Mary Rowell Jackman: a feminist’s legacy

The most valuable asset Mary Rowell Jackman inherited from her parents was her unwavering commitment to social justice. Mary’s mother, Nellie Langford Rowell, worked with the YWCA throughout her life to support low-income and marginalized women and children.

Her father, Newton Rowell, was an M.P. and lawyer who argued and won Edwards v. Canada, better known as the Persons Case, which declared women ‘persons’ by law and entitled them to sit in the Canadian Senate. When a nine year-old Mary saw police arrest a group of suffragettes in 1913, she too dedicated her life to social justice.

Through volunteer work, community leadership, and philanthropy, Mary made invaluable contributions to many organizations, including the Met United Church’s nursery program for inner city kids, Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) and the Canadian Women’s Foundation. She also helped establish the Nellie Langford Rowell Women’s Studies Library at York University in honour of her mother, who had given Mary a copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own on her engagement in 1929.

When Mary passed away on July 11, 1994, her deep-rooted sense of social justice and responsibility persisted, and she established the Mary Rowell Jackman Fund at Toronto Foundation with a $2.6M bequest. Over the last 25 years, the fund has grown significantly and has granted more than the initial investment. Mary’s legacy lives on through continued support for the causes and people she cared about.

A feminist activist and long-time philanthropist, Mary’s daughter Nancy Ruth has fought for women’s equality throughout her life, including while serving as a Canadian Senator. As one of the first members of the Trust Collective, Nancy Ruth continues to support the Toronto Foundation and its work with women and girls.


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