Saturday, October 18, 2008

Person's Day in Canada

Person's Day celebrates in Canada that women are persons. Because of the "Famous Five" (five women who stood up for the rights of women to be considered persons so that women could be elected to the Canadian Senate), the Privy Council in England declared on October 18, 1929 that women were persons.

The British North America Act of 1867 set out the powers and responsibilities of the provinces and of the federal government. This federal act used the word "persons" when it referred to more than one person and the word "he" when it referred to one person. Therefore, many argued, the Act was really saying that only a man could be a person, thus preventing women from participating fully in politics or affairs of state.

In 1927 Emily Murphy and four other prominent Canadian women - Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards - asked the Supreme Court of Canada to answer the question, "Does the word "person" in Section 24 of the B.N.A. Act include female persons?" After five weeks of debate and argument the Supreme Court of Canada decided that the word "person" did not include women. The five women, nicknamed "The Famous Five", were shocked by the Supreme Court decision but did not give up the fight. Instead they refused to accept the decision and took the Persons Case to the Privy Council in England which in those days was Canada's highest court.

The Privy Council decides
On October 18, 1929, Lord Sankey, Lord Chancellor of the Privy council, announced the decision of the five Lords. The decision stated "that the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours. And to those who would ask why the word "person" should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not?" [1]

Tomorrow is the rededication of the Nellie (Mooney) McClung plaque. For more information on her and the plaque check the Ontario Trust website and my previous article about Nellie McClung.

[1] Canada. Status of Women Canada. "The Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case : The "Famous Five" and the Persons Case" ( ; accessed 18 October 2008)


  1. We have come a long way since 1929, haven't we? I am here visiting and participating in the "Would You Care To Comment" carnival.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Carol. Yes, we have a long way since 1929.

  3. I should have said, We have come a long way.


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