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The Famous Five: Heroes for Today
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The Reactions and Effects

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

The Cause

The Disappointment

The Victory

The Reactions and Effects

This decision marks the abolition of sex in politics. . . . Personally I do not care whether or not women ever sit in the Senate, but we fought for the privilege for them to do so. We sought to establish the personal individuality of Detail of statue of Henrietta Muir Edwards by Barbara Paterson, on Parliament Hill in Ottawawomen and this decision is the announcement of our victory. It has been an up-hill fight.

—Henrietta Muir Edwards, 1929

Despite their fundamental role in obtaining the right of women to sit in the Canadian Senate, none of the Famous 5 were appointed to the governmental body. The first Senate vacancy that occurred after the Persons' Case was in Ontario. On February 20, 1930, Prime Minister Mackenzie King appointed Ottawa citizen Cairine Wilson, a remarkable woman who actively opposed anti-semitism and encouraged governments to accept refugees.

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, also a Conservative. Bennett felt it necessary to consider religious affiliations, and since the Senator from Southern Alberta was Protestant, Bennett decided that the Senator for Northern Alberta should be Catholic. Senator Patrick Burns, a Liberal, was appointed. Indeed, although Alberta women succeeded in opening the doors to the Senate for women, it was not until 1979, 50 years later, that Martha Beilish was appointed 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."

Champions of the Persons' Case, the Famous 5 also secured the right for women to vote and serve as elected officials at the school board, hospital board, and at the municipal, provincial, and federal level. As the Senate is the senior law making body in Canada, these remarkable nation builders also sought the right for women 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.

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