Louise McKinney was the first woman elected in Canada and the British Empire and the first to be elected by both men and women.
She ran as a Non-Partisan League (NPL) candidate in the first election in which Canadian—or British—women could run for office or vote (1917), a provincial election in Alberta. She ran for the Non-Partisan League because she believed liquor and brewing companies influenced the major political parties through their donations. She won a seat in the election, as did Nursing Sister Roberta MacAdams, but because she was sworn into the Alberta Legislature before Sister MacAdams, Louise has the distinction of being the first!
Louise organized twenty Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) chapters in the West, serving as president of the Alberta and Saskatchewan Union for twenty years. Under her guidance the WCTU made its influence strongly felt in the political and social growth and development of Alberta. The WCTU stood not merely for temperance but also for promoting a Christian lifestyle. Many social reform movements had the support of the WCTU, which played a major part in obtaining equal franchise for women in 1916. Social service and immigrant work were also important areas of focus for the organization. However, Louise McKinney's focus was on the temperance movement. She believed in the educational value of prohibition campaigns and was active in promoting her views on the negative effects of alcohol and smoking. She had a major role in the successful provincial campaign of 1915 to ban alcohol, which made Alberta the second province to adopt prohibition.
Louise McKinney was also very interested in politics; but often questioned partisan politics. The power of liquor contributions to political party funds was an issue that she took a stand on by not belonging to either of the two major political parties. When the Non-Partisan League was established in Alberta she gave it her enthusiastic support. She was persuaded to stand as League candidate in Claresholm in the 1917 provincial election and to her own surprise was elected. She became the first female legislator in the British Empire.
She also became known very quickly as one of the most capable debaters in the Assembly when bills were introduced and debated. She was interested in legislation to aid people with disabilities, and consistently pressured the government until prohibition laws were made more effective. But her major project was the improvement of the legal status of widows and especially separated wives. With the help of Henrietta Muir Edwards a bill was drafted which she introduced and which was passed to become the Dower Act, one of Alberta's most progressive laws. A strong proponent of women's rights, she urged the adoption of social welfare measures for immigrants and widows.
Louise was a delegate to the final Methodist General Conference in 1925. She attended the first General Council of the United Church of Canada and signed the Basis of Union as one of the Commissioners—the only woman from Western Canada to do so and one of four women. Back then, the Temperance Union's members were powerful activists who took on taboo issues such as family violence.
Louise McKinney was defeated in her second election in 1926, and subsequently retired from active politics. In 1929, she was one of the five women of Alberta who carried the appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which finally established the status of women as “persons” under the British North America Act of 1867, and as such eligible to sit in the Canadian Senate. In recognition of that work, Louise was made a World Vice-President of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.
On January 23, 1930, the Calgary Women’s Canadian Club held a victory lunch in the Crystal Ballroom of the Palliser Hotel for the Famous Five. When it was Louise’s turn to speak, as noted in the Alberta, she called on women, “to dream big and act honourably.”
The women's organizations of Alberta raised a fund to honour this nation builder by having her portrait painted by J. Forster, of Toronto. Sittings were interrupted by her death, but the portrait was completed from photographs and now hangs in the Legislative Buildings in Edmonton.
Many paid tribute to Louise McKinney on her death in 1931. Tributes came from men and women in public life all over Canada, and from WCTU leaders from many different countries who dropped hundreds of white ribbons into her coffin. Nellie McClung said of her: "Mrs. McKinney was a great lover of people and because she loved them she could not look with complacency on any of life's evils."
Louise died at Claresholm, the home of her legislative seat, on July 10, 1931, aged 63. Her gravestone reads only "Mother."