Law: The "Persons" Case

Image of Nellie McClung
Nellie McClung
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Image of Henrietta Muir Edwards
Henrietta
Muir Edwards
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Image of Irene Parlby
Irene Parlby
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Image of Louise 
McKinney
Louise McKinney
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Image of Emily Murphy
Emily Murphy
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One of the most famous cases in Canadian legal history--the Persons Case--was brought by five Alberta women--Emily Murphy (Herstory 1974), Nellie McClung (Herstory 1974), Irene Parlby (Herstory 1975), Henrietta Muir Edwards (Herstory 1976), and Louise McKinney (Herstory 1981).

They asked the Supreme Court of Canada to declare that women were persons under the meaning of the British North America Act and therefore eligible to be appointed to the Senate. Unfortunately, the judges did not believe that women were persons under the Act.

As Mary Ellen Smith (Herstory 1974) said: "The iron dropped into the souls of women in Canada when we heard that it took a man to decree that his mother was not a person."

After consultation, and with the full backing of the government of Alberta, the five appealed to the British Privy Council, then Canada's highest court of appeal. On October 18, 1929, the Privy Council declared that women are indeed persons. Today, we celebrate "Person's Day" and since 1979, several women each year are awarded person's day medals.


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