Trailblazers 01 – The Famous Five

The Famous Five (Canada)

The Famous FiveIs a woman a ‘person’? Apparently not before these five TRAILBLAZING women from Alberta, Canada banded together.

  • Emily Murphy – the first female judge in the British Empire
  • Irene Marryat Parlby – a farm women’s leader, activist and first female Cabinet minister in Alberta, Canada
  • Nellie Mooney McClung – a famous suffragist and member of the Alberta legislature
  • Louise Crummy McKinney – the first woman elected to any legislature in Canada or the British Empire (the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, Canada)
  • Henrietta Muir Edwards – a working women’s advocate and a founding member of the Victorian Order of Nurses

It seems outrageous now – but it’s thanks to these five women that women can now hold public office in Canada. In 1927 they came together to ask if the “word ‘Persons’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, included female persons?”

Why? They wanted to know if a women was a ‘person’ and could therefore hold public office.

And so it was in 1928 Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in the negative! In a UNANIMOUS decision the final line of the judgement read “Understood to mean ‘Are women eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada,’ the question is answered in the negative.”

These five women then championed what became known as “The Persons Case”. And thankfully this judgement was later overturned by the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council – which was a HUGE leap forward for women’s rights.

Interestingly this case also had a lasting impact on Canada’s constitution, leading to something called “The Living Tree Doctrine” which in essence says that a constitution is organic – and must adapt to the changing times. So, the Constitution now has to be read within the context of current society to ensure that it adapts and reflects changes.

The power of FRIENDSHIP: These five women were known both as The Famous Five and The Valiant Five. I wonder if alone, they would have succeeded? What we do know is that together they proved an unstoppable force and it’s thanks to them that we have women in public office and a constitution that will also reflect society – as we change and grow!

ACTION: And if you’re in Canada, next time you see the latest $50 bank note, check out the reverse and you’ll see the Famous Five commemorated along with Therese Casgrain another women’s right’s champion!

Thanks to Shelley Watson for the suggestion of these women as our inaugural “Trailblazing Women” feature!

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