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Lady Elizabeth Louise Mary Monck, Viscountess Monck of Ballytrammon, viceregal consort of British North America from 1861 to 1867 and viceregal consort of the Dominion of Canada from 1867 to 1868 (born 1 March 1814; died 16 June 1892 in Charleville, Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland). Lady Monck was the first viceregal consort of the Dominion of Canada and the first to live at Rideau Hall.
Emily Murphy (née Ferguson, pen name Janey Canuck), writer, journalist, magistrate, political and legal reformer (born 14 March 1868 in Cookstown, ON; died 27 October 1933 in Edmonton, AB). Emily Murphy was the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. She was also one of the Famous Five behind the Persons Case, the successful campaign to have women declared persons in the eyes of British law. A self-described rebel, she was an outspoken feminist and suffragist and a controversial figure. Her views on immigration and eugenics have been criticized as racist and elitist. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1958 and an honorary senator in 2009.
Alberta’s “Famous Five” were petitioners in the groundbreaking Persons Case. The case was brought before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1927. It was decided in 1929 by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Canada’s highest appeals court at the time. The group was led by judge Emily Murphy. It also included Henrietta Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise 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 1880s and 1890s. They enjoyed a national — and in the case of McClung, an international — reputation among reformers.
Thelma Julia Chalifoux, Métis, senator, entrepreneur, activist (born 8 February 1929 in Calgary, AB; died 22 September 2017 in St. Albert, AB). Chalifoux was the first Métis woman appointed to the Senate of Canada. As a senator, she was concerned with a range of issues, including Métis housing, drug company relations with the federal government, and environmental legislation. An ardent advocate for women’s and Indigenous rights, Chalifoux was involved in organizations such as the Aboriginal Women’s Business Development Corporation and the Métis Women’s Council. She was also known for her work in the protection of Métis culture, having served in the Alberta Métis Senate and Michif Cultural and Métis Resource Institute (now Michif Cultural Connections).
Helen Gregory MacGill
Helen Gregory MacGill, judge, journalist, musician (born 7 January 1864 in Hamilton, Canada West; died 27 February 1947 in Chicago, Illinois). Helen Gregory MacGill was a pioneering journalist, feminist and judge. She was the first woman to graduate from Trinity College (now the University of Toronto), as well as the first woman judge in British Columbia, where she served on the juvenile court for 23 years. Her daughter, Elsie MacGill, became the world’s first female aeronautical engineer and aircraft designer.
Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (born 24 March 1890 in Proton Township, Grey County, ON; died 13 February 1954 in Toronto, ON). Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921–40) and was one of the first two women elected to the Ontario legislature (1943–45, 1948–51). She was also the first female member of a Canadian delegation to the League of Nations. Macphail was a founding member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the forerunner of the New Democratic Party). She was a noted pacifist and an advocate for prison reform. As a member of the Ontario legislature, she championed Ontario’s first equal pay legislation (1951).
The Persons Case (Edwards v. A.G. of Canada) was a constitutional ruling that established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate. The case was initiated by the Famous Five, a group of prominent women activists. In 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not “persons” according to the British North America Act (now called the Constitution Act, 1867). Therefore, they were ineligible for appointment to the Senate. However, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council reversed the Court’s decision on 18 October 1929. The Persons Case enabled women to work for change in both the House of Commons and the Senate. It also meant that women could no longer be denied rights based on a narrow interpretation of the law.
Emily Murphy's Famous Triumph
“I feel equal,” wrote Emily Murphy in 1927, “to high and splendid braveries.” By that point in her life, the 59-year-old native of Cookstown, Ontario, had earned the right to big ambitions: her achievements included turns as a successful writer (under the name “Janey Canuck”), social activist, self-taught legal expert and, as of 1916, the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. She was also a wife and mother.
Mary Irene Parlby (née Marryat), Alberta MLA (1921–35), women’s rights advocate, activist (born 9 January 1868 in London, UK; died 12 July 1965 in Red Deer, AB). Irene Parlby served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Alberta for 14 years. She was the first woman in Alberta, and the second in the British Empire, to be appointed to a cabinet position. One of the Famous Five appellants in the Persons Case, Parlby was a compelling advocate for women’s rights. Known as the “Women’s Minister,” her career in activism and legislation was dedicated to improving the lives of rural women and children, such as with Alberta’s Dower Act in 1917. She was also a delegate to the League of Nations in 1930. However, she has also been criticized for her views on eugenics and for her support of Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1966 and an honorary senator in 2009.
Irene Parlby and the United Farmers of Alberta
Most Canadians, if they have heard of Irene Parlby, know her as one of the “Famous Five.” This group of five Alberta women were plaintiffs in a court case that argued women were indeed persons under the British North America Act (now the Constitution Act, 1867) and thus entitled to be named to the Senate. It was a landmark case in the long struggle by women to achieve political and legal equality in Canada. But Parlby’s historical significance rests on much more than just the Persons Case.