Rosemary Brown: First Black Woman Elected To Provincial Legislature  


Born in Jamaica, Rosemary Brown moved to Canada to attend McGill University. In 1955, she moved to BC to complete a graduate degree in social work. Here, she became the first Black woman to be elected to the provincial legislature and was the first woman to run for a federal party leader. 

A Brief History Of Rosemary Brown 

Rosemary Brown was born Rosemary Wedderburn on June 17, 1930 in Kingston, Jamaica to a politically minded family. 

In 1951 she immigrated to Canada where she attended McGill University and the University of British Columbia to study social work. While studying, she faced sexism and racism when applying for jobs, seeking housing, and fitting in at university in general. 

Following graduation, Rosemary got involved in the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, as well as Voice of Women. She was also a regular panelist for People In Conflict and helped found the Vancouver Status of Women Council. 

In 1972, encouraged by members of the Vancouver Status of Women Council, Rosemary ran to become a New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate. That same year, she won in her riding, making her the first Black woman to sit on the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. 

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She served in the legislature until 1986 when she retired. During her time with the Legislative Assembly, she ran for leader of the NDP. While she did not win, she helped break colour barriers and came in second, ahead of 3 other candidates. As an advocate for woman’s rights, she also started a committee to remove sexism from educational material and worked to improve services for seniors, immigrants, those with disabilities, and other disadvantaged groups. 

Following her retirement, she was the CEO of MATCH International Women’s Fund and helped found the Canadian Women’s Foundation in 1991, which advocates for gender equality across Canada. She also worked as a professor of women’s studies at Simon Fraser University and the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. All the while, she traveled and gained support for projects that helped advance women’s rights in developing countries. 

Rosemary Brown’s Accolades 

Because of her work advocating for women and people of colour, Rosemary received many awards and distinctions throughout her life. Some highlights include: 

  • 15 honourary doctorates
  • The Order of British Columbia 
  • The Order of Canada 
  • The 1973 United Nations’ Human Rights Fellowship

Featured Image – SourceThe Canadian Encyclopedia; image resized and cropped