DONALD, LOUISA ANNE (Thomson), social reformer; baptized 27 Feb. 1844 in Huntly, Scotland, daughter of William Donald and Anne Milne; m. 20 Oct. 1870 Robert Thomson (d. 1914), a ship broker, and they had two sons, one of whom died in infancy, and two daughters; d. 25 May 1915 in Saint John.
A schoolmaster turned Presbyterian minister, Louisa Donald’s father moved his family to Saint John in 1849 and Louisa was educated there. In 1870 she married one of the city’s prominent businessmen and was thus freed from many of the domestic responsibilities that might have limited her activity in the public sphere. Like other leading citizens, she became deeply involved in the local reform movement. “There were few ladies in St. John,” an obituary would note, “who took greater interest in the public welfare.” Thomson gave her time and support “for the benefit of almost every movement for the betterment of local conditions or for the relief of the unfortunate.”
Thomson was involved in many of Saint John’s most important philanthropic organizations, as a director of the Victorian Order of Nurses, a board member of the Home for Aged Females, a member of the ladies’ committee of the Saint John Protestant Orphan Asylum, a director of the Associated Charities of Saint John, an officer in the Red Cross Society, and a member of the Saint John Anti-Tuberculosis Association. She was also active in more clearly political women’s groups, becoming a member of the Women’s Enfranchisement Association [see Emma Sophia Skinner] and vice-president of the Women’s Canadian Club. An associate member of the Natural History Society of New Brunswick as well, Thomson also took an active role in St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church.
It was as head of the Saint John Local Council of Women that Thomson was most able to influence the development of charitable and reform activities in the city. Having served as treasurer of the council from 1895, she became president in January 1898 and held the office until January 1901. In the first year of her leadership the Local Council approached the city’s Common Council, offering a donation of $200 toward the purchase of a patrol wagon; the Common Council declined the grant, however. The Local Council also endorsed a petition drafted by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union requesting that the Municipal Council of the city and county of Saint John appoint a jail matron. During Thomson’s second year in office, in 1899, the council helped found and guarantee the first year’s funding for the local Victorian Order of Nurses and established the Associated Charities of Saint John, the umbrella organization for charitable groups and agencies throughout the city. In the same year, it developed a relief and self-help program for Doukhobor families who landed in Saint John, for which it would receive a special commendation from the National Council of Women of Canada in 1902. Following a devastating fire in Saint John in 1899, the Local Council established a clothing distribution centre and secured a $500 grant from the Common Council to assist in the work. During Thomson’s third term, the council persuaded the city to purchase lands adjacent to the reservoir to prevent further contamination of the Saint John water supply and lobbied for action to curb spitting on city streets and in public buildings. Their efforts resulted in a dollar fine for unsavoury expectorators and prompted the mayor to remark that the Local Council had done much to help the city improve its morals and manners. Yet despite the achievements, the Local Council faced opposition, and from an organization which was associated with it and in which Thomson herself was a member, the Women’s Enfranchisement Association. The WEA saw the council, with its lukewarm attitude towards women’s suffrage, as a bastion of conservatism and it was to disaffiliate itself in 1902.
In 1902 Thomson succeeded Lady Taylor [Vallance*] as president of the National Council of Women and she served in this capacity until 1906 when she began an eight-year tenure as vice-president. She was a delegate to the National Council of Women of the United States in 1903 and to the International Council of Women the following year. As president, Thomson was concerned with the management of the central office, financial development, the affiliation of new organizations, and attendance at council meetings. The issues that the council focused on included immigration, health, organized playgrounds [see Mabel Phoebe Peters], and the shortage of domestic servants.
Louisa Thomson died of heart disease in 1915, aged 71.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Geneal. Soc. (Salt Lake City, Utah), International geneal. index. Fitzpatrick’s Funeral Home (Saint John), Burial records (mfm. at PANB, MC 1409). N.B. Museum, Rowan, Jennie, cb doc, Jennie Rowan, “History of 50 years, Saint John Council of Women” (typescript, 1944); Reg. of marriages for the city and county of Saint John, book G (1863–71): 867 (mfm. at PANB). Evening Times and Star (Saint John), 26 May 1915. Saint John Globe, 26 May 1915. St. John Daily Sun (Saint John), 25 Jan. 1899, 27 Jan. 1900, 9 Feb. 1901. R. P. Campbell, Challenging years, 1894–1979: 85 years of the Council of Women in Saint John ([Saint John, 1981?]). M. E. Clarke, “The Saint John Women’s Enfranchisement Association, 1894–1919”