Charlotte Whitton

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Dr. Charlotte Elizabeth Whitton
46th Mayor of Ottawa
In office
1951–1956
Preceded by Grenville Goodwin
Succeeded by George H. Nelms
In office
1961–1964
Preceded by George H. Nelms
Succeeded by Donald Bartlett Reid
Personal details
Born (1896-03-08)March 8, 1896
Renfrew, Ontario
Died January 25, 1975(1975-01-25) (aged 78)
Resting place Thompson Hill Cemetery, Renfrew, Ontario
Political party Progressive Conservative Party of Canada
Domestic partner Margaret Grier (1915-1947)[1]
Religion Anglican

Charlotte Elizabeth Whitton, OC, CBE (March 8, 1896 – January 25, 1975) was 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,[2] but this distinction is in fact held by Barbara Hanley, who became mayor of the small Northern Ontario town of Webbwood in 1936.)[3]

Career and Accomplishments[edit]

Whitton attended Queen's University, where she was the star of the women's hockey team and was known as the fastest skater in the league.[citation needed] At Queen's, she also served as editor of the Queen's Journal newspaper in 1917; and was the newspaper's first female editor. From Queen's she became the founding director of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare from 1920 to 1941 (which became the Canadian Welfare Council, now the Canadian Council on Social Development) and helped bring about a wide array of new legislation to help children.

Despite her strong views on women's equality, Whitton was a strong social conservative and did not support making divorce easier.

Whitton was elected to Ottawa's Board of Control 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 was a staunch defender of Canada's traditions, and condemned Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson's proposal in 1964 for new national flag to replace the traditional Canadian Red Ensign. Whitton dismissed Pearson's design as a ‘white badge of surrender, waving three dying maple leaves’ which might as well be ‘three white feathers on a red background,’ a symbol of cowardice. ‘It is a poor observance of our first century as a nation if we run up a flag of surrender with three dying maple leaves on it,’ she said. (Ottawa Citizen, 21 May 1964; Globe and Mail, May 22, 1964.) For Whitton, the Red Ensign, with its Union Jack and coat of arms containing symbols of England, Scotland, Ireland and France (or a similar flag with traditional symbols on it) would be a stronger embodiment of the Canadian achievement in peace and war.

She became well known for her assertiveness and for her vicious wit with which many male colleagues, and once the Lord Mayor of London were attacked. She is famous for the quotation:

"Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult."

In 1955 she appeared on the American game show and television series What's My Line.

In 1967 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Accusations of Racism[edit]

Whitton had many remarkable achievements but her story is framed by current controversy over some of her actions.

She has been accused in print of espousing, "a 'scientific' racism that viewed groups such as Jews and Armenians as 'undesirable' immigrants." (Open Your Hearts: The Story of the Jewish War Orphans in Canada by Fraidie Martz)[4]

In 1938, she attended a conference in Ottawa to launch the Canadian National Committee on Refugees (CNCR). She showed opposition to some of the other attendee's arguments. A common belief is that she was directly opposed to Jews and in particular Jewish children. Oscar Cohen of the Canadian Jewish Congress is reported to have said she "almost broke up the inaugural meeting of the congress on refugees by her insistent opposition and very apparent anti-Semitism."[5] This sentiment is countered by the official record which includes notes from her presentation, including " ... lobby the government to initiate a long-term refugee program ..." and an interest in protecting all at risk, "particularly Hebrews in the Reich and in Italy."[6]

According to the Canadian Jewish Congress: "Certainly in the course of the Second World War and the Holocaust, she was instrumental in keeping Jewish orphans out of Canada because of her belief that Jews would not make good immigrants and were basically inferior."[7]

As Mayor in 1964, she declined Bertram Loeb's $500,000 donation to the City's Ottawa Civic Hospital. The official rationale was that the city could not afford to keep the centre operating.[6] The sentiment exists that she "simply didn't want the name of a Jewish family on an Ottawa hospital building.".[5]

According to Patricia Rooke, Whitton was a "complete anglophile" who opposed all non-British immigration to Canada. "Charlotte Whitton was a racist," according to Rooke. "Her anti-Semitism, I think, was the least of it. She was quite racist about the Ukrainians, for example. She really didn't like the changing character of Canadian society."[7]

In opposition to the anti-Semite argument Whitton was well received by various Jewish organizations in her lifetime including B'nai Brith and various Jewish centered publications.[6] She was also a supporter of - and the first to sign the nomination papers of - the first Jewish Mayor of Ottawa, Lorry Greenberg.[6]

In 2011 Whitton's name was kept off of a new Archives Building in Ottawa due to this controversy.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Whitton never married, but lived for years with her partner, 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 release of these papers sparked much debate in the Canadian media about whether Whitton and Grier's relationship could be characterized as lesbian, or merely as an emotionally intimate friendship between two unmarried women.[9]

Legacy[edit]

Britannia Yacht Club inner harbour with Charlotte Whitton utility crane

At the Britannia Yacht Club, a utility crane in the inner harbour was named Charlotte Whitton in honour of the former mayor of Ottawa.

The Ontario Heritage Trust erected a plaque for Charlotte Elizabeth Whitton, O.C., C.B.E. 1896-1975 in the council chambers, city hall, 111 Sussex Drive, Ottawa. "A controversial fighter for social reform, Charlotte Whitton served on the Canadian Council on Child Welfare (later the Canadian Welfare Council) and on the League of Nations Social Questions Committee. In 1951, she was elected mayor of Ottawa." [10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Charlotte Whitton". mysteriesofcanada.com. Retrieved 2013-09-06. 
  2. ^ "How well do you know Ottawa's history?". Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2002.
  3. ^ "History Made in Webbwood When Woman Mayor Elected". Sudbury Star, January 6, 1966.
  4. ^ "Whitton's controversial past under microscope again", Ottawa Citizen, May 3, 2011 accessed June 27, 2011
  5. ^ a b "Recognize Charlotte Whitton's dark side, too", Ottawa Citizen, August 16, 2010
  6. ^ a b c d "Silent majority must speak up: Flawed history drives attacks on Whitton", June 27, 2011 accessed June 27, 2011
  7. ^ a b "Jewish Congress opposes Whitton recognition", Ottawa Citizen, August 14, 2010
  8. ^ "Archives won't be named after Whitton", Ottawa Citizen, May 9, 2011 accessed on June 27, 2011
  9. ^ Maynard, Steven (Summer 2001), Maple Leaf (Gardens) forever: Sex, Canadian historians, and national history, The Journal of Canadian Studies, retrieved 2008-09-21 
  10. ^ Ontario Heritage Trust plaque

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