Elizabeth ‘Elsie’ Muriel Gregory MacGill, Order of Canada (O.C.), was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1905 and was diagnosed with polio in her 20s.
Despite battling a range of challenges including health challenges throughout her career, Elsie accumulated a unique range of firsts. She was the first woman in Canada to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering (1927), the first women in North America to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering (1929), the first woman to design an aircraft, and the first to be accepted into the Engineering Institute of Canada (1938). Elsie also became the first woman to represent Canada and serve as a technical advisor on aircraft airworthiness with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Elsie’s accomplishments in the engineering field were mirrored by her work as a leader in the Women’s rights movement. She was appointed commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada in 1967 and was a major contributor to the Royal Commission between 1967 – 1970, as well as a champion for the rights of people with disabilities. In 1971, Elsie was awarded the O.C. for her lifelong achievements.
When Elsie died at 75, she was among the most respected women engineers and leader in the Women’s rights movement in Canada.