Irene Kelleher was the first native woman in British Columbia to be granted a teaching certificate. After her first application to work in Abbotsford was rejected, a decision she attributed to her heritage and gender, Kelleher began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse near Terrace, B.C. She eventually obtained a job at North Poplar Elementary and was made principal during the Second World War. Kelleher retired after 44 years of teaching but maintained her commitment to education by providing generous bursaries and scholarships.
Margaret (Hutchinson) Weir is credited as the first female farmworker to wear pants. The strong-willed woman felt her brother’s overalls were much more suited for field work. After getting married, Weir began journaling the day-to-day events of the community and the effects of war. She remained dedicated to the preservation of local history and was instrumental in the development of the MSA Museum. Weir went on to receive the B.C. Museums Association award of merit before passing away in 2007 at the age of 100, just weeks after celebrating the opening of a local exhibition based on her collection of photographs, stories and memories.
Christine Lamb was the first woman elected to Matsqui council, serving three terms. Her last campaign in 1987 focused on long-term planning, major traffic arteries, recreational facilities and the official community plan. Lamb also dedicated most of her free time to volunteer work and improving the quality of life for residents. She was volunteer director of Abbotsford Community Foundation for nine years, director of the MSA Hospital Board for nine years, and continues to be active in several non-profit organizations such as the MSA Museum Society, Abbotsford Genealogical Society and Probus Club of Abbotsford.
These three pioneers are among 100 local women being honoured as part of International Women’s Day on March 8, which acknowledges the economic, political and social achievements of women worldwide. The Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley (WRSFV) is partnering with Business and Professional Women, Valley Women’s Network, and Abbotsford/Mission Soroptimists to mark the centennial event with a celebration on March 11 called 100 Years, 100 Local Inspiring Women.
The honourees have made contributions to the community in various ways, either through teaching, business, community volunteerism, social services, law, poetry, music or art. Their stories will be displayed at The Reach Gallery Museum following the event.
“These are women who have paved the way for us,” said WRSFV executive director Pamela Willis. “We tried to find stories reflective of women who have lived and continue to live in Abbotsford and Mission.”
International Women’s Day dates back to the early 1900s, though it didn’t become official until 1911. Women’s oppression and inequality sparked great unrest and critical debate that eventually led to active campaigning for change. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter work hours, better pay and voting rights. A year later, the first National Women’s Day was observed across the United States.
The feminist movement spread across Europe as well. Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland honoured the first International Women’s Day on March 19, 1911.
Less than a week later, a major fire in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants.
The tragedy drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation, which became the focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events around the world.
While circumstances have noticeably improved, Willis said there’s still a long way to go. In many nations, women still don’t have the right to vote, the ability to own land or equal access to education. They’re also not paid equally, and are under-represented in upper management and government.
“Women make a huge contribution to the well-being of their communities,” said Willis. “This day is not about putting men down at all, but recognizing that women still aren’t equal locally or globally.”
The 100 Years, 100 Local Inspiring Women celebration includes a multicultural dinner and live entertainment featuring the University of the Fraser Valley Giddha dance team, fusion fiddler Kytami, and an Egyptian cabaret belly dance troupe called Tha Fae.
Social activist and educator Satwinder Bains, director of the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at UFV, will be the keynote speaker.
Proceeds from ticket sales and a silent auction will benefit several international development projects that work to improve the safety and well-being of women and girls.
The event takes place at Sports Legacy Centre at the Abbotford Exhibition Fairgrounds, located at 4-3270 Trethewey St. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
For tickets or more information, call the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley at 604-820-8455.