The "Famous Five"
In 1927 Emily Murphy and four other prominent Canadian women – Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards – asked the Supreme Court of Canada to answer the question: does the word "person" in Section 24 of the B.N.A. Act include female persons? After five weeks of debate and argument, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that the word "person" did not include women.
The five women, who came to be known as The Famous Five, were shocked by the Supreme Court decision but did not give up the fight. They took their case to London, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain, which in those days was Canada's highest court of appeal.
Henrietta Muir Edwards
The Privy Council decides
On October 18, 1929, Lord Sankey, Lord Chancellor of the Privy Council, announced the decision of the five lords:
"The exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours. And to those who would ask why the word "person" should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not?"
The Famous Five not only won the right for women to serve in the Senate but helped pave the way for women to participate equally in – and contribute equally to – all other aspects of life in Canada.
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