Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Women Are Persons! in Ottawa

Does the word 'Persons' include female persons? This was the questions posed by five Canadian women in 1927 and again in 1928, in a petition to the Canada Supreme Court, with the goal of having women appointed to the Senate. Well, recognised as "persons" first within the Canadian Constitution, then to represent their constituents in Parliament.

These five women became known as The Famous Five, or even The Valiant Five, and really led the way in Canada, and indeed the former British Empire, for women's rights and recognition.

I came across their statues at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on my visit last year, and have since read up a little about their plight, and backgrounds.

The 5 included Emily Murphy, who was the first female judge in the British Empire, being appointed Magistrate in the Edmonton Juvenile Court. Nellie McClung was a teacher, a social worker, and elected onto the Alberta legislature. Irene Parlby was the second woman in Canada to hold a ministry position, and also had worked with the Red Cross during World War I.

Louise McKinney was the first women elected onto the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, which was also the first woman in Canada and the British Empire. Henrietta Edwards was an advocate for working women, served with the Red Cross also, and working within property law to protect women and children and their rights.

Eventually, in 1929, the Court decided that yes, in fact, women were "Persons", and the decision became known as the 'Persons Case'.

Four months after the ruling, the first women was appointed to the Senate, although this was none of the five that led the campaigning.

The work of these five women, regardless of their personal views on other matters which seems to be a focus in the reading I have done about them, clearly paved a path for women's rights in Canada and the Commonwealth. And their personalities seem to be captured in this lasting monument to their role.

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