Florence Bird

Florence Bird

Historical Trailblazers

Florence Bird was a Canadian broadcaster, journalist and senator who is best remembered for her work on women’s rights, pay equity and improving the circumstances in women’s prisons.

Born in 1908 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ms. Bird immigrated to Canada in 1931, settling in Montreal were she wrote for a political magazine, Canadian Forum. In 1937, she moved to Winnipeg and developed her journalistic skills by volunteering for the Winnipeg Tribune during the Second World War where she wrote a column on Canadian women’s contributions to the war effort called, Holding the Home Front. She became known to the public by her pen name, Anne Francis.

In 1941, she hosted Behind the Headlines, a provincially owned radio station program. She worked as a news commentator for CBC English from 1942 to 1966 and produced documentaries on women’s rights, pay equity, reconciling work and family life, conditions in Canadian women’s prisons, and international affairs.

She is best remembered as Chair of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (1967 to 1970) – the first time that a woman chaired a royal commission. The Commission’s findings raised the consciousness of Canadians regarding gender inequality and discrimination faced by women. As a result, Canada introduced parental leave, the availability of birth control and reproductive choice, and increased educational opportunities for women. When the report was tabled, there were no women’s shelters in Canada; however, in the following years, shelters opened across the country. Also, during this period, only one woman held a seat in the House of Commons.

Following the Commission, Ms. Bird became a news broadcaster for CBC/Radio-Canada producing documentaries on women’s work circumstances and conditions in women’s prisons. In 1974, she published, Anne Francis: An Autobiography. Her other publications included, The Rights of Women, Language: Bridge or Barrier, The Return of France to North America, and Holiday in the Woods.

Ms. Bird served as a Senator from 1978 until 1983 when she was appointed to the Advisory Council on the Status of Refugees.

In recognition of her contributions, she was made Companion of the Order of Canada in 1971 and was named a recipient of the Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case in 1983.  Also, every year since 1987, the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton University has presented the Florence Bird Lecture.

In 1996, the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development in Montréal established the Florence Bird Award to honour women working in communications who increase public awareness of women’s rights. In 1999, Status of Women Canada opened the Florence Bird Memorial Library in Ottawa. It houses one of Canada’s most complete collections of resource materials on women and gender equality, including over 20,000 monographs and other publications on women’s issues, as well as government documents, international publications, and independently produced reports and surveys.

Canada’s women are indebted to Florence Bird for her leadership and outstanding advocacy for women’s rights as a journalist, politician and as Chair of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women.


Biography written by Kerry Smith


Canada, W., 2021. Statement by Minister Monsef on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the tabling in Parliament of the Report by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. [online] Newswire.ca. Available at: <https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/statement-by-minister-monsef-on-the-occasion-of-the-50th-anniversary-of-the-tabling-in-parliament-of-the-report-by-the-royal-commission-on-the-status-of-women-in-canada-838684796.html> [Accessed 31 January 2021].

Francis, Anne. 1966. The Return of France to North America. Canadian Institute of International Affairs, 27 pages. https://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Return_of_France_to_North_America.html?id=A4GgwgEACAAJ&redir_esc=y [Accessed 8 February 2021].

Morris, C., 2021. Florence Bird | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Available at: <https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/florence-bird> [Accessed 31 January 2021].