Canadian women declared “persons” 84 years ago today

by | Oct 18, 2013 | News

By Kerrisa Wilson

It was only eighty-four years ago that Canadian women were legally deemed to be ‘persons’.

Today is ‘Persons Day,’ which commemorates a big step forward in equality for women that began with the Canadian Senate.

“It is unbelievable that just decades ago only men were included in the definition of the word ‘persons’ by law,” said Governor General of Canada David Johnston in a news release.

“Despite many challenges, on October 18, 1929, the women now known as the Famous Five made history by successfully claiming the right for all Canadian women to sit in the Senate.   In so doing, Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir paved the way for all women, from that day forward, to actively participate in public and political life, and struck a major victory for our entire nation,” said Johnston.

“What, after all, is the purpose of a woman’s life? The purpose of a woman’s life is just the same as
the purpose of a man’s life: that she may make the best possible contribution
to the generation in which she is living.” – Louise Mckinney

Photo courtesy Kerrisa Wilson. The Famous Five Statue in Ottawa. Eighty-four years ago women were declared persons.

Photo courtesy Kerrisa Wilson. The Famous Five Statue in Ottawa. Eighty-four years ago women were declared ‘persons.’

In 1927, the Famous Five petitioned the government about the meaning of the word ‘persons’ and asked the Supreme Court of Canada to examine the word.

The following year the Supreme Court ruled that women are not included in the definition of ‘persons’.  The Famous Five appealed the decision to Canada’s highest appeal court at the time, the Judicial Committee of England’s Privy Council.

On this date, eighty-four years ago, the lords on the judicial committee came to a consensus that the word ‘persons’ did indeed include the female gender.

“Canada continues to recognize the Famous Five’s achievement by awarding five women the Governor General Awards,” said the Honourable Dr. K. Kellie Leitch, the Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women to Humber News.

“October 18 is now celebrated as Persons Day,” said Leitch. “It’s actually celebrated at the end of the month by recognizing five distinct women from across the country in memoriam of the five women that drove forward Persons Day to define persons so that women would actually be in a position to have the right to vote.”

Humber Journalism professor and author Joy Crysdale said she doesn’t know why more people don’t know about this historical day but it is important for Canadians to reflect and celebrate this achievement.

“I think we need to recognize those women and the guts and the courage that they had to go up against the political establishment at the time to fight for women’s rights,” said Crysdale.

Not only is today a celebration for the rights of equality for Canadian women but a beginning of new opportunities for women as well, said Leitch.

“I’m delighted in addition to Persons Day today . . . the Prime Minister has been successful in passing a Canada European trade agreement and a great opportunity for young women entrepreneurs to go out and expand their businesses because of this historic agreement,” said Leitch.

After the Persons Case the fight for women’s equality is still not over as there is more that needs to be achieved, said Crysdale.

“There are many people that think that women’s rights have been won and we don’t need to think about that anymore; I think those people are wrong.

Yes some victories have been won, there’s been many wonderful changes but there is still a long way to go for us to all to be equal.”