As the first woman in the Commonwealth to serve as a Speaker of an assembly, Nancy Hodges made an enormous contribution to the representation of women in politics. However, it was only one chapter in a long political and professional career in which she served as a tireless advocate for and champion of women’s rights.
The appointment of Sarah Annie “Nancy” Hodges as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in 1950 was a pivotal step for women in politics; Hodges became the first woman in the Commonwealth to hold the Speakership. During her time as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and of the Senate of Canada, Hodges was a trailblazer for the representation of women in politics and a champion of women’s rights.
Born in London, United Kingdom, in 1888, Hodges studied at King’s College at the University of London and immigrated with her husband to Canada in 1912. They eventually settled in Victoria, British Columbia where Hodges became the editor of women’s content for The Victoria Daily Times, a position she continued to hold throughout her political career.
Hodges first entered politics when she ran to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in the 1937 provincial general election – the first woman in the province to seek election as a Liberal Party candidate. Although she was unsuccessful in that election, she continued to be a tireless advocate for women’s rights and women in politics. At different times, she was president of the National Federation of Liberal Women of Canada, the Victoria’s Women’s Canadian Club and the Victoria Business and Professional Women’s Club.
In the 1941 provincial general election, Hodges was elected as a Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly for Victoria City. The 1941 provincial general election resulted in a Liberal Party minority government and, against the opinion of Premier T.D. Patullo, Hodges supported a coalition with the Members of the Conservative Party. In response to the Premier’s criticism of coalitionists, Hodges stated that “coalition won’t kill any party that hasn’t germs of decay in it already.” Ultimately, the coalitionists prevailed, and Liberal Party Member John Hart became Premier, governing until 1947.
During her time as a Member – Hodges held the seat until 1953 – she continued to be a dedicated advocate for women’s rights. She opposed the practice of laying-off single women to replace them with WWII veterans and threatened to campaign for pensions for women at the age of 40 if the practice was not stopped. Hodges also championed the inclusion of women in workers’ compensation benefits, and moved a motion in the Legislative Assembly for the protection of married women’s property rights.
She was appointed Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1950 and held the position until the dissolution of the coalitionists’ government in 1952. Hodges was described as a skillful orator with a resounding voice ideal for keeping Members in line. She stated the only drawback of being Speaker was being silenced – “I shan’t be able to take part in any debates. And I’ll doubtless find it hard to restrain myself at times.”
Following the loss of her seat in 1953, Hodges became the first woman from British Columbia to be appointed to the Senate of Canada. Speaking to the Vancouver Sun, Hodges said, “I feel the appointment is a tribute to the women of British Columbia rather than any personal honour to me.” As a Senator, she served on ground-breaking joint Senate and House of Commons committees which studied the death penalty and divorce laws.
Hodges served in the Senate until 1965, retiring in Victoria, British Columbia at the age of 76. She passed away in 1969. Nancy Hodges is remembered as a leader in the fight for increased representation of women in politics, and for her quick wit and skills as a debater.