Rosemary Brown

First black woman elected to a provincial legislature in Canada (1972)

Rosemary Brown
Image I-32427 courtesy of the Royal
BC Museum and Archives

Rosemary Brown was born in Jamaica in 1930. She moved to Canada in 1951 to attend McGill University and to British Columbia in 1955, where she completed a graduate degree in social work. Brown’s early years in Canada marked the beginning of a life-long determination to eliminate the barriers that minority groups faced within Canadian society.

Brown was employed as a social worker and university counsellor in the 1960s, a time when both women and Canadians of African and Caribbean ancestry were struggling for equality and better representation in public life. During this time, she was also a founding member and Ombudswoman of the Vancouver Status of Women Council.

Brown ran successfully in the 1972 provincial general election as the New Democratic Party candidate in the riding of Vancouver-Burrard, becoming the first black woman elected to a provincial legislature in Canada. She was re-elected three times, serving until 1986.

In the Legislative Assembly, Brown championed measures to improve women’s working and social conditions, including legislation to prohibit gender-based discrimination. She also called for improved services for the elderly, the disadvantaged, immigrants and people with disabilities. Calling public life “a tough arena” for women, Brown nonetheless encouraged women to “enter politics and bring about change” for their communities and the world.

Following her retirement from politics, Brown was a professor of women’s studies at Simon Fraser University, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1993-1996, a writer and a popular public speaker.