MacAdams (Price), Roberta

Roberta Catherine MacAdams (Price), dietician, educator, army lieutenant, politician (b at Sarnia, Ont 21 July 1881; d at Calgary, Alta 16 December 1959). Roberta MacAdams, along with Louise MCKINNEY, was one of the first women elected to a legislature in the British Empire. MacAdams also became the first woman to introduce and successfully move a piece of legislation.

MacAdams came from a political family. Her father, Robert MacAdams, was active in Sarnia's Conservative Party riding association and was the owner and editor of the Sarnia Canadian, a newspaper that promoted Conservative views.

In 1909, MacAdams entered the domestic science program at the Macdonald Institute at what is now the UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH. In 1911, at the invitation of her brother William (publisher of the Edmonton Daily Capital newspaper), MacAdams moved to Alberta. In February 1912 she accepted a position as a domestic science instructor with the Alberta government. She travelled the province, teaching home economics and meeting with rural women to discuss their needs. MacAdams learned that many women settlers were isolated and lonely. She wrote a report that led to government funding for the Alberta Women's Institutes, a rural women's support network.

World War I would change MacAdams's career plans. In 1916, after her brother and nephew joined the army, she enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She was given the rank of lieutenant and assigned to work as a dietician at the Ontario Military Hospital in Orpington, England, overseeing the production of over 6000 meals a day for patients and staff.

While MacAdams was adjusting to life in a military hospital overseas, in Alberta two pieces of legislation were passed that would profoundly affect her life. In 1916, the "Alberta Equal Suffrage Act" extended the vote to the women of Alberta. In 1917, the "Alberta Military Representation Act" was also passed. It separated the 38 000 Alberta soldiers and 75 military nurses overseas into a separate constituency with two representatives of their own.

The province-wide vote was held in June 1917. During that election, temperance campaigner Louise McKinney was chosen as the country's (and British Empire's) first female representative. The Alberta soldiers' and nurses' vote was held overseas a few months after the province-wide poll. On 18 September, Robert Pearson and Roberta MacAdams were elected as "representatives at large for Alberta" for the soldiers overseas.

During her term in the legislature, MacAdams became the first woman in the British Empire to introduce and successfully move a piece of legislation, the "Act to Incorporate the Great War Next-of-Kin Association." It gave legal recognition to an important veteran's organization and reflected MacAdams's commitment to soldiers and their dependents.

After her first legislative session, MacAdams returned to Britain, where she joined the staff of the KHAKI UNIVERSITY, a university extension program for soldiers. After the war, MacAdams chaperoned British war brides to Canada. She was later appointed to the Alberta Soldier Settlement Board with responsibility for the needs of these women, many of whom found themselves homesteading on inhospitable farmland. MacAdams's work in the legislature led to the establishment of a teacher training school in Edmonton.

MacAdams decided not to run in the 1921 election, leading some to believe that she did not wish to align herself with a particular political party since there were no seats for "soldier's representatives" after the war. War weariness may have also played a role in her decision. She may have also been influenced by her marriage to Alberta lawyer Harvey Price and subsequent desire to start a family. But whatever the reason for her departure, Roberta MacAdams undoubtedly left behind a political, educational, social, and military legacy that Canadians continue to benefit from today.

See alsoWOMEN'S SUFFRAGE.