Arts & Life
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MORE than 60 years after her death, an activist who made her name in the suffrage movement will be memorialized in Assiniboine Park as the latest inductee into the Winnipeg Realtors Citizens Hall of Fame.
Margret Benedictsson, originally Margret Jonsdottir, was born in Hrappsstadir, Iceland in 1866, but her greatest impact would come in the 1890s after she moved to Winnipeg and became an outspoken feminist and advocate for women’s suffrage.
"The reason we nominated her was that she was a woman ahead of her time," said Judy Bradley, a member of the Icelandic Canadian Frón who helped put Benedictsson’s name forward.
"She was a suffragist, a social activist, a journalist, and a pioneer, so the majority of the committee felt her impact and contribution to society in Winnipeg and the province merited her inclusion," said Cliff King, the hall of fame’s chairman.
Upon her arrival in Manitoba, Benedictsson became heavily involved in organizations such as the Icelandic Women’s Society, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, and later, the Icelandic Women’s Suffrage Society, of which she became founding president in 1908.
As she corresponded with women’s suffragists in the United States, Benedictsson and her husband Sigfus began printing a monthly magazine called Freyja, the Icelandic for ‘woman,’ and advocated for women’s suffrage within its pages.
After a divorce in 1910, Benedictsson moved to Washington, but returned to Manitoba to see through the historic 1916 decision that extended voting rights to some, but not all, women in the province (certain groups, like Status First Nations people, didn’t receive franchise rights until decades later.)
Benedictsson spent the remainder of her life in Washington state, where she died in 1956 at the age of 90.
Since it was started in 1986, the hall of fame has inducted 47 Manitobans, only 10 of whom are women, and only one of whom is a member of a visible minority. Earlier this year, Winnipeg Rabbi Kliel Rose spoke to the Free Press about the hall’s lack of diversity, and King said he and Rose met soon after.
King said the association has reached out to Indigenous organizations and other local groups to encourage the nomination of worthy Manitobans from communities with less representation. "We’re always reaching out and will continue to do that, because for us, diversity is important, and if the person from that group is deserving, they could very well be inducted," King said.
Normally, a bust of the inductee is unveiled in the fall, but owing to COVID-19 and construction at the park’s Diversity Garden, King said last year’s nominee as well as this year’s will be unveiled in 2021.
Benedictsson will share the spotlight with late media scholar Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase "The medium is the message" and is said to have predicted the existence of the internet, for those who are unfamiliar with his work.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
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