Mary Ellen (Spear) Smith (1861 - 1933)
Mary Ellen Smith was the first woman elected to the British Columbia Legislative Assembly, the first woman in the British Empire to be appointed a Minister, and the first to serve as Acting Speaker of the Legislature. She was a social reformer dedicated to improving conditions for women and children. She fought for women’s right to vote.
- Her husband was a politician. After he died, Smith ran in the election and won his seat. She was the first woman in the British Empire to take over her husband’s seat.
- It is because of Mary Ellen Smith that a woman is addressed as Madame Speaker when she holds the position of Speaker in any government in the Commonwealth. In 1928 she was the first woman to be a Speaker.
- She worked on legislation to improve the rights and conditions of women and children, such as the 1918 Minimum Wage Act for Women and Girls.
- Smith grew up in England and moved to BC in the early 1890s, settling first in Nanaimo and then in Vancouver.
- Smith was a popular speaker, presenting often in Europe where she spoke on behalf of the federal government about immigration to Canada.
- She was president of the BC Liberal party until her death in 1933.