Are women persons? Today the question seems ridiculous, but before 1929 women were not fully recognized as persons under Canadian law. Five women changed that by challenging the government’s interpretation of the British North America Act of 1867. The Famous Five won their landmark case before the Privy Council of England on October 18, 1929. Canada is a different place because of them. Women in Canada have more opportunities because of them. Here are some suggestions for how you can honour and celebrate these brave women on Persons Day (October 18 annually) and a little more info about who they were and what they did.
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Related: If you find yourself in Calgary, check out Studio Bell, the Canadian National Music Centre. It is amazing!
Celebrating Canada’s Famous Five and Persons Day
- Get out and vote! Women activists worked to get the right to vote. Exercise your rights.
- Visit the Famous Five monument by Edmonton sculptor Barbara Paterson in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza.
- Visit the Famous 5 Centre of Canadian Women at Heritage Park in Calgary, Canada.
- Run for public office, be a judge or anything else you want. Women have that right because they are persons under law.
- Invite some friends over and host a pink tea. It all began with Emily Murphy inviting 4 female friends over for tea at your home.
- In 2019, for the 90th anniversary, meet at the Famous 5 Monument for a special celebration put on by the Famous 5 foundation.
- Attend a Persons Day Pink tea at Heritage Park on October 19, 2019.
How to Have a Pink Tea
Traditionally, women got together for tea as a social outing – to celebrate the birth of babies and on other occasions. Canadian suffragists called their meetings Pink Teas and they talked about womens’ rights while they sipped and snacked. We’re still working on equal rights in Canada for all people. If you host a pink tea, just make sure you have some great tea. Here’s my favourite kind of tea.
What was the Persons Case?
By 1929, women had the right to vote, but they didn’t have the right to sit in the senate, because the British North America Act said only “qualified persons” could be senators. The Canadian government interpreted “qualified persons” to mean men. Why did this matter? The issue of women not being classified as persons was coming up in other areas. The first female judge in Canada, Emily Murphy, who was also one of the Famous Five, had a lawyer question her right to be a judge based on the fact that she wasn’t a person under Canadian law.
Who Were the Famous Five in Canada?
The Famous Five came about after female activists promoted the idea of making Emily Murphy Canada’s first female senator and were flatly denied. Canadian law stated that five people could petition the Supreme Court of Canada to interpret a point of law in the British North America Act. In August 1927, Emily Murphy invited four other prominent female activists to come to her Edmonton home – Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards. Together they signed the petition asking the Supreme Court to interpret the law. They lost the case with the supreme court and appealed to the highest court in the land – the Privy Council of England. On October 18, 1929, it was decided that women were persons in Canada.
Persons Day – Why it Matters
The struggle for equality continues, but Persons Day is an important day in the history of the nation. Women are persons – in case you ever thought otherwise.