Fairclough, Ellen (b. 1905)

views updated

Fairclough, Ellen (b. 1905)

Canadian secretary of state and businesswoman. Name variations: The Right Honourable Ellen Fairclough. Born Ellen Louks Cook in Hamilton, Ontario, on January 28, 1905; daughter of Norman Ellsworth (a farmer) and Nellie Bell (Louks) Cook; attended Hamilton public schools until age 16; married David Henry Gordon Fairclough (owner of a printing business), on January 28, 1931; children: David Fairclough.

Ellen Fairclough, the first woman in Canada to hold a Cabinet position, was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. She quit school at age 16, following the failure of her father's farm, and worked at a variety of jobs before becoming an accountant with a brokerage firm. When her employer went out of business in 1935, she opened her own accounting and tax service business.

Fairclough's husband David Fairclough led her into politics. She became vice president of the Young Conservative Association (Ontario) and in 1946 was elected to the Hamilton city council as an alderman. In 1950, after an unsuccessful run for federal Parliament, she was elected controller for the city of Hamilton. Receiving more votes than any other candidate in the municipal polling, she automatically became deputy mayor. In May 1950, she became a candidate in a by-election to fill a vacant seat in the House of Commons. Campaigning with the slogan "Canada needs a woman's voice," she easily won over her opponent. At the opening session of Parliament, Fairclough was appointed chair of the labor committee of the official Opposition caucus; as such, she became the "voice" of the opposition on labor matters. She remained a member of the opposition party for seven years, then spent six years in the Cabinet. Colleagues remember her as eloquent and persistent in pushing through legislation, particularly that which benefited working women.

In 1957, under the Progressive Conservative Party of Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker, Fairclough was appointed secretary of state, becoming the first woman Cabinet minister in Canadian history. Her department served "as the official channel of communications between the federal government and the British Crown, and between Ottawa and the provincial governments," noted The New York Times (June 22, 1957). After a year, Fairclough became minister of citizenship and immigration, and in 1962 was named postmaster general. Defeated in the 1963 election, she once again picked up her business career, eventually becoming vice president, director, and secretary-treasurer of the Hamilton Trust and Savings Corporation, an institution that she helped build from scratch.

Fairclough, who never considered herself much of a feminist, called equality "a chance to prove oneself." Acknowledging that family ties seem to tether women more than men, she credited an understanding husband and a full-time housekeeper with making her path a bit easier.


Current Biography 1957. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1957.

Harakas, Margo. "Ellen Fairclough," in Fort Lauderdale [Florida] Sun-Sentinel. September 26, 1975.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

About this article

Fairclough, Ellen (b. 1905)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article