History of The Famous Five from Ottawa

The Famous Five is a group of five Canadian women. They were all unlike each other, with dissimilar personalities and were born in different cities. They had different life histories, but one thing they had in common was that they all fought for women’s rights. Find out more at ottawanka.com.

How did it all get started?

Active members of public life in Ottawa and across Canada, as well as members of various organizations that defend women’s rights and promote them in politics, came together in the early 20th century to win a trial and empower women in the Senate of Canada.

These five women were:

  • Henrietta Muir Edwards. She was head of the National Council of Women in Ottawa.
  • Nellie McClung. She became the first woman on the Board of Governors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Ottawa.
  • Louise McKinney. She was the founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Alberta.
  • Emily Murphy. She was the first woman judge in the British Empire.
  • Irene Parlby. She was the first president of the United Farm Women of Alberta.

It all started in 1927, when these active women, who fought for their rights, petitioned the Canadian government to have the case of empowering women,  particularly the right to be senators, considered by the Canadian Supreme Court.

The reason for this petition was the Canadian Constitution, which stated that only highly qualified persons could serve in the Senate. The Canadian government interpreted this wording of the constitution as only men may be appointed to the Senate. Such an explanation was historical since this law was written in the olden days exclusively for men.

By the early 20th century, Ottawa women activists and activists from other cities had done a great deal to expand their rights. In particular, Canadian women were legally granted the right to vote in elections everywhere except Quebec. In particular, Canadian women have been legislated to vote in elections everywhere except in Quebec. That was the beginning of a big court case on the path to political equality between men and women. Their petition was the first wave of feminism in the country.

The Persons Case

When The Famous Five got their hands on this law, they were each deeply outraged that they and other women in Canada were not considered highly qualified persons. Therefore,  Ottawa’s Five decided to fight and defend their rights and the rights of thousands of other women in the country.

The first attempt

For the first time, The Famous Five wrote a letter to the Supreme Court of Canada asking it to consider the issue of appointing women to the government, in particular, to the Senate of Canada. This letter, written to the court, quickly became known not only in Ottawa but far beyond its boundaries. The Supreme Court of Canada responded to the letter from Ottawa’s Five by ruling that women were not highly qualified persons for a position in the Senate.

The second attempt

After the first unsuccessful attempt, Ottawa’s Five were not desperate and began to look for other possible ways to change the law. Since Canada had an even higher court than the Supreme Court, the Privy Council, they decided to send the letter directly there.

In 1929, the Privy Court, convened in England, voiced its decision, “Women are considered persons and may become Members of the Senate of Canada.”  For Ottawa’s Five, this was a tremendous achievement in the political and social history of all women in Canada.

In memory of five women from Ottawa

In memory of outstanding women, real personalities who fought for their rights and the rights of thousands of Canadian women, a monument has been erected in the capital of Canada along Rideau Street. This monument represents five statues of women writing that very letter to the Supreme Court.