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Rosemary Brown

Photograph of Rosemary Wedderburn Brown

P.C., O.C., O.B.C.

(June 17, 1930-April 26, 2003)

First Black Woman Elected to a Canadian Provincial Legislature
First Black Woman to Run for the Leadership of a Canadian Federal Political Party (1975)

Source


Legislative Career:
NDP Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (1972-1986)

Honours and Awards:
1973 UN Human Rights Fellowship
1995 Order of British Columbia
1996 Order of Canada
Honorary degrees from many Canadian universities, including the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and McGill University


Rosemary Brown worked tirelessly for the causes she believed in: equality and rights for women, members of visible minorities and the disadvantaged. Her impressive public service record and widespread interests and influence are a testament to the remarkable person she was and the inspiration she provided to others.

Rosemary led a sheltered, privileged life in Jamaica before moving to Canada to attend university in 1951. Canada in the 1950s was not an open society, and she was shocked by the discrimination in housing and employment that she faced. In Jamaica, she had lived as a member of the majority; her experiences in Canada as a member of the marginalized Afro-Canadian minority had a profound and lasting effect on her. She determined to work toward eliminating the barriers that specific groups faced within Canadian society.

After graduating from McGill University in 1955, Rosemary married and moved to British Columbia. She completed her Master of Social Work at the University of British Columbia (1965), and held jobs as a social worker and as a counsellor at Simon Fraser University. The 1960s was a time of significant political change in Canada, as both Blacks and women challenged their unequal status in society. Already committed to the rights of Afro-Canadians, Rosemary became a dedicated feminist and an advocate of equality for women. She was influenced by Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, commenting in her autobiography that it "was one of the three 'jolts' that have hardened my commitment to feminism; the other two were Marilyn French's The Women's Room, a book about the sometimes brutal relationship between men and women, and a strange little TV drama called The Stepford Wives. . ." (Being Brown, p. 81). Rosemary was one of the founders of the Vancouver Status of Women Council and became its Ombudswoman.

The decision to run for elected office was a major undertaking for Rosemary, given contemporary attitudes toward race and gender. Nonetheless, she achieved a major breakthrough for people of colour by becoming the first woman of African descent elected to a Canadian provincial legislature. Brown served in British Columbia's legislative assembly as the New Democratic Party (NDP) representative from 1972 until 1986, first as the Member of a Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Vancouver-Burrard and later as the member for Burnaby-Edmonds. She reached another milestone when she sought the leadership of the federal NDP in 1975. The party's website (http://nid-78.newsdetail.bc.ndp.ca) summarizes this event and her contribution as follows:

In 1975, while raising three children, Brown ran for the leadership of the Federal NDP. She lost on the fourth ballot to Ed Broadbent, but achieved the distinction of being the first woman to run for the leadership of a federal political party . . . .

As an important member of British Columbia's NDP government in the 1970s, she formed a committee to eliminate sexism in school textbooks and curricula, played a major role in establishing the Berger Commission on the Family, and was instrumental in introducing legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status. Her efforts contributed directly to an increase in the number of women represented on boards, commissions and directorates.

After retiring from politics in 1986, Rosemary brought her talents to a variety of positions. She was a professor of Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University in 1987, and the executive director of Match International Centre from 1989 to 1993. She also served as Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1993 to 1996, and was a member of various boards, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee (1993-1998).

Rosemary was a popular speaker as well as a prolific writer. In addition to her autobiography Being Brown . . . (1989), she wrote regular columns for The Vancouver Sun from 1991 to 2002, and for the feminist periodical Herizons (1992). She received many awards and honorary degrees.

Rosemary Brown's death was mourned by members of the many communities whom she served.

Resources

Brown, Rosemary. "Attack Violence at Its Roots." Canadian Woman Studies / Les cahiers de la femme. Vol. 12, No. 1 (Fall 1991), p. 104.

Brown, Rosemary. Being Brown: A Very Public Life. Toronto: Random House, 1989.

Brown, Rosemary. "By invitation" [regular column]. Herizons: The Manitoba Women's Newspaper. Winnipeg: Manitoba Women's Newspaper, 1992.

Brown, Rosemary. "Editorial" [regular feature]. The Vancouver Sun. Vancouver: Pacific Press, 1991-2002.

Brown, Rosemary. "The Eighties: Decade in a hurry: Women ride roller-coaster of hope, despair: Abortion, workplace issues remain despite visible gains." Special report. Globe and Mail, December 30, 1989, p. E11.

Brown, Rosemary. "Matching Women, Environment and Development Around the World." Women and Environments. Vol. 13, No. 2 (Winter/Spring 1991), p. 37-41.

Brown, Rosemary. "The Possibilities for Social Change in Canada: A Feminist Perspective." Queen's Quarterly. Vol. 84, No. 2 (Summer 1977), p. 178-185.

Brown, Rosemary. "Women and Electoral Politics." RFR/DRF. Vol. 17, No. 2 (September 1988), p. 106-108.

Callwood, June. "Rosemary Brown." June Callwood's National Treasures. Toronto: Stoddart, 1994, p. 65-88.

The Canadian Parliamentary Guide / Guide parlementaire canadien. Scarborough, Ont.: Gale Canada, 1909-[2005?]. Profiles of Ms. Brown appear during the years 1973-1986.

Krause, Tracey. "Rosemary Brown Fonds: An Inventory in Rare Books and Special Collections, University of British Columbia Library." 2006 [PDF 233 KB].
www.library.ubc.ca/spcoll/AZ/PDF/B/Brown_Rosemary.pdf
(accessed June 3, 2008).

Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. Debates. Indexes.
www.leg.bc.ca/hansard/8-9.htm
(accessed June 3, 2008).
Includes the 29th to the 33rd Parliaments (1972-1986), the period of Ms. Brown's tenure.

Roy, Lynette. Rosemary Brown, Brown Girl in the Ring: A Biography for Young People. Toronto: Sister Vision, 1992.

Sadlier, Rosemary. "Rosemary Brown: Social Worker, Politician, Writer, Social Activist." Leading the Way: Black Women in Canada. Toronto: Umbrella Press, 1994, p. 33-38.

Williams, Dawn. "Rosemary Brown." Who's Who in Black Canada: Black Success and Black Excellence in Canada: A Contemporary Directory. Toronto: D.P. Williams, 2002, p. 87.

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