Ross, Katherine (Queen), socialist and feminist; b. 14 Feb. 1885 in Black Isle, Scotland, daughter of William Ross; m. 25 June 1908 John Queen* in Winnipeg, and they had three daughters and two sons; d. there 10 Sept. 1934.
Shortly after Katherine Ross’s birth, her parents relocated to Inverness, where she grew up. During her late teens she moved to Glasgow; there she made what would be a lifelong commitment to the labour movement. After joining labour and socialist circles in the city, she met her future husband, John Queen, a cooper.
Few details about their early years together survive. John travelled to Canada in 1906. Apparently impressed by the abundance of jobs in Winnipeg, he decided to settle there; he found work as a cooper for the Prairie City Oil Company. In 1907, at age 22, Katherine followed him to western Canada, and the couple married the following year. She soon became a moving force in the Social Democratic Party of Canada, which espoused a moderate, reform-oriented socialism. Under its banner her husband would be a successful candidate for alderman in the civic election of 1916. As he entered politics (he would later serve as mla and mayor), Katherine also set out to make her mark on her adopted city. During World War I she joined the Winnipeg branch of the Women’s Labor League, headed by Helen Armstrong [Jury*], and she fought for a minimum-wage law for women. Like such progressive Winnipeggers as Armstrong, Frederick John Dixon, and Francis Marion Beynon*, she opposed conscription. While she no doubt shared their general disdain for militarism, she had also experienced significant personal loss because of the war. As she explained in August 1917 to an audience of women assembled to support conscription, three of her brothers had been killed at the front and a fourth had entered military service, while “the men who make war” – meaning most politicians, industrialists, and other businessmen – “had not suffered.”
Concluding that social inequities were responsible for the hardships experienced by many working people, Katherine would be described in the Winnipeg Free Press as “a firm believer in the necessity of the cooperative commonwealth” and as having taken “a strenuous part in the fight” to achieve it after the war. She became a key organizer and president of the Labour Women of Greater Winnipeg. According to journalist Lillian Gibbons, one of this group’s goals was “to raise money for campaign expenses and to help the men [who ran for socialist and labour parties] at election time.” Though she assisted in coordinating bazaars, teas, and whist drives and she sold labour buttons and dollar bonds, she was a strong-minded individual who was not content to serve as an aide to men. As president of the Labour Women she pushed for the establishment of birth-control clinics and campaigned for a provincial program of medical insurance, government-run health facilities, and “equal opportunities and rewards for men and women.”
Apparently Katherine did not find her socialist convictions incompatible with eugenics. Although social and economic restructuring was important, the creation of positive change also involved ensuring that certain individuals did not reproduce. Thus, the Labour Women pressed for laws that would require men and women to undergo examinations and receive certificates of good health before they could marry and have children. To guarantee that persons with undesirable traits did not pass them on to future generations, under her presidency the organization supported the forced sterilization of those considered unfit.
When she was not preoccupied with the Labour Women, Katherine helped to set up young people’s groups to assist participants in articulating their concerns, and she taught at a labour Sunday school in Brooklands (Winnipeg) from just after the Winnipeg General Strike [see Mike Sokolowiski*] in June 1919 until the late 1920s or early 1930s. She was instrumental in starting a mothers’ allowance auxiliary, which aimed at helping poor women, particularly widows, obtain the allowances to which they were entitled. During the early years of the Great Depression she was part of a prairiewide effort to develop a political movement for “common people.” In an endeavour to launch this movement, she represented the Winnipeg–West End for the Independent Labor Party at a Calgary conference attended by farmer, labour, and socialist parties in 1932. Her change in political allegiance no doubt reflected that of her husband, who had become leader of the party in 1923. Like other delegates, she called for “the socialization of economic life in the country.”
Though the extent and range of Katherine Queen’s attempts to promote social justice throughout the early 20th century are impressive, they are particularly so in light of the fact that a heart condition hampered her from time to time. On 10 Sept. 1934 she collapsed, fell down a flight of stairs, and was taken to hospital, where she died of heart failure. As she had wished, a red flag was draped over her coffin.
City of Winnipeg, Arch. and records control branch, Vert. files, John Queen. Man., Dept. of Tourism, Culture, Heritage, Sport and Consumer Protection, Vital statistics agency (Winnipeg), no.1934-036124; Legislative Library (Winnipeg), Biog. scrapbooks, B9: 201. Univ. of Man. Libraries, Dept. of Arch. and Special Coll. (Winnipeg), mss 24, Personality file, John Queen. Lillian Gibbons, “Mrs. Queen finds labor her dominating interest,” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 Oct. 1932. Winnipeg Free Press, 11 Sept. 1934. Winnipeg Tribune, 10 Sept. 1934. J. M. Bumsted, Dictionary of Manitoba biography (Winnipeg, 1999). “Katherine Queen,” in Brookside Cemetery: a celebration of life (2v. to date, Winnipeg, 2003– ), 2: 69. Linda Kealey, Enlisting women for the cause: women, labour, and the left in Canada, 1890–1920 (Toronto, 1998). [George Siamandas], “John Queen, Winnipeg’s forgotten mayor,” in Brookside Cemetery: a celebration of life, 1: 71–72.