Annie Gale: The First Woman on Calgary City Council

“The time will come, I honestly and firmly believe, when women will be equally represented with men on all government boards and councils. The viewpoint of women is essential.” –Alderman Annie Gale

 Hannah (Annie) Gale, the first woman elected to Calgary City Council, understood the importance of women’s representation in politics. She was first elected on 10 December 1917 and served for three terms.

Gale’s optimism about how quickly women would achieve equality may seem naïve today. But we at the Women’s Centre reject the cynical view that voting doesn’t matter and that electing more women to City Council won’t make a difference.

In this first post of our “Why YYC Women Should Vote 2017” series, we begin by looking back to the first woman elected to Calgary City Council.

Historically, women were drawn to municipal politics because charities were a local responsibility. Cities also built the infrastructure (clean water and sewage) and provided the services (free milk clinics and public health programs) that had the most impact on their lives.

These were the issues that drew Gale into politics. Before she ran for office, she was an advocate for what we call food security. She was instrumental in establishing a municipal market so women could buy directly from farmers and founded the Vacant Lots Garden Club so they could grow their own fruit and veggies. Gale successfully lobbied for free hospitals when she was the secretary of the Free Hospitals League. She was a member of the Calgary Forum, a group that opposed child labour and supported equal pay for equal work.

Gale entered municipal politics to work for justice. She ran as an independent because she wanted to represent women, not a party. On council, she chaired the Special High Cost of Living Committee, Advisory Committee of the Public Market, and the Committee for Returning Veterans. Gale fought for those whom society ignored. She demanded improvements to the dismal city jail cells, which at the time were also a catchall for people marginalized by poverty and mental illness.

Gale was forced to leave politics by elite men who opposed her initiatives. Because they were sure that she would win, they threatened her husband’s employment if she ran again. She did not run for council, but was a Labour candidate for the School Board in the 1924 election. Gale did not complete this term. Her family moved to Vancouver because of her husband’s poor health.

Though she faced opposition, Gale was privileged as a British woman in a settler society. In past blog posts, we’ve written about the exclusive vision of many suffragists and reformers. This had a long-term impact on Calgary politics. It wasn’t until 1974 that Virnetta Anderson, the first Black Albertan elected to office, sat on Calgary City Council.

In the current political climate, we need Gale’s optimism. We can find inspiration in her conviction that the viewpoint of women – from diverse backgrounds – is essential.

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