Rosemary Brown was born on June 17, 1930, in Kingston, Jamaica. She passed away on April 26, 2003, in Vancouver, BC. She was Canada’s first black female member of a Provincial Legislature and the first woman to run for leadership of a federal political party. She immigrated to Canada in 1951 to study for a Bachelor of Social Work at McGill University and a Master of Social Work at the University of British Columbia. As a student, Rosemary faced both sexism and racism when trying to fit into university life.
After graduation, Rosemary became involved in two social groups: The British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Voice of Women. These groups later helped shape her political mindset. Rosemary briefly worked with The Children’s Aid Society and as a counselor at Simon Fraser University. In the 1960s, Rosemary advocated against both racism and sexism, as roles of race and gender were challenging in Canadian politics. As a black woman in politics, she brought awareness to her role as an Ombudswoman and founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women Council (VSW).
In 1972, Rosemary entered provincial politics as a New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate. On August 30, 1972, she won her seat in the riding of Vancouver-Burrard, becoming the first black woman to sit in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. During her 14 years as a member of the Legislative Assembly, she created a committee to remove sexism in British Columbia educational material and played an important role in forming the Berger Commission on the Family. In 1975, she ran for leadership of the Federal NDP with the slogan “Brown is Beautiful,” breaking color barriers in the federal arena. In 1988, Rosemary Brown retired from the Provincial Legislature and then started to focus her attention on international advocacy. She served as CEO of the advocacy group MATCH International Women’s Fund for 3 years. Rosemary Brown was very passionate about her role and traveled overseas to give many speeches and gain support for projects in other countries to promote the political, economic, and social advancement of women in developing countries. In 1991, Rosemary helped found the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for gender equality across Canada.
Rosemary Brown received 15 honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, the Order of British Columbia (1995), the Order of Canada (Officer, 1996), and in 1973, the United Nations Human Rights Fellowship. Rosemary Brown dedicated her life to breaking down traditional barriers against women and black people in Canada. All her successes have been documented in her autobiography, “Being Brown: A Very Public Life.”