Wade MacLauchlan reports in his biography of Alex B. Campbell that January 1, 1975 – 40 years ago next week – was the first occasion that women were permitted to attend the lieutenant-governor’s levee, and only grudgingly at that:
One of the most visible changes came on January 1, 1975. The United Nations’ International Women’s Year was ushered in on PEI with women participating in the traditional lieutenant-governor’s levee at Government House for the first time. This came about in a way that was typical of many of the breakthroughs made by women during the period. Lieutenant-Governor Gordon Bennett had only been in office a few weeks, and had initially indicated in response to media queries that there would be no change in the format of the levee for 1975, meaning that it would be “men only.” The justification offered was that “the mechanics of Government House and the limited time for the reception” made it impossible to accommodate women, although the possibility was left open that something could be worked out in the future.
Two days later, Lieutenant-Governor Bennett issued a statement signalling that women would be permitted to attend the levee and protesting that women had never been barred from Government House, declaring “While I intend to preserve many of the well-established traditions of this office, I will not hesitate to introduce changes and adopt practices more applicable to contemporary society as time and circumstances permit.” Cabinet minister Catherine Callbeck was one of a group of twenty-five women who joined almost one thousand men at Government House on January 1. Gaining admission to the levee was symbolic. Women had been attending the premier’s New Year’s levee throughout Alex Campbell’s time in office, continuing a practice begun in the later years of Walter Shaw’s premiership.
While I don’t think celebrating this fact is in order – should we really be celebrating the fact that in my lifetime such an indefensible, sexist policy was still in place – it is an anniversary worthy of marking.
Everyone – actually everyone – is welcome at every levee that’s on my annual Charlottetown Area Levee Schedule and I encourage you to all attend on January 1, 2015.