Today’s super chic is, Charlotte Whitton, born March 8, 1896 in Renfrew, Ontario; died January 25, 1975, a Canadian feminist and mayor of Ottawa. She was the first female mayor of a major city in Canada, serving from 1951 to 1956 and again from 1960 to 1964. Whitton is sometimes mistakenly credited as the first woman ever to serve as a mayor in Canada, but this distinction is in fact held by Barbara Hanley, who became mayor of the small town of Webbwood in 1936. Whitton was Ottawa’s city controller in 1951. Upon the unexpected death of mayor Grenville Goodwin that August, Whitton was immediately appointed acting Mayor and on 30 September 1951 was confirmed by city council to remain Mayor until the end of the normal three-year term.
Whitton attended Queen’s University, where she was the star of the women’s hockey team. At Queen’s, she also served as editor of the Queen’s Journal newspaper in 1917. From Queen’s she became the founding director of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare from 1920-1941 (which became the Canadian Welfare Council, now the Canadian Council on Social Development) and helped bring about new legislation to aide children in need.
Whitton never married, but lived for years with her lover, Margaret Grier. Her relationship with Grier was not widespread public knowledge until 1999, 24 years after Whitton’s death, when the National Archives of Canada publicly released the last of her personal papers, including many intimate personal letters between Whitton and Grier.
The two women met in Toronto, where they were both residents at the Kappa Alpha Theta Society house on the campus of the University of Toronto. Whitton accepted a position in 1918 as assistant secretary with the Social Service Council Of Canada, and Grier worked with the juvenile court, the Big Sister’s Association and the Girl Guides.
In Grier, Whitton had found a soulmate, even though the two had very diverse natures. Grier was shy, fair and quiet, with delicate features and a calm spirit. Whitton, younger by four years, was considered intimidating, confrontational, ambitious and egotistical.
In 1922, they moved to Ottawa together in order to advance Whitton’s career. They set up house and lived in a “Bostonian Marriage” type of relationship.
Whitton often wrote poetry to Grier.
So softly your tired head would lie
With gentle heaviness upon my breast
And knowing but each others’ arms
Desiring nothing more we two would rest
They owned a cottage together on McGregor Lake and escaped many a humid Ottawa summer weekend there. One letter written by Grier to Whitton while she was away on business – which was often – seems to sum up the nature of their relationship: “Just two nights gone and I’m so lonesome I could cry whenever I stop to think for a minute – Oh Lawrie, dear, I’m just about crazy all the time you are away from me.” Grier, the love of Whitton’s life, died in 1947.
Despite her strong views on women’s equality, Whitton was a strong social conservative and did not support making divorce easier. She did believe in and fought for equal pay and equal opportunities for women in the public and private sector. However, she did not believe in married women working outside of the home and held very conservative views on abortion and divorce. Her views on sexuality have been described as “prudish.” I personally feel she over compensated for being a lesbian, but that is just based on my own personal thoughts.
I leave you with her most famous quote,
“Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”