Margaret Meagher's accidental journey into diplomacy

It took a war to open a door that Margaret Meagher walked through, leading the way for many other women in future.

The first Canadian woman to serve as an ambassador never planned on joining the diplomatic service

Margaret Meagher, the first woman to serve as an ambassador for Canada, is seen in a 1973 photo. (Canadian Press)
It took a war to open a door that Margaret Meagher walked through, leading the way for many other women in future.

And when Canada's first female ambassador later looked back at her entry to the diplomatic service, she recalled that it wasn't a career path she'd planned to pursue.

"I think I found myself there partly by accident, by the accident of the [Second World War]," Meagher later recalled in a 1960 interview with CBC Radio's Assignment.
Margaret Meagher on breaking into the male-dominated world of diplomacy. 4:48

"I had always been very interested indeed in international affairs, but up until the time of the war, the department was a male preserve."

Up until the war, Meagher had been working as a teacher in her hometown of Halifax.

But an urgent need for staff meant that the Department of External Affairs opened its doors to women — at that time, on a temporary basis only. 

A call to Ottawa

"I was told about this [job] competition, I participated in it and before I quite knew where I was, I was in Ottawa, but expecting only to be on during the war years," said Meagher.

"However, I liked it very much indeed and kept hoping that something would happen to make it possible for me to stay on."

Meager was transferred to Mexico near the end of the war. And while serving there, a policy change allowed women to compete for jobs and for promotions.

Margaret Meagher, then the Canadian ambassador to Israel, is seen speaking in Jerusalem in April of 1959. (CBC News)

Meanwhile, Meagher kept rising through the diplomatic ranks and in 1958, she became Canada's ambassador to Israel — a role that met with the evident approval of future Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who was then her country's foreign minister.

"I cannot tell you how happy we are to welcome Miss Meagher as our ambassador, not because she is a woman but because in her own right she has been so highly respected and really loved," Meir told reporters during a visit to Ottawa, according to a Oct. 16, 1958 report from The Canadian Press.

After her posting in Israel, Meagher would later serve as the ambassador to both Austria and Sweden. She also served as Canada's high commissioner to Cyprus, Uganda and Kenya.

In 1974, Meagher was awarded the Order of Canada on account of "her career in diplomacy and her contribution to international affairs."

Meagher died in 1999 at the age of 88.