Whitton, Charlotte (1896–1975)

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Whitton, Charlotte (1896–1975)

First female mayor of a major Canadian city . Born on March 8, 1896, in Renfrew, Ontario, Canada; died on January 25, 1975, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; daughter of John Edward Whitton (a civil servant) and Elizabeth (Langin) Whitton; Queen's University, M.A., 1917; lived with Margaret Grier, from 1918 to 1947.

Served in the social service sector, including as executive director of the Canadian Welfare Council (1926–41); was founder and editor of journal Canadian Welfare and author of numerous social service pamphlets; appointed, elected, then served as mayor of Ottawa (1951–56 and 1960–64); was columnist and essayist, with work published in Canadian newspapers; wrote A Hundred Years A-Fellin' (1943) and The Dawn of Ampler Life (1943).

Charlotte Whitton was born in Renfrew, Ontario, in 1896, the eldest of four children of Elizabeth Langin Whitton and John Edward Whitton, a forestry official for the province of Ontario. Entering Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, with scholarships in six subjects, Whitton had a remarkable academic career. She was active in sports, debate, and student government (she was the first woman to participate in the school's elected office); she also won university medals in English and history and was the first female editor of the university newspaper. Graduating with honors in 1917, she remained active in alumnae affairs and was a member of the university's board of trustees until 1940.

Whitton began her career in public service as assistant secretary of Canada's Social Service Council in Toronto, where one of her tasks was editorship of the organizational periodical Social Welfare. She rose to the position of private secretary to Canada's minister in Trade and Commerce from 1922 to 1925, leaving at the age of 29 for a position as executive director of the Canadian Welfare Council, which she held until 1941. This position allowed her to pursue her interest in social welfare, particularly that of children, and she represented Canada in numerous international conferences, including as a delegate to the interwar League of Nations Social Questions section.

Resigning her government posts in 1941, Whitton turned to the private sector, working as a consultant, lecturer, publicist, and author. During the 1940s, she authored several studies of Canadian social conditions, among them the extensive survey The Dawn of Ampler Life (1943), as well as more than 50 pamphlets, among them Canadian Women in the War Effort (1942), Security for Canadians (1942), and Welfare Must Be Planned and Paid For (1945). A prolific writer, she also contributed articles on welfare-related topics to national periodicals, including Maclean's and Saturday Night, and wrote a syndicated column. Among her consultancy posts was a stint with the Province of Alberta, for which she undertook a study of the provincial welfare system. Whitton was also requested by Conservative Parliamentary leader John Bracken to develop a proposal for social insurance and health insurance that would serve as the basis for that country's socialized medicine system. Whitton herself felt such social welfare too costly and inflexible.

With her decidedly feminist beliefs, Whitton was not dissuaded from her political ambitions by the fact that no woman had yet served as mayor of the city of Ottawa, Canada's capital. When she was elected to the Board of Control in 1950 with backing from Ottawa's two main newspapers and the Ottawa Council of Women, her high percentage of votes qualified her as deputy mayor of the city. As such, Whitton was appointed to the mayoral seat by the Ottawa city council after the untimely death of Mayor Grenville Goodwin in October 1951. She ran another vigorous campaign the following year and won, becoming the first woman elected to that position. She served as mayor until 1956, when she left city politics to consider a federal

position. In 1959, she ran for re-election as mayor of Ottawa, and after winning held that post until 1964.

The recipient of numerous tributes in appreciation for her lifelong career of public service, Whitton was honored as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1934, and received the Jubilee Medal in 1935 and the Coronation Medal two years later. She collected honorary degrees from numerous Canadian colleges, and a poll of women's page editors at newspapers throughout the country voted her "Woman of the Year" twice during the early 1950s. Whitton lived with Margaret Grier , whom she had met in college, until Grier's death in 1947. She remained active in political and community affairs in Ottawa up until her own death in 1975. While public pursuits occupied much of her time, Whitton enjoyed swimming and spent summers renovating a cottage at Perkins Mills, Quebec. A keen student of history, particularly of the reign of England's Queen Elizabeth I , she also inherited her father's interest in forestry. Her book A Hundred Years A-Fellin' (1943) is a history on lumbering in Ontario's Ottawa Valley.


Current Biography 1953. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1953.

Locher, Frances C., ed. Contemporary Authors. Vols. 89–92. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1980.

Pamela Shelton , freelance writer, Avon, Connecticut

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Whitton, Charlotte (1896–1975)

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