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Allisonian Firsts: Muriel (McQueen) Fergusson

A virtual exhibition celebrating the bold Allisonians who became the "firsts" in their field.

Muriel (McQueen) Fergusson

First female senator from New Brunswick, 1953

First female Speaker of the Canadian Senate, 1972

Graduation portrait of Muriel McQueen Fergusson.

Muriel (McQueen) Fergusson, 1921

Mount Allison University Archives, Hilda McNutt fonds, 2003.04/1/28. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives.

Muriel McQueen was born in Shediac, New Brunswick, on 26 May 1899. She was the daughter of James McQueen, a barrister, and Julia (Jackson). She entered Mount Allison University during the First World War when many of her male peers were at the Front, which resulted in an unprecedented gender balance at the university. While in attendance, she was involved in clubs, sports, and starred in the university play. She also met her future husband, Aubrey Fergusson, on campus. He was a war veteran who shared in her ambition to study law. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in 1921.

Muriel had hoped to study law at Dalhousie University, but her mother did not approve. Instead, she apprenticed at her father's office for a year. Both she and Aubrey passed the bar examinations in 1924. The following year, she became the fourth woman admitted to the New Brunswick Bar.

She married Fergusson in 1926. The couple subsequently moved to Grand Falls, New Brunswick. Aubrey practiced law and sold insurance, while Muriel settled into a more traditional role. She became involved with the Girl Guides, the Red Cross and the Women’s Institute, and was a founding member of the Grand Falls Literary Club. When Aubrey's health started to deteriorate from injuries sustained during the war, Muriel gradually took over his practice as well as the insurance business. In 1935, she was appointed New Brunswick’s first female judge of a probate court, and by 1941 she had effectively inherited Aubrey’s positions as acting county court clerk, circuit court clerk, supreme court clerk, and crown prosecutor.

After Aubrey's death in 1942, Muriel moved to Saint John, New Brunswick, where she served as New Brunswick’s Regional Enforcement Counsel for the Wartime Prices and Trade Board for the remainder of the Second World War. Once the war was over, she was invited to serve on the New Brunswick Reconstruction Council.

In Saint John, Muriel became an active member of the local Women’s Council, the University Women’s Club, and the Business and Professional Women’s Club. She was a staunch advocate for pay equity and protection of women's and children's rights, and regularly gave lectures on these topics. She also fought for increased participation of women in politics. In 1946, she successfully petitioned for the right of all women in New Brunswick to vote in municipal elections, and soon after challenged the ban on women running for Fredericton City Council. In 1951, she became the first woman to run, and was elected by acclamation.

In 1953, Muriel McQueen Fergusson was appointed to the Senate of Canada, becoming the first female senator from New Brunswick. For over 20 years, Senator Fergusson rose again and again to question legislation that privileged men over women. In 1972, Pierre Elliott Trudeau appointed her to be the first female Speaker of the Senate. In 1974, she was sworn into the Privy Council. She retired in 1975, and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada the following year.

Muriel also had a continued association with Mount Allison. She was elected three times by the alumni to the Mount Allison University Board of Regents, and in 1954, she received an honorary degree at a special convocation to honour the centenary of the education of women at Mount Allison.

The Honourable Muriel McQueen Fergusson, P.C., O.C., Q.C. spent her life in tireless pursuit of social justice. She led the way for women everywhere, and her efforts have been recognized with numerous awards and honorary degrees. In recognition of her ardent and effective activism in improving the rights of women, the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Foundation and the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research were both named in her honour.

Muriel (McQueen) Fergusson died on 11 April 1997.


Image Gallery

Portrait of Muriel McQueen Fergusson

Muriel (McQueen) Fergusson, [ca. 1920]

Mount Allison University Archives, Hilda McNutt fonds, 2003.04/1/29. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives.

Muriel McQueen Fergusson standing speaking with four men at a celebration event.

Muriel (McQueen) Fergusson at Founder's Day reception, 1953

Mount Allison University Archives, Picture Collection, 2007.07/2416. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives.

Eight women in academic robes holding with honorary degrees.

Honorary degree recipients at the Centenary of Education for Women at Mount Allison University, 14 August 1954

Image includes, left to right (front row): Lady Henrietta Ball Banting, Vega Gronlund Dawson, Alma Weldon, Muriel Fergusson, and (back row): Margaret L. Hockin, Alice Harrison, Annie Louise Read, Elizabeth A. McLeod. Mount Allison University Archives, Picture Collection, 2007.07/2137. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives.