The Famous Five

Never explain, never retract, never apologize. Just get the thing done and let them howl.”

Nellie McClung

Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, and Henrietta Muir Edwards are known throughout Canada as the The Famous Five. Together, they fought for the right of women to be recognized as persons in the eyes of the law. This meant that women would be allowed to hold public office, serve on juries, and be treated as equals in the eyes of the law.

The Famous Five – Nellie McClung & Irene Parlby

The Famous Five’s efforts were successful and in 1929, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were to be considered persons under the law. This was a major victory for the women’s rights movement in Canada. The legacy of the Famous Five continues to this day, and their efforts are remembered as a major milestone in the fight for gender equality in Canada.

Emily Murphy was born in Cookstown, Ontario in 1868. She was a lawyer and a judge. She was the first woman in the British Empire to be appointed a magistrate. She was also a writer and a suffragist. She wrote several books, including The Black Candle and The Impressions of Janey Canuck Abroad.

Nellie McClung was a Canadian feminist, politician, and social activist who played a pivotal role in the fight for women’s suffrage in Canada. Born in 1873 in Chatsworth, Ontario, she was a teacher before becoming a writer and speaker.

The Famous Five – Henrietta Muir Edwards & Louise McKinney

Louise McKinney, a Canadian politician and suffragist, was born in Frankville, Ontario in 1868. She was the first woman elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly in 1917.

Irene Parlby, a Canadian politician and suffragist, was born in London, England in 1868. She was the first woman appointed to the Alberta Legislative Council in 1916.She was a leader in the fight for rural rights, and was the first woman to be appointed to the cabinet in Alberta.

The rejoicing all through Canada was not so much that it opened the door of the Canadian Senate to women, as it was that it recognized the personal entity of women, her separate individuality as a person.

Henrietta Muir Edward’s

Henrietta Muir Edwards was a Canadian suffragette, social reformer, and feminist. Her work was instrumental in the fight for women’s rights in Canada. She was a founding member of the National Council of Women of Canada

The Famous Five – Emily Murphy

Meet the Sculptor: Barbara A. Paterson, CM, sculptor (born in Edmonton, AB) is perhaps best known for Women are Persons!, a bronze monument to the Persons Case that depicts the Famous Five.

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

62 thoughts on “The Famous Five

    1. No kidding! That “women were to be considered persons under the law” for less than 100 years… Unimaginable? Inconceivable?

      I read someplace that it was well into the 1970s that women had to get their husband’s sign off before they could get a credit card in the US. That’s less than 50 years ago 😳

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I had to check that out. I didn’t find much about Canadian banks, but I found an excellent Smithsonian article that indicated that: “As women and minorities pushed for equal civil rights in various arenas, credit cards became the focus of a series of hearings in which women documented the discrimination they faced. And, finally, in 1974….the Senate passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender, race, religion and national origin.”

        We have come a long way and the work continues.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Many thanks for joining me virtually on the steps to the Canadian Senate, Graham. I have often wonderful how the future will look back on our time. The work continues and we continue to learn and we go along.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did NOT know this! YIKES!! Many thanks for this information.

        “Women in Switzerland gained the right to vote in federal elections after a referendum in February 1971.[1] The first federal vote in which women were able to participate was the 31 October 1971 election of the Federal Assembly.[2] However it was not until a 1990 decision by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland that women gained full voting rights in the final Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden.”

        Liked by 1 person

  1. How lovely to discover you didn’t mean the Famous Five of dreaded Enid Blyton fame! I hadn’t heard of the much more redoubtable Canadian version. How interesting to have these campaigners introduced. I guess they’re as well-remembered over there as our own Emmeline Pankhurst et al are here – I hope so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been very interested in learning more about Emmeline Pankhurst, who was strident in the cause for women’s right to vote, which caused rifts in her own family. I read that Time magazine named her as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. She had powerful words: “I would rather be a rebel than a slave.” Thank you for joining me virtually in Ottawa with The Famous Five, Margaret!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She and her doughty colleagues were particularly brave to put their heads above the parapet, often in and out of jail as the authorities played Cat and Mouse with them. So unlike the lives many of them were born into.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is probably an impressive feature of the time when mastery of man began to end. I’m always wondered how senseless human lives have gone. We, men, have lost a significant amount of the meaning of life, and now, as I see what is happening in Iran, my hope becomes more vital for a time to understand more about the importance of life. Of course, with great help from women!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Shey – they were formidable women. Nellie McClung had the best lines: She said, “Disturbers are never popular–nobody ever really loved an alarm clock in action-no matter how grateful they may have been afterwards for its kind services!” But my most favourite Nellie McClung quotes – one that reminds me of your heroines – is: “Never retreat, never explain, never apologize – get the thing done and let them howl.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. xxxxxxxxxxxxx You are too kind but you know what?? What drew me right in to this post, was that that is actually what I often say. I said similar to a pal last week, cos that is what makes people survivors, the ability to ‘move on’ after you have let them howl. She was feeling bad about a situation and I said, ‘No. No.’ But the statue is amazing and I just loved this post.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Can you imagine being at the celebratory “pink tea” party envisioned by the sculptor. I understand that The Famous Five used pink teas to disguise the real work and discussions that were happening.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Liz, when I look back at the definition of “qualified persons” that were positioned by our Supreme Court, I shudder! I am thrilled that we have come a long way since that time. These women were not perfect, but they believed that they could make a difference. When they did not achieve their goal in Canada, that crossed the Atlantic to Britain. Can you imagine their discussions they had while en route?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful history lesson, Rebecca! I especially love the simulated in situ sculpture of their “pink tea.” The only thing missing in it are the children who populated their lives and must have contributed to (or complicated) their tireless effort to gain the rights of women and children of Canada. What a fascinating story. The melting snow on Irene Parlby’s hat amused me somehow. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. A very good point about children, Mary Jo. Many thanks for your comments and visit. Nellie McClung had 5 children. Henrietta Edward’s had 3 children. Louise McKinney had 1 son. Irene Parlby had 1 son. Emily Murphy had 4 children. I think that by the time of the pink tea, most of those children were adults or in their teens. Henrietta Edward’s died in 1931, just 2 years after this celebration. Which is my reminder that age offers wisdom and courage that comes from the experience of life. Perhaps it is as we age that we do our best work.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks for joining the celebration, Frank. Barbara Paterson situated the Famous Five at a “Pink Tea.” I had to look up the definition of a “Pink Tea” which I found in the Merriman Webster online dictionary: “A formal afternoon tea usually marked by a high degree of decorum.” I’m certain that there were a few shouts of merriment on that occasion.


    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed meeting up with The Famous Five, Martina. The statues are positioned next door to Canada’s Senate. The Senate was at the centre of “The Persons Case”. Women had won the right to run in federal election in 1921 but no woman had been appointed to the Senate. While the Canadian Constitution Act of 1867 allowed for “qualified persons” to be in the Senate, the prevailing attitude was that women didn’t meet the level of “qualified persons.” It was not an easy road, but they prevailed. When they didn’t achieve their goal on this side of the pond, The Famous Five took their case to Britain. On October 18, 1929, Lord Sankey – the Lord Chancellor delivered the decision that wanted, describing Canada’s Constitution as “a living tree capable of growth and expansion.” I can only imagine the excitement and celebration.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have problems today, Rebecca, with sending you my answer! Please cancel it, should you have received it already.
        I sometimes ask myself what “qualified persons”, label probably chosen by men, but not for men, really means and where this attitude really comes from! Excuse me, Rebecca, but now you have really made me curious! Many thanks for your explanations and have a good day:)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That is exactly what happened, Martina – “probably chosen by men, but not for men”. I am delighted that you joined me virtually in Ottawa! When we were there in December there was a huge snowstorm. This was the first day of sunshine. I noticed that someone had swept away the snow from the statue as a sign of respect.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, absolutely, Rebecca, but I think those man only took into consideration only the physical strength!
        I have started making some researches into the myth of babylonian goddess Ishtar and it seems that there are some doubts of whether her husband took over power from his wife!
        Anyway, enjoy your day and many thanks:)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ashley for joining me and the Famous Five. Very much appreciated. I agree – the work continues. I think of Maya Angelou’s thought, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

      May we have the courage to create compassionate communities wherever we are!!


  4. A tremendous history lesson, Rebecca, about five remarkable women. As has been said, it’s depressingly amazing that women received fuller rights in Canada less than 100 years ago. And the sculpture of the five is outstanding!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Barbara Paterson is amazing. You may recall that she created the Emily Carr sculpture that is positioned outside The Empress Hotel in Victoria. We have come a long way since the time of The Famous Five – and the work continues. I am heartened. We must remember Nellie McClung’s words: “People must know the past to understand the present, and to face the future.”

      Many thanks,Dave for your comments and visit.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Rebecca, those women look feisty and determined even in their sculptural poses. In the USA we have Elizbeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and others commemorating the fight for women’s rights. And in March annually, we celebrate Women’s History Month.

    Cheers to all who advocate equal rights for all! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of my favourite quotes comes from Elisabeth Candy Stanton:

      “The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”

      When I looked back at the biographies, I recognized that The Famous Five were flawed as we all are, but what they did was extraordinary. The ‘Persons’ Case was about transformational leadership. There were many others who stood beside them and changed their world and created a movement that continues to this day.

      Many thanks for stopping by and for your comment, Marian!! Very much appreciated.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi Rebecca, I had not heard of this Canadian Famous Five. Actually, when I saw your heading, I thought you were meaning Enid Blyton’s series of books by that name. It is interesting to learn about Canada’s suffragette moment and female activists as I only know about the USA and British women’s movements.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just recently discovered that, although a number of other territories enfranchised women before 1893, New Zealand can justly claim to be the first self-governing country to grant the vote to all adult women. Kate Sheppard was the leading light in the New Zealand suffrage movement. Canada had a staggered suffrage beginning in 1916 with Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The federal government granted limited war-time suffrage to some women in 1917 and followed with full suffrage in 1918. Granting the vote was the beginning, being elected and appointed to the Senate was another hurdle.

      Many thanks for joining the conversation, Robbie!!! Very much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Rebecca, I do recall reading that New Zealand was the leader on women’s suffrage. I always wonder why every woman doesn’t ensure they vote in every election after everything our gender went through to win the right to vote. It is shocking how quickly people forget how hard won their privilege’s is. It can also be reversed, look at what’s happening in the USA with abortion rights (I don’t like abortion but I support a woman’s right to chose).

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a delightful post, so full of history and an important group of comments and photos that really enlarge the value of the subject. I appreciated the photos of the statues of the five, so well done. The five women made a huge difference for women and their life in the Canadian government. Imagine being a wise woman, well educated and not being able to voice an opinion or make a contribution to life generally, especially any decisions made in governmental offices!
    The five opened new ways for us and we need to be very careful that we make a positive and daily contribution to honor their memory!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed this post and video. I know you will find it interesting that all five lived in Alberta!! I remember my grandmother was part of the suffrage movement. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have come before us.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I know this wonderful sculpture. I’m a huge fan of the five, especially Nelly McLung.
    Her auto biography is a Canadian treasure. If you haven’t read it yet, try to get the 2 volumes. One she wrote earlier, “Clearing in the West”. It went up to the time she got married and moved to Winnipeg. It depicts pioneer life in Manitoba like you never head before. Amazing how much GRIT they had.
    The second is “The Stream Runs Fast”. She wrote that at the end of her life. In the second book, women get the vote in Manitoba then a year later in Canada. It goes over the Five and many other of her accomplishments, which she is far too, modest about and I wish she would have gone over…better.
    In the early 2,000’s someone merged the 2 books into one, and update the language. You don’t need that. Read the originals.

    I petitioned for her to be the first woman on a Canadian $10.00 bill. In spite of an overwhelming majority for Nelly, Viola Desmond (also worthy) caught the honour. Anyway, Nelly should be on the $100.00 bill, at least!!!!!

    Did you know women in Quebec did not get the vote until 1940?
    First Nations women did not get the right to vote federally until 1960?

    I know you saw this…but ….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is serendipity, Resa. I just downloaded “Clearing the West” and The Stream Runs Fast” before I read your comments. I agree – it IS amazing how much grit these women had, working hard and raising children during times where doctors were sometimes many miles from their farms. My great grandmother family immigrated from Sweden and settled on the prairies. I understand that she was so lonely she would talk to the one cow that they had. Thank you for the link to to “a women’s parliament” post. I remember that mural, Resa.

      I was just in Quebec City in September and met up with the suffragists statue that is on the Parliament Grounds. I have very little notice of these women so that I going to be my next research. I did NOT know about 1940. YIKES!!!

      I found this short article:

      Sending many hugs along with my gratitude of all the information that you provided.


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