Jessie Lang, alumna and activist, dies at 102
Arts grad of ’37 pushed boundaries for women
Jessie Hermione Lang [BA/37, BSW/63], a distinguished volunteer and role model to women, died on Mar. 2 in Winnipeg, her hometown for more than a century. Before marrying Stefan Hansen, Jessie Blackwood studied math at Wesley College (now University of Winnipeg)—one of the few women to do so in the 1930s.
Leadership came naturally; in her third year, she won a college debate, arguing against the resolution that “women are bored with emancipation.” Lang lived those words, showing resilience in times of hardship and grief.
In 1947, she survived a head-on train crash that killed 31 people in Dugald, Man. Just a few years later, Lang lost everything in the Red River Flood when water engulfed her Winnipeg home. And when she became a widow at 44, she returned to school, earning a social work degree from the University of Manitoba.
Lang—who remarried in 1970—raised two children on her own while working as a guidance counsellor. Any spare time was devoted to community service and advocacy.
In the 1960s, she belonged to an all-female investment club that helped women learn about stocks and bonds. She was a member of the U of M’s Alumni Association, vice-chair of the Board of Governors, and long-standing supporter of St. John’s College, which named her an “honorary fellow.”
In the 1970s, as the first female chair of Health Sciences Centre, Lang was instrumental in reorganizing its massive operations and creating an on-site daycare for children of female employees.
After her daughter Wendy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Lang became a major advocate of the MS Society, forming chapters, guiding its work, and raising money to find a cure. She received the U of M’s Distinguished Service Award and an honorary doctorate from the University of Winnipeg. In 2016, Lang won a Nellie Award named after suffragist Nellie McClung.