The Persons Case Revisited

The Persons Case Revisited

This October will mark the 90th Anniversary of the Persons Case in Canada. From the Canadian Encyclopedia comes this overview of the case:

Alberta’s Famous Five were petitioners in the groundbreaking Person’s Case brought before the Supreme Court in 1927, and later decided by the Judicial Council of Britain’s Privy Council (1929)m Canada’s highest court at the time.

Led by judge Emily Murphy, the group included Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Irene Parlby. Together, the five women had many years of active work in various campaigns for women’s rights, dating back to the 1880’s and ’90’s and they enjoyed national and, especially in the case of McClung, an international reputation among reformers.

At the time of their victory, the media dubbed the group the “Alberta Five” Over time, as the case took on a privileged position in Canadian history, the group became popularly known as the “Famous Five”. They have come to represent an entire generation’s political activism, including an earlier, nationwide campaign for women’s suffrage.

More recently, the case has attracted renewed controversy. Some see the Famous Five as a symbol of modernity, women’s rebellion and progress, and human rights. Still others have  criticized some members of the group as racist and elitist and see their accomplishments as tarnished by associations with the eugenics movement.

Reactions to the Famous Five have varied widely, but the significance of their contribution to the development of women’s rights in Canada was underscored in 2000 with the dedication of a bronze statue called “Women Are Persons!” by Edmonton artist Barbara Paterson in Ottawa and Calgary (1999).  The Famous Five Foundation was established in 1996.

                                   By Catherine Cavanaugh

In 2009 the Senate voted to make the Famous Five the first Honourary Senators in Canada.

Emily Murphy had many other accomplishments in her time: she was the first President of  the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada. This year we are marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of this national body, and review of the lifetime and achievements of Judge Emily Murphy seemed to me, as your Historian a suitable salute. She was not only the first President, but also was the  prime force behind the drafting of the first FWIC constitution

Among her other roles she served as the Vice President of the National Council of Women; as a Director of the Canadian Council of Child Welfare and Vice President of the Canadian Association of Child Protection. One role she had hoped to fill was that of the first Canadian woman to be named to the Senate, however that honour went to Cairine Wilson in 1930.

Emily Murphy passed away at age 65 in 1933.

Yours For Home and Country, Ruth Fenner, Provincial Historian, British Columbia Women’s Institute


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