They Pushed From Behind:

The Famous Five in Story and Song



famous five on parliament hill




After the performance of this show at the Library and Archives of Canada on Monday October 18, 2004...

Frances Wright, founder of the Famous Five Foundation, invited Ruth and Teresa to be her guests at the 25th Anniversary Governor General's Awards in Commermoration of the Person Case. After the ceremony, Frances presented a copy of their CD to Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor-General, and the six other women who, with Frances, received the Persons Award on October 21 at Rideau Hall.

In the words of the Governor-General, "That our society took so long to formally recognize the full humanity of women is sad and ridiculous; that the full participation and emancipation of all women, of all backgrounds, has yet to be achieved is a great national challenge."

This year's Governor Generals' Persons Awards recipients are: Allison Brewer, Iqualuit; Lea Cousineau, Montreal; Huberte Gautreau, New Brunswick; Bonnie Sherr Klein, British Columbia; Chi Nguyen, Ontario; Rosemary Speirs, Ontario; Frances Wright, Alberta.


The Show

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 women.

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 England.

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.

  Past Concerts:  
  Emily Murphy...
CUPE National Researchers (June 9)
Yarker Tea Room (June 27)
Winchester United Church (July 8)
Library and Archives Canada (August 22)
Trent University (September)
Algonquin College (November 1)
Ottawa Storytelling Festival (November)

The Famous Five show:
Library and Archives of Canada (October 18)

Governor General's Speech, (Rideau Hall, Thursday, October 21, 2004)




Contact Information:

Ruth Stewart-Verger e-mail to: