Forming Her Activism


Even as a child, Ann Brennan would take the initiative to organize whatever resources might be needed to resolve a problem or seize an opportunity to create productive change. She was "the one who always led the circle"—founding her high school newspaper, for instance. Part of the generation born before or during World War II, Ann and her cohort knew enough of the war to be affected for the rest of their lives, striving not to return to that time and place, by becoming "a peace activist or a social activist."

Ann's parents were greatly affected by the war; although her father spoke little of his experience, he had served overseas and was highly influential in Ann's life, bestowing on her a bestowing on her a belief in magic and the affirmation that she could do anything she wanted. Ann did in fact become politically active and vocal on a wide range of social issues, from the early 1960s right through to the late 1990s. Social activism was robust in Canada in the early 1960s, focussing in particular on the environmental and women's movements. But however well-informed Ann could become on the central issues affecting her region and her country, she realized quickly that there were few opportunities for her ideas to be heard, let alone seriously discussed.

Moving to Johnville early in her married life, Ann accompanied her politically active husband to local meetings in order to understand how politics worked. While working for the Liberal Party as a volunteer, she made the discovery that "there were absolutely no women involved":

Even though women had the vote, they did not serve on any of the executives and they certainly did not run for elections! I thought, "This isn't right, women should be involved," and I took it upon myself to get active in politics.

By 1970, Ann had grown weary of doing all the administrative work while her husband got the credit. With the party's provincial leadership convention looming, she hatched a strategic plan to become a delegate:

As my husband's phantom secretary, I wrote myself a letter and sent it to the public meeting requesting that I and a female friend be put on the delegate list. They read it at the public meeting and said we could be delegates—we had the right, but we didn't ask for it, we didn't demand it; that was how things were done. It wouldn't have been socially acceptable to demand our right to be delegates—this was 1970, for heaven's sake! I just knew that it was time for women to take their place.

Another source of irritation was the complete lack of regard shown to her as a voter by the political candidates who came to seek her husband's counsel—"As if I didn't exist! I was just cooking their meal. That was the sixties and seventies. It really infuriated me."

Adding to Ann's experience of unfair societal attitudes towards women were two other factors: the refusal of the Catholic Church to sanction birth control measures, which she met with in both her doctor and her priest; and the reinforcement of less visible forms of control over women exercised through patriarchy, however supportive a husband might be in private, which was the case with Ann's husband.

Those are the things that make you become a social activist, particularly when you're young and other people are controlling your whole life and you have no say in it. I was probably one of the first women of my generation in this rural community to say, enough!

So Ann not only took charge of her own reproductive rights, but assumed a more critical consciousness in regard to social and economic issues in general. At that time, she was unaware that others in New Brunswick were also pioneering for change in the restrictive social norms for women:

We didn't even realize that we were on the cutting edge of change. I didn't realize it until I went back to university much later and started to read the history books. I was just living it, doing what I felt was the right thing to do. Mind you, I was reading a lot and listening to what was going on. Sometime in the early seventies I gave a talk to the Rotary Club on women's liberation.

Ann's political career with the national Liberal Party took most of her energies from the late sixties up until about 1987.

The one common thread that runs through my activities is the advancement of human rights, whether it be inspiring more women to get involved in the political process or helping to ensure that democratic principles were followed in the Ukraine election.