McWilliams began her career in public life when she arrived in Winnipeg at the age of thirty-five. A graduate in Political Science from the University of Toronto, she had a vision of women university graduates as "pilgrims of peace abroad and pilgrims of understanding at home." During her years in Winnipeg she became the first president of the Canadian Federation of University Women, wrote a number of books on history and politics, served as a city councillor during the Depression, and in 1943 chaired the subcommittee on Postwar Problems for Women for the federal government's committee on Reconstruction. For more than thirty years she held regular "current events" classes, providing education in politics for women.
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