In the months that followed Confederation three baby girls were
born. In England, Irene was born to the wealthy Marryat family.
Irene was a privileged member of the British aristocracy in India,
and then went to school in Germany. In Cookstown, Ontario, Emily
was born to the well known Ferguson family. She grew up in a household
where the likes of John A MacDonald came to dinner. Emily, called
“Sunshine” by most of Cookstown, was aloud to run free with her
brothers, to study with the boys’ private tutors, and to listen
to her father’s friends debating politics!. In Frankville, Ontario,
Louise was born the seventh child of ten in the Crummy family.
Louise was a farm girl in a strict Methodist family. She wanted
to be a doctor, but settled for teaching.
The year these three were born, Henrietta Muir, of the wealthy
Montreal Muirs, was already 19 years old, and a recognized artist.
She had grown up in wealthy and artistic urban circles. When Henrietta
was 25 she used the money from the sale of her paintings to establish
a residence and reading room for young working women in Montreal.
As Henrietta gave birth to this forerunner of the YWCA, little Nellie
was born, the youngest of 6 to the Mooney family in Chatsworth Ontario.
When Nellie was eight, her family emigrated west in search of a
better farm and a better life on a Manitoba homestead.
The early lives of these five women could not have been more different.
Yet they were all a part of the winds of change that were sweeping
the land. They were destined to become persons of note.
Emily would become the driving force behind the Famous Five.
By 1914 all five lived in Alberta. By the 1920’s they had worked
together often, and respected each other’s strength.
Emily Murphy’s authority as a Police Magistrate in Edmonton was
challenged by lawyers and petty court officials because she was
“not a person”. For 12 years the personhood issue
was discussed, debated, and argued by women’s groups, political
circles, and lawyers.
When Emily discovered a clause in the Supreme Court act which would
allow Five people directly affected by a point of constitution to
petition the government for a clarification and a ruling on that
point of constitution, Emily enlisted the help of four formidable
The Famous Five from Alberta brought forward a petition to the
Prime Minister and the Federal Department of Justice, demanding
a ruling on the issue: Were women persons, and therefore eligible
to sit in the Supreme Court of Canada?
The Supreme Court of Canada declared that indeed, women were NOT
persons! This disappointed the Alberta Five, but did not dishearten
them, for Emily had a Plan B. The Five appealed to the HIGHEST COURT
IN THE LAND: The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in London
On October 18, 1929, the Lord Chancellor of England declared that
the women of Canada were PERSONS, and as such, eligible to sit in
the Canadian Senate.
That was only 75 years ago!!
Come listen to the whole story October 18, 2004. At the auditorium
of the Library and Archives of Canada 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa.