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Canada's "Famous Five"

This year for international women’s month, we have been reflecting on all of the amazing women we have in our lives. From loving mothers and grandmothers, to grade school teachers that had a lasting impact, its hard to imagine life without these women in our lives.

As we head into an election year here in Canada, we find ourselves considering the women who have come before us and paved the way for the lives we have today. We are drawn to Canada’s “Famous Five,” a group of women who truly inspired Canadian politics and helped alter the course of our country’s history. Also known as “The Valiant Five” these five women created a petition to bring the following question to the Supreme Court of Canada, “Does the word ‘persons’ in section 24 of the British North America Act 1867 (BNA) include female persons?” Although today this question seems borderline ridiculous, in 1929 this was a serious debate that needed to take place in Canada’s judicial system, as women continued to fight for political equality in this country. Although women had the right to vote in most provinces and in federal elections, this question had important ramifications for our country. Fighting to have women legally considered persons, would allow them to hold important legislative positions, such as that of a Senator, thereby having a lasting impact on political and legislative decisions across the country. Although originally unanimously voted against in the case Edwards v. Canada, this decision was eventually overturned, giving women in this country the legal claim to being a person.

Following this massive victory, these five women went on to continue influencing Canadian politics in a variety of ways:

  1. Emily Murphy, British Empire’s first female Judge;
  2. Irene Marryat Parlby, First female Cabinet Minister in Alberta;
  3. Nellie Mooney McClung, Author and member of the Alberta Legislature;
  4. Louise Crummy McKinney, First woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta (or any legislature in Canada or the British Empire);
  5. Henrietta Muir Edwards, Author and founding member of the Victorian Order of Nurses.

These five women truly led the way for those of us that followed and we honour their courage and willingness to challenge the status quo to bring about something better for the rest of us. Thank you.

At the end of the day, we recognize how blessed we are to be surrounded by such strong examples of what it means to be a woman. Each standing for their own version of what it means to them, whether they are working professionals, stay-at-home moms, students, or children, just starting to figure it out; we are so grateful for the many women in our lives that push us to strive for better. We hope we can live up to the examples all around us, the ones that swell up from our past to remind us what was fought for; the ones that we share moments with everyday as we continue to love and accept one another as we are, where we are; and finally the ones that will come after us, those that we pave the way for everyday. These are the ones that will look back on our time and hopefully see the sacrifices we made to help them have a better future, as other women did before us.

So as you go about your day, we hope you will join us in taking a moment to pause and reflect on the women in your lives, whether they be past, present, or future (any babies on the way?!) and the impact they have had, or are currently having. We hope you can join us in honouring those who have blessed our lives today. And we hope that as the women of today, we will continue to push for better, for women at home and throughout the world, so that their tomorrow will be better because of our today.

Information on the Edwards v. Canada case sourced from:

"Reference Re Meaning of the Word "Persons" in s. 24 of British North America Act." Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada. Report (1928) SCR 276. "https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/9029/index.do

Other information sourced from: "The Famous Five (Canada)," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Famous_Five_(Canada)

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