Mothers of Confederation
“My Diaries as Miss Bernard did not need such precautions [a lock] but then I was an insignificant young Spinster & what I might write did not matter. Now I am a Great Premier’s wife & Lady Macdonald & ‘Cabinet secrets and mysteries’ might drop or slip off unwittingly from the nib of my pen.”
— Lady Agnes Macdonald, 5 July 1867.
Written just days after Confederation, Lady Agnes’ first entry in her new, locked, diary is a gaze forward in history. Canada's first spouse of the Prime Minister later expresses, on 17 November 1867, that she writes with the expectation that someone will someday pick up on her words. Given her insight to the political goings-on of her day, she says, “that is rather an important consideration.”
It’s been nearly 150 years since Macdonald wrote; and still, her work remains on the outskirts of history. Volumes have been dedicated to the Fathers of Confederation, but what about their wives and daughters, valuable record-keepers and political players in their own right?
Official records of the 1864 Charlottetown and Québec Conferences, which paved the road to Confederation, are sparse. But historians have been able to flesh out the social and political dynamics at play in these conferences by consulting the letters and journals of the Mothers of Confederation. They not only provide a view into the experiences of privileged women of the era, but draw attention to the contributions those women made to the historic record and political landscape.Below are six of these women.