Wed, 19 Oct, 2016
School, provincial and community officials celebrated the opening of Roberta MacAdams School Oct. 20, gathering in the southwest-Edmonton elementary to honour its little-known namesake.
The opening of the school at 2099 Blackmud Creek Dr. SW - named for one of the first two women elected to the Alberta Legislature - comes 100 years after women won the right to vote in Alberta, in 1916.
Ontario-born Roberta MacAdams came to Alberta in 1911 and traveled around the province by train and wagon to teach cooking and household-management skills to women farmers. She introduced cooking classes in Edmonton Public Schools and became superintendent of the District’s domestic sciences program.
“We don’t think of domestic science as something that is groundbreaking … It’s home-ec to us, and something very traditional. But at the time it was a really important area for women, because so many women were going out to work in the rural farms, and they went ill-equipped,” said author Debbie Marshall, who wrote a biography published in 2007 about MacAdams called Give Your Other Vote to the Sister: A Woman’s Journey into the Great War.
“Roberta taught some really scientific approaches to homemaking and farm life. And she organized the whole domestic science department in Edmonton before the war, and that was a huge job. She did it from scratch.”
During the First World War, MacAdams enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps and traveled to England to serve in a military hospital there. She wore the uniform of a nursing sister but was a dietician and a lieutenant. MacAdams ran the kitchen at the military hospital and was in charge of making sure about 3,500 meals a day were prepared on a shoestring budget.
Then in 1917, MacAdams decided to run as one of 21 candidates vying to become soldiers’ representatives in the Alberta Legislature. She was the only woman running and won one of the two special MLA spots, becoming the first woman elected to Alberta’s Legislative Assembly after Louise McKinney.
Her campaign slogan - give one vote to the man of your choice and the other to the sister - captured the tremendous respect voters had at that time for nurses, Marshall said.
“People really admired nurses at this time. Canadian nurses were overseas, some of them would die in the war, be killed in enemy action. They were very courageous women ... and I think she represented them to the soldiers who were voting in that particular poll.”
MacAdams also became the first woman in Canada to bring forward legislation in the British Empire and have it passed. She left the legislature after one term but became a lifelong advocate for education, for women’s participation in democracy and for the support of veterans.
Despite her significant contributions, it was initially difficult to track down information about MacAdams for a biography, Marshall said. It is rewarding to see MacAdams finally being recognized, Marshall said.
“She’s now being rediscovered and finally being given her place in history.”
Learn more about the political force who is the namesake for Roberta MacAdams School: