The Roaring 20s: The Person’s Case
Having made a strong contribution to victory in the war,
women had won the right to vote and hold public office
But they would have to go all the way to Britain to demand
legal recognition as “persons”
The Roaring 20s: Suffragists
Canada’s women joined their
counterparts in Britain, and elsewhere,
in the struggle for their rights
protests to draw attention to existing
inequalities were sometimes met with
violent reprisals by the male
The Roaring 20s: Emily Murphy
in 1916, the City of Edmonton
appointed Emily Murphy as
Judge of the Juvenile Court
within a year, the province of
Alberta would make her a
provincial magistrate
Murphy was the first female
judge in Canada
The Roaring 20s: the challenge
her first day in court was
eventful because a male
lawyer challenged the
legality of Murphy’s
appointment, claiming that
only a “qualified person”
could preside on the bench
British law considered only
men to be persons; women
were not even mentioned
The Roaring 20s: the counter challenge
Canada’s constitution (the
BNA Act) stated that
Canadian senators must be
“qualified persons”
So women could not be
in 1921, the Montreal
Women’s Club asked Prime
Minister Borden to appoint
Emily Murphy to the nation’s
The Roaring 20s: discrimination
many people though that Emily Murphy would make an
excellent Senator
– she worked for poor people, new immigrants,
Aboriginal Canadians, children, and her fellow women
Prime Minister Borden thought otherwise
he claimed it was impossible for him to appoint a female
to the Senate
women’s groups believed Borden’s
decision was discriminatory
The Roaring 20s: the Persons Case
by 1927, Emily Murphy
had had enough of the
government and its
condescending attitude
toward women
• she teamed up with Nellie McClung,
Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, Henrietta
Muir Edwards to fight the “Persons Case”
in the courts
The Roaring 20s: Alberta’s “Famous Five”
“As persons
interested in
the admission
of women to
the Senate…”
“Does the word
include female
The Roaring 20s: a new era
the government won round one when the Supreme Court
ruled women were not persons, basing its decision on
social conditions at the time of Confederation in 1867
however, by 1927, a new century had dawned and times
were now markedly different
The Roaring 20s: victory
the women appealed their
case all the way to the Judicial
Committee of the Privy Council
in England, the final court of
appeal for all members of the
British Empire
The Privy Council ruled on
October 18, 1929, that women
were indeed ‘persons’ and that
“the exclusion of women from
all public offices is a relic of
days more barbarous than ours”
the Alberta Five had triumphed but Emily Murphy never did
become a Senator
in 1930 Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King appointed
another Liberal, Cairine Wilson from Montreal, as the first
female representative to the Canadian Senate
some people believed the Prime Minister passed over
Murphy, not because she was a conservative, but because
she had caused the government too much trouble