Rosemary Brown (née Wedderburn)
June 17, 1930 – April 26, 2003
Nationality: Jamaican and Canadian
Rosemary Wedderburn was born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in a middle-class neighborhood by her mother and grandmother after her father passed away. She lived a sheltered and relatively privileged life in a household primarily comprised of women. Jamaica is a predominantly Black country and thus her early life left her fairly unprepared for her initial experiences abroad.
At the age of 21, Wedderburn departed Jamaica to study at McGill University in Canada. Arriving in Montreal, she faced inhospitable immigration officials as well as housing and employment discrimination. White students declined to have her as a roommate so she was given a private dorm room. After graduating, Wedderburn married William Brown and the couple relocated to British Columbia.
Experiencing prejudice and being marginalized as a minority in Canada inspired Brown to work to eradicate racism. She began her career in public service by co-founding the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (BCAACP) with her husband. The organization focused on eliminating housing and employment discrimination against Black people. There was also a push to have the local parliament put human rights legislation on the books.
During the 1960s, Rosemary Brown achieved her second bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree in social work. She managed to balance furthering her education with being active in several social and political organizations. As a member of the Voice of Women, she helped to lobby for nuclear disarmament. Brown was also involved with the British Columbia Council of Black Women, the National Black Coalition of Canada, the Vancouver Children’s Aid Society, etc. While raising three children, Brown hosted a weekly television show and also worked as a counselor.
Rosemary Brown’s political life began in 1972 with a run for the British Columbia legislature. A Vancouver council with which Brown was involved had implemented a plan to elect more feminist women into government. With the council’s backing, she became the first Black woman elected to a Canadian parliament and only one of two Black people in parliament since the election of Mifflin Wistar Gibbs in 1866.
Brown would go on to represent the Vancouver-Burrard and later Barnaby-Edmonds districts until she left the legislature in 1986. During her time in office, Brown contributed to legislation aimed at eliminating sexism in educational materials and prohibiting gender and marital status discrimination. Her 1975 run for leadership of the New Democratic Party (NDP) was unsuccessful but made her the first woman to campaign for leadership of a national party.
After 14 years, Rosemary Brown retired from politics and become a professor of Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. In 1989, she became the CEO of a nonprofit that helped to fund projects led by feminists groups and published an autobiography entitled Being Brown: A Very Public Life. Brown received several honorary degrees and awards during her life and served as the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission for a period during the 1990s.
In 2003, Brown died of a heart attack at the age of 72 and was posthumously celebrated with a commemorative stamp and award in her name.
- Ito, Gail Arlene. 2019. “Rosemary Brown (1930-2003) • BlackPast.” BlackPast. August 20, 2019. https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/brown-rosemary-1930-2003/.
- “Rosemary Brown.” n.d. BC Black History Awareness Society. Accessed November 25, 2019. https://bcblackhistory.ca/rosemary-brown/.
- “Rosemary Brown.” 2010. Library and Archives Canada. September 16, 2010. https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/women/030001-1343-e.html.
- “Rosemary Brown.” 2019. Contemporary Black Biography. Encyclopedia.com. October 20, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/other-religious-beliefs-biographies/rosemary-brown.
- “Rosemary Brown (Politician).” 2019. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. September 1, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary_Brown_(politician).
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Thank you for this post. Today June 17th is Rosemary’s birthday and she would have been proud to have met the author of this great summation highlighting Her life. My dad attended McGill with Rosemary and shared stories. Excellent work. Proud of you for sharing our Canadian story.