Annie Gale was a British immigrant to Calgary in the early twentieth century who dove straight into community politics in order to make her city a better place to live, becoming a trailblazer for women in politics in the process. In a matter of only ten years she accomplished many important social and political changes for the city.
Hannah (Annie was a nickname) Rolinson was born in England on Dec. 29, 1876. Early on she showed a high level of intelligence by being one of the first women to take and pass an entrance examination to the prestigious Oxford University. Despite her results however women were not yet allowed to attend the school. She married William Gale in 1901, and had two boys. It was the couple’s decision to move to Canada in 1912 to join family that would bring opportunities for Annie that she perhaps never would have had if she had stayed in her native homeland.
Calgary in 1912 was still a fledgling town, still establishing itself in the West. Surprised and sometimes shocked by the inferior quality of life around her, Annie was moved to action in her community. Disgusted by the low quality of expensive produce that they would “only give to the cows in the Old Country”, she helped establish a Municipal Market for all the farm fresh vegetables being grown surrounding the city, as well as the Vacant Lots Garden Club in 1914 to encourage community gardens. As secretary of the free hospitals league, she also rallied for free hospitals after learning that livestock on farms received more medical attention than pregnant women.
Annie Gale’s most famous accomplishment was in 1917, one year after women had won the right to vote, when she was elected to Calgary’s City Council, the first woman in Canada to become an alderman. She was also the first woman in municipal politics anywhere in the British Empire. Speaking in 1919 about this accomplishment and what motivated her she replied it was, “the fighting spirit” engendered by these conditions remains with me to this day, and gives me the courage to dare to oppose a full Council of men when the occasion arises.” She served three terms as alderman.
Staying true to the issues that galvanized her, Annie created city-owned hospitals and reformed city prison conditions among other achievements. In 1921, Gale unsuccessfully tried for election to the provincial legislature, however she was elected a Public School Trustee in 1924. Gale moved to Vancouver, but even after such a short time in Calgary, Gale’s presence and accomplishments were held in high esteem, with fellow women’s rights activist Nellie McClung lamenting her departure, “Women haven’t an easy time in public life and Mrs. Gale has played her part courageously and intelligently. Mrs. Gale could always be depended upon to take a sane, forward, dependable view.” Gale remained in Vancouver for the rest of her life, passing away on August 7,1970.