Thérèse Casgrain

Last updated

Thérèse Forget Casgrain

Therese Forget Casgrain.png
Thérèse Forget Casgrain, c. 1942
Senator for Mille Isles, Quebec
In office
October 7, 1970 July 10, 1971
Appointed by Pierre Trudeau
Preceded by Gustave Monette
Succeeded by Renaude Lapointe
Leader of the Parti social démocratique du Québec
In office
Preceded byRomuald-Joseph Lamoureux
Succeeded by Michel Chartrand
Personal details
Born(1896-07-10)July 10, 1896
Saint-Irénée-les-Bains, Quebec, Canada
DiedNovember 3, 1981(1981-11-03) (aged 85)
Political party Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (1945-1961),
Parti social démocratique du Québec,
New Democratic Party (1961-1970),
Spouse(s) Pierre-François Casgrain
Relations Rodolphe Forget, father

Thérèse Casgrain, CC OBE LL.D. (10 July 1896 – 3 November 1981) was a French Canadian feminist, reformer, politician and senator. [1]


Life and career

Therese Forget, 1914 Therese Forget 1914.jpg
Thérèse Forget, 1914
Casgrain in 1980 Therese Casgrain.jpg
Casgrain in 1980
Therese Casgrain lectures at the Family Consumer Cooperative Saint-Hubert Street in Montreal. January 14, 1945 People. Mde Pierre Casgrain - La Familiale - Madame Therese Casgrain BAnQ P48S1P12345.jpg
Thérèse Casgrain lectures at the Family Consumer Cooperative Saint-Hubert Street in Montreal. January 14, 1945

Born in Saint-Irénée-les-Bains, [2] Quebec, she was raised in a wealthy family, the daughter of Blanche (MacDonald), Lady Forget, and Sir Rodolphe Forget. She married Pierre-François Casgrain, a wealthy Liberal politician with whom she raised four children.

In 1905, at 8 years old, she became a boarder at the Dames du Sacré-Coeur, at Sault-au-Récollet. She hoped to further her studies at university, but her father opposed the notion of not seeing its use. According to him, she should rather learn how to manage a household, a quality that is befitting of a future spouse of her stature. [3]

Thérèse accompanied her husband in Ottawa for the opening of the parliamentary session in the spring of 1918. It is in the federal capital that she takes conscience of the importance of the question of the right to vote for women. During the last federal election, a certain number of women were allowed to vote. The governor Borden would later adopt the Women's Suffrage Act , a project of law that would allow the right to vote at federal elections for all Canadian women of twenty-one years or older. However, in Québec, women still couldn't vote during provincial elections. The opposition for such an extension of the law was strong, notably from the clergy and the conservative elite.

Casgrain led the women's suffrage movement in Quebec prior to World War II. She founded the Provincial Franchise Committee in 1921 and campaigned for women's rights and for the right to vote in Quebec elections, a right that was not won until 1940. From 1928 to 1942, she was the leader of the League for Women's Rights. In the 1930s, she hosted a popular radio show Fémina.

In the 1942 federal by-election, she stood as an "Independent Liberal" candidate in the Charlevoix-Saguenay riding, the same seat formerly held both by her father and by her husband.

Following World War II, she left the Liberal Party and joined the social democratic Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). In 1948, she became one of the federal vice presidents of the CCF. She led the Quebec wing of the party, the Parti social démocratique du Québec, from 1951 to 1957. She was, therefore, the first female leader of a political party in Canada. She was a CCF candidate in a 1952 federal by-election and in the 1953, 1957, and 1958 federal general elections and a New Democratic Party candidate in the 1962 and 1963 federal general elections. She also used her position as a platform to campaign against the government of Maurice Duplessis.

In the 1960s, she became a campaigner against nuclear weapons, founding in February 1961 the Quebec wing of Voice of Women (VOW) and serving as the national president of VOW from 1962-1963. [2] She also was a founder of the La Ligue des droits l'homme devenue en 1978 la Ligue des droits et libertés and the Fédération des femmes du Québec. In the 1960s, she was president of the Quebec wing of the New Democratic Party, the CCF's successor; she ran in the April 1963 Canadian federal election.

In 1969, Casgrain was elected president of the Consumers' Association of Canada Quebec section. Casgrain succeeded to an anglophone president, David Macfarlane, who considered that the Quebec section’s position was indefensible, as it was dominated by anglophone elements and used English as its primary work language. Many members of the association hoped Casgrain would fix this problem as president. [4]

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed Casgrain to the Senate of Canada in 1970, where she sat as an independent for nine months before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75. As senator she questioned the prime minister's policy on the use of Canadian-made napalm and defoliants in Vietnam. [2]

For the last decade of her life, she was committed to helping the rights of American Indian women. She also invested herself in charity works and consumer rights.

During the 1980 Quebec independence referendum, Casgrain campaigned for the "No" side. [5] She was among the voices who criticized Lise Payette, then minister of the feminine condition, for saying that women who didn't back a "Yes" vote would be responsible for blocking progress, and likened them to Yvette, a fictional schoolgirl who featured in school primers. [6]

She died in 1981. [7] Thérèse Casgrain's body is interred in the Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montreal.


In recognition of her achievements, in 1967, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 1974, she was promoted to Companion. In 1968 she received an honorific PhD from the University of Montreal.

In 1979, she was named one of the first winners of the Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. [8]

In 1974, Loyola College, one of Concordia University's founding institutions, awarded her the Loyola Medal. [9] She received an honorary doctorate from Concordia on 1980. [10]

In 1980 she received the title of Grand Montrealer in the social category. [11] In 1981 she received an honorary phd from the University of Windsor.

In 1982, the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award was created in 1982 by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau. It was discontinued in 1990 under the Conservative ministry of Brian Mulroney, but was begun anew in 2001 under the Liberal ministry of Jean Chrétien. In 2010, during the Conservative ministry of Stephen Harper, the award was eliminated and then repackaged as the "Prime Minister's Volunteer Award". [12] In 2016 under the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau the award was once again renamed as the Thérèse Casgrain Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award. [13]

In 1991-1992 She received the medal of the Bar of Montreal (a posthumous title). [14]

In 1985, Canada Post honoured Thérèse Casgrain with a postage stamp. [15] She also was commemorated in 2004 on the reverse of the $50 banknote of the Canadian Journey Series along with The Famous Five. [16] This commemoration was discontinued in 2012 with the introduction of a new design on the reverse of the fifty-dollar bill. [12]

In 2012, the Hon. Pauline Marois, first female premier of Quebec, unveiled a statue of Casgrain, Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie, Idola Saint-Jean and Marie-Claire Kirkland. The statue by Jules Lasalle was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kirkland being made the first Canadian female minister. [17]

in 2016, she became commander of the Order of Montreal (a posthumous title) [11]


A Thérèse-Casgrain fonds is conserved in Ottawa by Library and Archives Canada. [18] The archival reference number is R7906, former archival reference number MG32-C25. The fonds covers the date range 1818 to 1981. It consists of 2.05 meters of textual records and 534 photographs.

The Thérèse F.-Casgrain Foundation fonds is conserved at the Montreal archives center of the National Library and Archives of Quebec. [19]

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