The Famous 5: Members of NCWC
The Famous 5 are five women, truly pioneers, who in Alberta in the early part of the 20th century shaped the future of the lives of all Canadian women to come. Because of their efforts, on October 18, 1929, the Privy Council declared in the famous “Person’s Case of 1929” that women were persons and thus eligible to hold any appointed or elected office.
Three of these women were born in Ontario, one in Montreal, and one in England. They all came from the upper-middle class, were well educated and were committed to social change and women’s suffrage. They were social activists who felt it was their responsibility to make needed changes.
Unfortunately, very little of our history is taught in our schools and until now only law students have learned about The Famous 5 and the Person’s Case. Yet, MacLean’s Magazine chose to place The Famous 5 women and the Person’s Case among the twenty-five events that shaped our country in the past century.
These women worked long and hard to better the lives of women and children. The plea for equal pay for women started in 1915. While that legal goal was reached in 1999, there remains a lot of work to do.
Until 1999, the bronze plaque in the lobby of the Senate in Ottawa was the only major public recognition of The Famous 5. The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Club erected it in 1938.
The Famous 5
To read about each member of the Famous 5, please click on the following links:
Emily Ferguson Murphy (1868-1933) also view Library and Archives Canada
Henrietta Muir Edwards (1849-1931) also view Library and Archives Canada
Irene Marryat Parlby (1868-1965) also view Library and Archives Canada
Louise Crummy McKinney (1868-1931) also view Library and Archives Canada
Nellie Letitia (Mooney) McClung (1873-1951) also view Library and Archives Canada
Before 1929 Canadian women were considered by law to be “non-persons.” Five governments stated that women were ineligible to the Senate because they were not “persons.” In fact, British Common Law stated they were “persons in the matter of pains and penalties, but not in the matter of rights and privileges.“
A group of Alberta women who became known as the Famous Five worked together to try to improve conditions for women and change the interpretation of the Canadian Constitution to ensure women could participate in all aspects of public life. In 1927, the Famous Five appealed to the Canadian Government. When the Canadian court rejected their fifth appeal on 1928, the Famous Five persuaded Prime Minister MacKenzie King to ask the Canadian Supreme Court to clarify the word “persons” under the British North America Act of 1867. The Government of Canada appealed to the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council in the United Kingdom, then the highest court of appeal for Canadians. There, the Famous Five won their case and on October 18, 1929, when the Privy Council brought down its landmark decision, declaring women to be persons. Thus, Canadian women were legally declared “persons” and eligible for appointment to the Senate. ”
Emily Ferguson Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Marryat Parlby, Louise Crummy McKinney and Nellie Letitia (Mooney) McClung, known as “The Famous 5, brought the case through the courts. All five women were members of the NCWC. The Famous Five dedicated their lives to improving their communities in innumerable ways. Emily Murphy was Vice President of the NCWC and Henrietta Muir Edwards was Convenor of Laws for 35 years.
In October 1996, the Famous 5 Foundation (F5F) of Calgary undertook the task of bringing the achievements and accomplishments of The Famous 5 to the attention of Canadians through a variety of venues such as luncheons, an education guide, a national tour of The Famous 5 Exhibit, a Rising Stars Youth Program for girls, the publication of a postage stamp (issued in September 1999 as part of the millennium stamp collection), and the inclusion of women on Canadian paper currency.
Also included in these goals was to create a monument to The Famous 5 by raising $1 million, commissioning the artist, determining the location of the statues, and making arrangements for their installation. F5F President, Frances Wright, sought out five prominent individual Canadian women willing to donate $200,000 each to fund The Famous 5 monument created by Edmonton artist, Barbara Paterson, and cast by Bronzart Casting Ltd. Frances and her foundation were successful in their efforts.
Donations of $ 200,000 each were received from:
· Ann McCaig and daughters Roxanne and Jane (Calgary),
· Dr. Maria Eriksen (Calgary) and sister-in-law Ayala Manolson (Toronto),
· Kiki Delaney (Toronto),
· Senator Vivienne Poy, sister-in-law to Governor General Adrienne Clarkson (Ottawa), and
· Heather Reisman (Toronto).
Persons Monument: The monument was erected in Olympic Plaza, downtown Calgary, Alberta, and was unveiled by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson on October 18th, 1999 the 70th anniversary of the “Person’s Case.” The following year, on October 18th, 2000, a duplicate of this sculpture was unveiled on Parliament Hill, Ottawa.
Note: The following information has been graciously provided by Marjorie McKinney of Windsor, Ontario, based on talks given by her to the Women’s University Club of Windsor and the Local Council of Women of Windsor. Mrs. McKinney is a granddaughter-in-law of Louise McKinney, one of The Famous 5.
Marjorie McKinney wishes to acknowledge and express her thanks to Nancy Millar who wrote the book entitled “The Famous 5 Emily Murphy and the Case of the Missing Persons,” published by The Western Heritage Centre, P.O. Box 1477, Cochrane, Alberta T0L 0W0. ISBN 0-9685962-0-7. Mrs. McKinney used much of the information found in this book in preparing her own talks.
Beverly A. Brush
Intégrité Group Inc.