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Article

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.

Editorial

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.

Article

Irene Parlby

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.

timeline event

First Ukrainian Canadian Woman Appointed to Senate

Martha Palamarek Bielish (born 20 October 1915; died 18 May 2010) of Smoky Lake, Alberta, became the first woman of Ukrainian background to be appointed to the Senate. A former farmer and school trustee and an advocate for women’s rights, Palamarek Bielish was also the first female senator from Alberta. She was appointed 50 years after the Famous Five from that province won the right for women to be recognized as “persons.” (See Persons Case.)

Article

Henrietta Muir Edwards

Henrietta Louise Edwards (née Muir), women’s rights activist, reformer, artist (born 18 December 1849 in Montreal, Canada East; died 9 November 1931 in Fort Macleod, AB). Henrietta Edwards fought from a young age for women’s rights and education, as well as women’s work and health. She helped establish many movements, societies and organizations aimed at improving the lives of women, and was instrumental in passing Alberta’s Dower Act in 1917. 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. However, her views on immigration and eugenics have been criticized as racist and elitist. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1962 and an honorary senator in 2009.

Article

Barbara Paterson

Barbara A. Paterson, CM, sculptor (born in Edmonton, AB). Barbara Paterson is a sculptor who works with wax, stone, bronze and steel. Her works often depict women and historical figures. She is perhaps best known for Women are Persons!, a bronze monument to the Persons Case that depicts the Famous Five. There are two copies of the monument, one located on Parliament Hill and the other in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza. Paterson was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2021.

Article

Persons Case (Plain-Language Summary)

The Persons Case was a constitutional ruling. It established the right of women to serve in the Senate. The case was started by the Famous Five. They were a group of women activists. In 1928, they objected to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that women were not “persons.” As such, they were not allowed to serve in the Senate. The Famous Five challenged the law. In 1929, the decision was reversed. As a result, women were legally recognized as “persons.” They could no longer be denied rights based on a narrow reading of the law.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Persons Case. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see the full-length entry.)

Article

Louise McKinney

Louise McKinney (née Crummy), Alberta MLA (1917–21), women’s rights activist, lay preacher (born 22 September 1868 in Frankville, ON; died 10 July 1931 in Claresholm, AB). Louise McKinney was the first woman elected to a legislature in Canada and in the British Empire. She was a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and a devout Methodist and prohibitionist. She was a pioneer suffragist and one of the Famous Five behind the Persons Case, the successful campaign to have women declared persons in the eyes of British law. She was also instrumental in passing Alberta’s Dower Act in 1917. However, her views on immigration and eugenics have been criticized as racist and elitist. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1939 and an honorary senator in 2009.