Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Political Science Women In Politics

A Liberal-Labour Lady

The Times and Life of Mary Ellen Spear Smith

by (author) Veronica Strong-Boag

UBC Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2021
Women in Politics, NON-CLASSIFIABLE, Canadian, Post-Confederation (1867-)
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2021
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2021
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2022
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


A Liberal-Labour Lady restores British Columbia’s first female MLA and the British Empire’s first female cabinet minister to history. An imperial settler, liberal-labour activist, and mainstream suffragist, Mary Ellen Smith (1863–1933) demanded a fair deal for “deserving” British women and men in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She strove to shift Liberal parties leftward to benefit women and workers, while still embracing global assumptions of British racial superiority and bourgeois feminism’s privileging of white women. In the BC legislature until 1928, Smith campaigned for better wages, pensions, and greater justice, even as she endorsed anti-Asian, settler, and pro-eugenic policies. Simultaneously intrepid and flawed, Smith is revealed to be a key figure in early Canada’s compromised struggle for greater justice.

About the author

Veronica Strong-Boag is a professor of women’s and gender studies and of educational studies at the University of British Columbia. She is a member of the Royal Society of Canada and a past president of the Canadian Historical Association. She has written widely on the history of Canadian women and children—including studies of the 1920s and 30s, the experience of post—WW II suburbia, Nellie L. McClung, E. Pauline Johnson, childhood disabilities, and modern neo-conservatism’s attack on women and children—and has won the John A. Macdonald Prize in Canadian History, the 2012 Canada Prize in the Social Sciences awarded by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and, with Carole Gerson, the Raymond Klibansky Prize in the Humanities. In 2012 Strong-Boag was awarded the Tyrrell Medal from the Royal Society of Canada for outstanding work in Canadian history. She is the author of Fostering Nation: Canada Confronts Its History of Childhood Disadvantage (WLU Press, 2010).

Veronica Strong-Boag's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Not quite a woman for her times, let alone ours, Smith seemed destined to disappear. Until, that is, Strong-Boag took on the task, uncovering both the good and the bad, using Smith as a lens onto gender relations and gender politics, British Columbia and Ottawa, and electoral politics and the power of connection. The result is a refreshingly complex picture of early twentieth-century Canada and of the crooked path to power.

BC Studies

As an acclaimed scholarly chronicler of Canadian, especially British Columbian, herstory, Veronica Strong-Boag is determined that Mary Ellen Spear Smith will not slip from recorded memory.

The British Columbia Review

Other titles by Veronica Strong-Boag