Mary Ellen Smith

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Mary Ellen Spear Smith (October 11, 1861 or 1863 - May 3, 1933) was a politician in British Columbia, Canada. She was the first female Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, and both the first female cabinet minister and the first female Speaker in the British Empire.

She was born in England. Her father, Richard Spear, was a copper miner. She became a school teacher before marrying Ralph Smith, a widower and coal miner. She moved with him to British Columbia in the early 1891, shortly after their marriage. Ralph Smith became a moderate trade union leader, and was elected to the BC legislature in 1898. He was elected to the Canadian House of Commons in the 1900 federal election. He returned to the BC legislature, and became British Columbia's Minister of Finance in 1916. Mary Ellen Smith had helped her husband's political career by campaigning for him and making speeches on his behalf when he was unavailable.

She was also an activist in her own right as a member of the Suffrage League of Canada, president of the Women's Canadian Club and of the Women's Forum, regent of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, and an executive member of the Canadian Red Cross. She also raised money for war veterans, and helped establish factories to employ blind children. She founded the "Laurier Liberal Club", and was an active Methodist.

Ralph Smith died in February 1917, and Mary Ellen Smith ran to succeed him as Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Vancouver in a January 1918 by-election as an "Independent Liberal" on the slogan "Women and children first". She was elected by a wide margin, and said in a speech to the legislature that "Not only did the women of my fair city stand behind me... but the men were there, too."

She was re-elected as a Liberal candidate in the 1920 and 1924 general elections.

As a legislator, she introduced a law in 1918 establishing a minimum wage for women and girls, and helped enact laws establishing juvenile courts, allowing women to sit as judges, creating social welfare support for "deserted wives", passing laws protecting women in the workplace, and establishing a pension for mothers.

She joined the cabinet in of Premier John Oliver in 1921 as minister without portfolio, but resigned after eight months as she felt that the rules of cabinet solidarity restricted her independence. In February 1928, she served as Acting Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the first woman to hold the position of Speaker in the British Empire. She was defeated in the 1928 election that brought down the Liberal government.

In 1929, she was appointed Canada's delegate to the International Labour Organization conference in Geneva. She served as president of the BC Liberal Party in the early 1930s until her death due to a stroke in 1933.