1980 Social Social

Thérèse Casgrain was born in Montréal on July 10, 1896. She was the daughter of Lady Blanche MacDonald and Sir Rodolphe Forget, lawyer, financier, Conservative politician and philanthropist. On January 19, 1916, she married lawyer Pierre-François Casgrain, who was the federal member for Charlevoix-Montmorency and Charlevoix-Saguenay and then speaker of the House of Commons and secretary of state in the King government. They had two sons and two daughters (Rodolphe, Hélène, Paul et Renée).

Throughout her life, she took part in political, social and union activities: after World War I, she sat on the federal council on minimum wage; in the 1920s, she argued in favour of many reforms, most notably for women’s suffrage. She was president of the League for Women’s Rights from 1928 to 1942 and founded the French Junior League, the French Federated Charities and the Société des concerts symphoniques de Montréal. She was a member of the National Health Council and the National Welfare Council, and during World War II, she helped organize the Wartime Prices and Trade Board and found that board’s Consumer Branch. Thérèse Casgrain was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her wartime service. In 1961, she founded the Voice of Women movement, dedicated to world peace.

Thérèse Casgrain is known for having led the women’s suffrage movement in Quebec before World War II. She started getting involved in it in 1921, and victory was declared in 1940. In 1942, during a federal by-election, she ran as an independent liberal candidate in the riding of Charlevoix-Saguenay.

In 1946, she joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party, known in French as the Social-Democrat Party (SDP). She became its vice-president in 1948. She headed up the Quebec section of the CCF from 1951 to 1957, becoming the first woman to lead a political party in Quebec. She was a political adversary of Maurice Duplessis. She was a CCF candidate in the 1952 federal by-election in Outremont—St-Jean, as well as in the federal general election in 1953 (in Jacques-Cartier—Lasalle), 1957 (in Villeneuve) and 1958 (in Jacques-Cartier—Lasalle) and an NDP candidate in Outremont—St-Jean in the 1962 and 1963 federal general elections.

In 1966, Thérèse Casgrain founded the Fédération des femmes du Québec to coordinate the various women’s organizations in the province. The group was recognized in Canada in 1967, the year chosen by the United Nations to celebrate human rights. She was also the president of the Ligue des droits de l'homme, the Quebec Medical Aid to Vietnam Committee and the French-language section of the Canadian Adult Education Association. She was vice-chairperson of the Advisory Committee on the Administration of Justice in Quebec.
In 1969, she became the Quebec president of the Consumers’ Association of Canada, which was instrumental in the creation of a Canadian minister for consumer affairs.

In 1970, Prime Minister Pierre-Elliott Trudeau appointed her to the Senate, where she sat as an independent. She was a senator for only nine months before turning 75, the age limit for the office.

She was named to the academy of Great Montrealers in 1980.

Photo Credit : A. Larose/Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/PA-178194