Sunday, April 28, 2013

Women Are Persons!

April 28, 2013

This memorial is called 'Women Are Persons!' The photographs of its plaques will explain what it's about and who the women are. I call it, 'The Tea Party.' Briefly, the five women depicted; Henriette Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby; were instrumental in having it made official that women are persons. To me this really reflects extremely badly on society in general in Canada in the 1920s that it was necessary to get this officially legislated.

Women are Persons!

The 'Persons' Case of 1929 is a celebrated landmark victory in the struggle of Canadian women for equality. For years, groups had repeatedly requested that a woman be appointed to the Senate, often naming Judge Emily Murphy as their candidate. Howvere, five successive federal governments maintained that women were ineligible to serve in the Senate on the basis that they were not "qualified psrsons" according to Section 24 of the British North America Act of 1867.

In 1927, Judge Murphy invited four Alberta leaders - Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung and Irene Parlby - to join her an petition the Government for an interpretation of the word "persons" in Section 24. In 1928, the Supreme Court ruled that, according to the British North America Act, women were not qualified for the Senate. The famous 5 then persuaded the Prime Minister to appeal the decision to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain, the final court of appeal for Canada until 1949.

On October 18, 1929, the Privy Council reversed the Supreme Court decision:  ". . . their Lordships have come to the conclusion that the word "persons" in s. 24 includes members both of the male and femail sex, and that therefore, the question propounded by the Governor General should be answered in the affirmative, and that women are eligible to be summoned to and become members of the Senate of Canada . . ." In the decision, the Chancellor of the Privy Council, Lord Sankey, compared the British North America Act to "a living tree capable of growth and expansion". He added that "the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours, but it must be remembered that the necessity of the times often forced on man customs which in later years were not necessary."

Thereafter, women were eligible for appointment to the Senate. Although none fo the Famous 5 became senators, these determined nation builders achieved a victory of great symbolic importance, and their many contributions paved the way for women to participate in other spects of public life.

The newspaper with the headline "Women are Persons" that Nellie McClung is holding reflects some of the actual headlines of newspapers of the day.