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1951: Charlotte Whitton becomes Canada’s first big-city woman mayor

The Story


Dr. Charlotte Whitton has become the first full-time woman mayor of a major Canadian city. She became acting mayor this summer after the death of Mayor Grenville Goodwin, and was confirmed unanimously last night by Ottawa city council. One of Whitton's first duties is to welcome Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip on an official tour to Ottawa. In this CBC radio clip reflective of the times, reporter Frank Swanson says Whitton has somewhat of a special problem in deciding "what to wear."

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC News Roundup
Broadcast Date: Oct. 2, 1951
Host: Bill Reid
Reporter: Frank Swanson
Duration: 2:32
Photo: National Archives: PA-121981

Did You know?


• As founding director of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare from 1920-1941, Whitton crusaded for professional standards in child care. Her opposition to more liberal spending on the unemployed in the 1930s, however, marginalized her from many.

• After 1941, Whitton championed women's equality, although she opposed more liberal divorce laws and criticized married women who worked. She became famous for her quote, "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult."

• An outspoken and controversial mayor, Whitton constantly sparred with her male colleagues, verbally and sometimes physically. The Globe and Mail reported on Nov. 14, 1962 that Whitton had flailed a fellow controller "with her fists in a wild board of control meeting." She was re-elected mayor of Ottawa in 1952, 1954, 1960 and 1962. Defeated in 1964, she continued as an alderman until retiring from politics in 1972.

• Whitton was born in Renfrew, Ont., on March 8, 1896. She attended Queen's University during the First World War, graduating in 1917 with academic medals in history and English. She was the first woman editor of the Queen's Journal and played on the women's field hockey, ice hockey and basketball teams. Dr. Charlotte Whitton died on Jan. 25, 1975, in Ottawa, Ontario.

• In 1936, several years before Whitton became a big city mayor, the town of Webbwood in northern Ontario elected Barbara Hanley as mayor, making her the first female mayor anywhere in Canada.


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