woman on the Winnipeg General Hospital Board.

For all that, Rogers made it clear that she did not want to be confined to what were considered to be “women’s issues.”

Rogers said, “of course, women can bring to the work of law-making, as their special share, their experience and knowledge of domestic and social questions. But do not understand me as saying, or for one moment suggesting, that women legislators should confine themselves to doing only social service work. Not at all. They must take their part in every phase of legislative work. And it is real work - much of it is drudgery.”

Rogers’ daughter, Margaret Konantz, went on to become the first female MP in Manitoba, representing the Liberals in Winnipeg South from 1963 to 1965.

Erin Anderson (née Konantz), Rogers’ great granddaughter, grew up in Winnipeg, now lives in British Columbia but returns to Lake of the Woods every summer.

“Today, June 29, 2020 is the 100th anniversary of Edith Rogers McTavish being the first woman to be elected to the Manitoba Legislature. She was Métis, a Manitoba Liberal and my great grandmother. She chose to lead at a time when women were forbidden to speak up. She broke down barriers. She created opportunities for women that wouldn’t have been possible without her. If she could see us now, 100 years later, what would she say about our progress? I’d like to think that she’d say ‘never give up.’ What I’d like to say to her is “thank you for speaking up,” said Anderson.

Dougald Lamont, Leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, said Edith Rogers’ history and legacy should be better known.

“As the first woman to be elected to the Manitoba Legislature, Edith Rogers did more than just break new ground: she brought in legislation that made an enduring difference in the lives of Manitobans,” said Lamont. “Her achievements are a reminder of the difference one person can made, and that Manitoba has been home to progressive breakthroughs for more than a century.”

 

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