On this day in 1972, National Democratic Party politician Rosemary Brown became the first Black woman to hold a seat in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia – a position she held for 14 years, and was re-elected to three times, relentlessly working to supporting her community.
The award-winner, change-maker, feminist, writer, educator, and mother was originally born in Jamaica on June 17th, 1930 before settling in Canada in 1950 to attend Montreal’s McGill University, eventually relocating to British Columbia in 1955. There, she completed a graduate degree in social work.
Despite facing blatant racism upon arrival and even while pursuing her studies, Brown achieved her academic goals, fortifying her resolve to fight for change.
By 1956, Brown had already helped establish the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (BCAACP), to help eliminate systemic barriers to housing and employment in the province. The organization also pushed to introduce human rights legislation in the provincial parliament. Brown’s work mirrored these efforts and she built on her passion for social justice and working towards a more equitable society in the years that followed; by the 1960s, she was working as a social worker and a university counsellor, before moving into politics and the public realm.
Later in her life, Brown was the Ruth Wyn Woodward Professor in Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University and held the position of Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and as a member of the Judicial Council of British Columbia.
Among her many accomplishments, she helped found the Berger Commission on the Family, introduced bills to eliminate discrimination based on sex and marital status and fought to remove sexism from educational curricula and textbooks.
She received honorary doctorates of Law from several Canadian Universities including Queens, McGill, Dalhousie, Toronto, Victoria and the University of British Columbia, in addition to being recognized for the Order of British Columbia and the Ontario Black Achievement Award in 1995. One year later, she went on to receive the Order of Canada – one of the highest honours for merit and achievement in the country.
Since her passing in 2003, the Rosemary Brown Award for Women was established in 2004, recognizing women or organizations in British Columbia who reflect Brown’s values and efforts, and in 2009, the government released a commemorative stamp.
In 2017, Brown was named one of the country’s top 150 for being an outspoken advocate for Women of Colour and for opening doors where none existed.