Peggy Prowse wanted to build a better world

Peggy Prowse

Peggy Prowse was 16 when she met Lady Nancy Astor, who became the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons.

The meeting stuck with young Prowse, not only for being in the company of this distinguished aristocrat who was then Lady Mayoress of Plymouth, England, but also for receiving her high-school certificate and being honoured for achieving the highest history marks ever earned at her school.

More than 70 years later, Prowse recalled that her interest in politics began at an early age. “I was brought up in a family keenly aware of, though not active in, political life,” she says.

She readily acknowledges that she never dreamed some day in the future, political and social issues in another country would play an important role in her life.

She grew up in Britain. When she graduated from high school, the Second World War was still raging. Air raids and bomb shelters were part of daily life.

“[One] night we lost our family home and were bombed out again the next night while I was staying at a friend’s house,”  she chuckles. “But there were no tears—we just had a cup of tea.”

In 1948, she married her husband Gerry and life transformed.

“He was a boat and yacht builder and initially we had decided to immigrate to New Zealand,” Prowse says. “When this didn’t happen, we made the decision to move to Nova Scotia where his skills were in demand. Our first child David was only three and a half when, in 1953, the two of us joined my husband who was already living in Halifax. Two years later, our second son Chris completed our family.”

As she immersed herself in Canadian life, she gravitated to the New Democratic Party and suddenly, politics became a big part of her life.

The party set up an office in her basement and she became a provincial secretary in 1963, and the first woman to run for the party in a Nova Scotian election. She lost in that election and stood again in 1967. In those years, the languished with single-digit support in the polls and didn’t hold a single seat.

Undiscouraged, she kept working for progressive policies, becoming the second woman to be elected as a national vice-president of the federal NDP. She was also a member of the NDP’s women’s council and frequently worked to make the party better represent all members.

In 1971, Chatelaine magazine profiled Prowse, naming her one of 105 potential women MPs.

She never made that jump, yet remained a force for change. In letters published in countless newspapers, she championed countless causes, standing up for the economically downtrodden, taking on issues like substandard housing.

Now in her 90s, she fondly recalls those campaigns, and her work that future generations have picked up, even if they don’t recall her name.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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