News Release Archive

STATUS OF WOMEN--Persons Day, Oct. 18, Marks Women's Struggle
It was only 68 years ago -- on Oct. 18, 1929 -- that the British
Privy Council decided women were "persons" under Canadian law.

"This is a significant anniversary for all Canadian women," said
Francene Cosman, Minister responsible for the Advisory Council on
the Status of Women. "In this day and age, the idea there was
ever any question that women are persons may seem ridiculous, but
in 1929 it was a matter of heated debate. And we should recognize
this date as a milestone in the history of Canadian women."

The British Privy council came to its decision after a lengthy
legal and political struggle, known as the Persons Case. As
persons, women became eligible for appointment to the Senate.

The struggle took 10 years, beginning in 1919 during the first
conference of the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada when a
resolution was passed requesting that the prime minister appoint
a woman senator.

The request made sense, for by this time most Canadian women had
already won the right to vote and the right to hold office. After
a long and vigorous suffrage campaign, women were victorious in
1916 in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan. British Columbia and
Ontario followed in 1917, and Nova Scotia in 1918. New Brunswick
came around in 1919 and Prince Edward Island in 1922.

The right to hold office accompanied the right to vote in most
provinces; the exceptions were Ontario and New Brunswick. For
Ontario women, that right came in 1919, and for New Brunswick
women not until 1934. Quebec granted neither right until 1940.

After years of hearing refusals to appoint a woman senator, five
Canadian women mounted a legal challenge. Judge Emily Murphy,
together with Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and
later Henrietta Muir Edwards, petitioned the government for an
order-in-council directing the Supreme Court to rule on whether
the term "qualified persons" in Section 24 of the British North
American Act included women.

In April 1928, the Supreme Court ruled the term did not include
women. The women pushed for an appeal to the Judicial Committee
of the Privy Council in England -- then the highest court of
appeal on matters of Canadian law. On Oct. 18, 1929, the Supreme
Court ruling was overturned and women were deemed "persons."

Cairine Wilson was appointed the first woman senator in 1930.

"Commemorating Persons Day and paying tribute to those five brave
women is something we should all do," said Ms. Cosman. "The women
of 1997 must appreciate how big a step the women of 1929 took in
the struggle for women's equality. Nellie McClung was absolutely
right when she said:  People must know the past to understand the
present and face the future.'"

Persons Day is a focal point of Women's History Month. Every
year, October is designated to celebrate the contributions of
women, past and present, who have helped shape Canada in so many


Contact: Chris Hansen
         Advisory Council on the Status of Women

ngr                     Oct. 17, 1997                 3:00 pm