For weeks now, two maverick female politicians have dominated the news, both fighting for what they regard as an inviolable principle: the non-interference of government in the judicial system. 

Their actions bring to mind another maverick female politician, but not a self-aggrandizing one: Cairine Wilson, Canada’s first female senator. A wealthy matron with progressive views, she was appointed to the Senate in 1930 by Mackenzie King, a family friend. This friendship would not, however, prevent her from forcefully opposing the Liberal prime minister’s stance on the Munich Agreement (September 29, 1938) that allowed Hitler to annex the Sudetenland, the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia. 

On October 2, 1938, when she was president of the League of Nations Society in Canada, Wilson issued a bold statement condemning the Agreement. By daring to issue a statement in her own name, the fearless senator knew she risked alienating many people in high places, chief among them Mackenzie King. In fact, she thought she might be asked to resign her seat in the Senate because of her independence. Just as she was loyal to her friends so was Cairine Wilson loyal to the Liberal Party. But never did she let this loyalty override a question of principle.  

For a full description of this chapter in Wilson’s remarkable career, please see my book First Person: A Biography of Cairine Wilson, Canada’s First Woman Senator (Dundurn Press, 1988).