Rosemary Brown was the first black woman to hold public office in Canada when there were very few women of any colour in positions of power.
After emigrating to Canada in 1951, she studied at McGill University and the University of British Columbia, initially pursuing a career in social worker.
She entered provincial politics in 1972, and was elected to the British Columbia legislature that year, becoming the first black woman in Canadian history to be a member of a Canadian parliamentary body. A busy mother of three as well as an active member of the New Democratic Party, she ran for leadership of the party in 1975, becoming the first black woman to run for the leadership of a Canadian federal party (and only the second woman ever). She finished a strong second out of five candidates in that year's leadership convention – her slogan was “Brown is beautiful”.
A determined feminist, Brown worked to promote equality, social justice and human rights. Her political campaigns included efforts to eliminate sexism in textbooks, increase female representation on boards and prohibit discrimination based on sex or marital status.
Brown served in the B.C. legislature until 1986, when she became a professor in women's studies at Simon Fraser University. From 1993 to 1996, she served as Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and over the years helped found half a dozen organizations for minority and women’s equality. But the cause closest to her heart was MATCH International, a development agency to promote women’s issues on a global basis; she was CEO for 3 years, then special ambassador, then president.
The pioneering feminist’s dedicated community service won her a multitude of honours, including honorary degrees from many universities and selection as an officer of the Order of Canada.