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Banner: Changing Women, Changing History: Canadian Women Activists


October 18, 1999 marked the 70th anniversary of the "Persons Case", a very significant affair in the history of women's rights in Canada. In 1927, the "Famous Five", Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise Crummy McKinney, petitioned for a Supreme Court of Canada interpretation on whether the term "qualified persons" in section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, included women as persons eligible for appointment to the Senate. After the Court ruled that the term did not include female persons, the petitioners requested that an appeal be sent to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England. On October 18, 1929, the Committee overturned the decision of the Supreme Court and ruled that "qualified persons" in section 24 did include women and that women were "eligible to be summoned to and become members of the Senate of Canada" (Dominion Law Reports [1930] 1 DLR).

In honour of this anniversary, Library and Archives Canada has prepared biographies of the "Famous Five", together with other women activists who have worked to improve various aspects of the lives of all Canadian women: working conditions, health care, child care, marital rights, political rights and representation, educational and professional opportunities, etc. As politicians, journalists, doctors, union organizers, founders and members of numerous women's and other social organizations, these women have followed diverse paths. However, they share, throughout their long and active lives, a dedication to achieving equality and justice and a commitment to helping others, be they women, men or children, both inside and outside Canada.

Doris Anderson Journalist, women's rights activist
Elizabeth Bagshaw Medical director of the first birth control clinic in Canada
Florence Bird Broadcaster, journalist, senator
June Callwood Journalist, social activist
Marie Thérèse (Forget) Casgrain Politician, women's rights activist
Muriel Duckworth Social and community activist
Henrietta Muir Edwards Journalist, women's rights activist
Laure Gaudreault Teacher, unionist
Jeannette Vivian Corbiere Lavell Native women's rights activist
Kay Livingstone Social activist, radio host
Ellizabeth May Environmental Activist
Nellie Letitia (Mooney) McClung Suffragist, politician
Louise Crummy McKinney Politician, women's rights activist
Emily Ferguson Murphy Social activist, author
Madeleine Parent Union activist, reformer
Irene Marryat Parlby Politician, farm women's leader
Léa Roback Union organizer, social activist