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MacGill, Helen Gregory (1871–1947)

MacGill, Helen Gregory (1871–1947)

Canadian feminist, lawyer and first woman judge in British Columbia . Name variations: (incorrect) Helen McGill; Helen Gregory-Flesher. Born Helen Gregory into a socially prominent family in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 1871; died in 1947; Trinity College, Toronto, B.A., 1888; married Dr. Lee Flesher (died 1901); married James H. MacGill, in 1902; children: (first marriage) two sons; (second marriage) one daughter, Elizabeth "Elsie" Gregory MacGill (d. 1980).

The daughter of an early suffragist, Helen MacGill was born in the industrial town of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, in 1871. An outstanding student, she attended Trinity College in Toronto and was the only woman to graduate in the school's class of 1888. She then began working as a journalist, and traveled to Japan to write about social conditions in that country and cover the opening of the Japanese Diet. She would later also write an extensive series of articles about immigrant settlers in Manitoba for the Toronto Globe.

After returning to Canada, she married Lee Flesher, and with her mother the couple moved to California. While Flesher attended medical school, MacGill and her mother ran two newspapers, The Searchlight and Society. With Flesher and their two sons, MacGill then moved to Minnesota and became the editor of a daily newspaper in St. Paul. She remained in Minnesota after her husband died in 1901, and campaigned for women's rights and penal reform. In 1902, she married James H. MacGill, with whom she had a daughter Elsie MacGill who would one day become the first qualified female aeronautical engineer in Canadian history. Soon after their marriage, the couple moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Helen established a legal practice and founded the Vancouver Women's Press Club and the University Women's Club.

The first woman judge in British Columbia, MacGill served on the British Columbia juvenile court from 1917 to 1929 and again from 1934 to 1945. She also served on the national level as a member of the Minimum Wage Board in 1918, and as chair of the Mother's Pension Board from 1920 to 1921. She helped found the Vancouver Women's Building, and remained active in welfare reform and women's rights issues throughout her life. Helen Gregory MacGill died in 1947, two years after she had retired from the bench.

suggested reading:

MacGill, E.G. My Mother the Judge. Reyerson, 1955.

Grant Eldridge , freelance writer, Pontiac, Michigan

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