Born in 1896 in Renfrew, Ontario, Charlotte Whitton is best known as the first female mayor of a major Canadian city. She held the position from 1951 to 1956 and again between 1961 and 1964. She is equally famous for both her sharp tongue and strong spirit. It was Whitton who said that “whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”
A woman of contradictions, she was a staunch feminist who was also critical of married women who worked outside the home. Whitton was a defender of Canada’s traditions and during the 1964 flag debate dismissed Prime Minister Pearson’s design as a “white badge of surrender.”
Publically known as a pugnacious and outspoken woman, Whitton shielded her private life from public view. Many of her personal letters and her private journal, hidden for nearly 25 years, reveal a much softer person. Three of her journal entries from her 1924 travels to Europe and one of her earlier poems confirm a deeply committed relationship between Whitton and her life-long companion Margaret Grier.
July 15th : Woman on boat I want to speak to – wonder who she is. Looks like Marg. Am thinking [to write] such a long letter to her. (July 15, 1924)
August 27th Wednesday: Then out and off at once to find the Arno & the Ponte Vecchio whereat I wept, and almost shrieked in enjoyment. At Genuzzi’s bought a lapis lazuli chain for my dearest Margie. I do miss her. I want to turn to her a hundred times everyday she will so understand how I feel. (August 27, 1924)
rather fine Magi: I loved Marriotto’s Virgin & Saint Elizabeth. They look so human, so fond of one another so intimate and neighbourly, confiding their secrets one to the other. (August 27, 1924)
Charlotte Whitton, Rather fine Magi, Library and Archives Canada, MG30 E256.
Mariotto Albertinelli, Visitation (detail), 1503, oil on wood, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Charlotte Whitton’s Journal (excerpts), Library and Archives Canada, MG30 E256, Photo: Graham Iddon © Bytown Museum, 2010.
G.E. Marrison, Group hockey team portrait, Queen's University, Library and Archives Canada, PA-127274.
Duncan Cameron, Charlotte Whitton in costume at Springtime Party, Library and Archives Canada, PA-137870.
Ted Grant, Mayor Charlotte Whitton as she watches the burning of […] Library and Archives Canada, neg 61-1180 Fr.25-30.