The 'Persons' Case - The Reactions and Effects
None of the Famous 5 received appointments to the Senate. The first Senate
vacancy occurred in Ontario and Prime Minister Mackenzie King
appointed Ottawan Cairine Wilson on February 20, 1928, a remarkable
woman who actively opposed anti-semitism and encouraged governments to
When a Senate vacancy occurred in Edmonton several years later,
hopes were high that Emily Murphy, a Conservative, would be appointed
because the Prime Minister was Calgarian R.B. Bennett, a Conservative.
Bennett decided to consider religious affiliations. The Senator from
Southern Alberta was a Protestant and Bennett decided that the Senator
for Northern Alberta should be a Catholic. Therefore, Senator Patrick
Burns, a Liberal, was appointed. Although Albertan women
succeeded in opening the doors to the Senate for women, it was not
until fifty years later in 1979 that Martha Beilish was appointed as
the first female Senator from Alberta by Prime Minister Joe Clark.
On December 17, 1997, Senator Gerald Beaudoin, a renowned
constitutional expert, described the importance of the 'Persons' Case
during Senate debates which concluded by approving a unanimous
resolution concerning the placement of the "Women are Persons. . ."
statues on Parliament Hill. Senator Beaudoin said,
"I suggest in closing that we keep and remember the famous
1929 case that first recognized the equality of men and women. . .
This was [also] the time when the Privy Council started what
we call in law, the theory of 'evolution of the Constitution'."
The champions of the 'Persons' Case, the Famous 5, secured the
right in Western Canada for women to vote and to serve as elected
officials at the school board, hospital board, municipal, provincial
and federal level. Because the Senate is the senior law making body in
Canada, these remarkable nation builders also sought the right for
women, together with men, to participate at this level. As well, they
advocated for and assisted in the creation of libraries, travelling
health clinics, distance education, mother's allowance, equal
citizenship of mothers and fathers, prison reform and many other
initiatives that we cherish today.