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The Speakers of the Senate of Canada


Hon. Muriel McQueen Fergusson
P.C., O.C., Q.C., B.A. (1972–1974)

M uriel Fergusson’s professional and political life was a hard-won series of firsts – the first female Judge of Probate in Victoria County, New Brunswick; the first female alderman and later Deputy Mayor of Fredericton, New Brunswick; and the first female Speaker of the Senate. Educated at Mount Allison University (the first university in Canada and the Empire to grant a Bachelor of Science degree to a woman, in 1875), Fergusson became a lawyer at the age of 26, and later took over her husband’s law practice and judicial duties when his health failed because of injuries he received in the First World War.

One of Fergusson’s first active and public challenges to discrimination against women occurred in 1947, when she successfully lobbied to have a senior federal position opened to women candidates, which she herself won. A lifelong Liberal, in 1953 she was nominated by Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent for appointment to the Senate: the third woman ever to sit in the chamber.

In her inaugural speech in the Senate, Fergusson said, “If I can be of help to women in getting justice, I will.” She served on many Senate committees concerned with the rights of women and the welfare of Canadians, and she was honorary head of several social welfare groups and organizations. Among other things, Fergusson was credited with spurring a change to the Criminal Code allowing women to sit on juries in criminal cases.

Nearly two decades after she was appointed to the Senate, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed her as Speaker. She is said to have regretted that she would have to temper her outspokenness while in the chair. Although she served for only 21 months, she championed change in the Senate by bringing in young women as pages, and insisting on equal pay for women and men in the same staff positions.

On Fergusson’s death at the age of 97, the Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick, Margaret McCain, observed that “She was a tiny woman with a soft voice and a gentle manner. She knocked down many barriers without ever being provocative or strident.”

Fergusson voluntarily retired from the Senate at age 75, as she had been a vocal supporter of the constitutional amendment requiring senators to retire at that age.

Next Speaker: Hon. Louise Marguerite Renaude Lapointe

Previous Speaker: Hon. Jean-Paul Deschatelets

Portrait of the Hon. Muriel McQueen Fergusson

Born: Shediac, New Brunswick, 1899

Died: Fredericton, New Brunswick, 1997

Professional Background:

Political Affiliation: Liberal

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: