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
women 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.
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