The famous five

A monument to Canada’s Famous Five was unveiled in Calgary on October 18, 1999 to mark the 70th anniversary of the ‘Persons’ case. A replica was unveiled in Ottawa in October, 2000, the first sculpture of Canadian women to grace Parliament Hill.

Re-sighted and re-cited here from Explore the Hill Statues (

Maquette of the Famous Five monument

(Photo courtesy of Public Works and Government Services Canada, Parliamentary Precinct Directorate and the Digital Simulation Laboratory.)

Detail of the maquette of the statue of the Famous Five, which depicts their reaction on hearing of the judgement of the Privy Council in Great Britain declaring women ‘persons’, and eligible to sit in the Senate. Courtesy of the Famous 5 Foundation, Calgary, Alberta. Photo by Mark Mennie.

The larger than life bronzes, sculpted by Barbara Paterson of Edmonton, and donated to the Government of Canada by the Famous 5 Foundation (, honour Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung. The work depicts them as they might have appeared on hearing the news of the Privy Council’s ruling. Standing behind an empty chair, Emily Murphy, with a triumphant gesture beckons to visitors, men and women equally, to have a place at this celebration of a new day for women in Canada.

An empty chair adds an interactive feature to the monument that invites passers-by to join the group. The newspaper with the headline “Women are Persons” that Nellie McClung is holding reflects some of the actual headlines of newspapers of the day.

THE FAMOUS FIVE: WHO THEY WERE (from left to right on the picture, source: National Archives of Canada)

Nellie L. McClung (1873-1951), novelist, journalist, suffragette and temperance worker. She was a member of the Alberta legislature, the only woman on the Dominion War Council, and the first woman on the CBC Board of Governors.

Irene Parlby (1868-1965), suffragette and politician. She was elected president of the women’s branch of the United Farmers of Alberta in 1916 and became a member of the Alberta legislature in 1921. She was still a member of Parliament at the time of the Persons Case.

Emily G. Murphy (1868-1933), instigator of the Persons Case, writer, and first woman magistrate in the British Empire. She pioneered married women’s rights, was National President of the Canadian Women’s Press Club 1913-1920, vice-president of the National Council of Women and first president of the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada. [In 1916, Judge Emily Murphy had sentenced a bootlegger but his attorney challenged her ruling on the grounds that she was not a “person” and occupied her office legally (see Neal, 2006, p. 130)]

Henrietta Muir Edwards, (1849-1931), journalist, suffragist and organizer, fought for equal rights for wives, mothers’ allowances and women’s rights. She started the Working Girls’ Association in Montréal in 1875, a forerunner of the YWCA. Later, while living in Alberta, she compiled two works on Alberta and federal laws affecting women and children.

Louise McKinney (1868-1931), politician and temperance campaigner. She was president of the Dominion Women’s Christian Union and elected to the Alberta legislature in 1917 as representative of the non-partisan league.

Re-sighted and re-cited in 2001 by Rita Trichur of The Canadian Press (“Feminism 2001,” The Chronicle-Herald, October 18, 2001, p. B7). A photo of Denise Campbell, president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, “jokingly pretends to take a sip from a tea cup as she poses for a portrait amongst the statues.” Trichur reports the concerns of Toronto-based activist Maya Roy, 21, that “many young women take for granted the rights achieved by early feminists such as the Famous Five.” Roy said, “It’s really a sad thing that young people aren’t able to make the connection between what we have achieved now and the struggles of the past. Just because a few token women have made it, we feel that the battle is over.”

In 2004, Kathy Laing, A member of the Business and Professional Women of Canada (BPW Canada) re-sighted/cited the Famous Five and the “Persons Case” marking the 75th anniversary of women being declared persons in Canada. Available from:

The BPW web site introduces their historical links to the Famous Five, stating: “As BPW women, we must always remember our sisters who came before us and the struggles they faces so that women could be where they are today.”

Kathy Laing re-sights the five bronze sculptures of the Famous Five, and acknowledges how her interest came to be piqued. Soon after she joined BPW Ottawa in 1979, one of their members, Sophie Steadman, received the Persons Award in 1980; she also learned that BPW in 1938 had arranged for the installation of a bronze plaque at the entrance of the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in recognition of the Famous Five.

Re-sighted/cited in 2006 on Canada’s $50 bill.

Famous Five and Therese Casgrain issued Bank of Canada 2006

Famous Five and Therese Casgrain on $50 banknote issued by Bank of Canada 2006

Freelance writer Lorraine Neal (2006) asks: “How many Canadian women will see the new $50 note? (p. 129). “A quotation printed on the reverse side grabs my attention: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ an excerpt from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The dignity of women living in poverty in one of the richest nations in the world seems not have been considered. Unless of course the Bank of Canada plans to send every impoverished woman in our country a heaping bagful of crisp new $50s” (p. 133).

Neal, Lorraine (2006). Canada’s new $50 bill highlights women’s equality (Community Voices). Atlantis, 30(2), 129-135.


~ by artpoped on February 16, 2009.

2 Responses to “The famous five”

  1. that is soooo kewl! the 50 $ biilll has the fanous five on em. cha ching! awwsooome =)


  2. Should the text regarding Judge Emily Murphy contain the word ‘illegally’ rather than ‘legally’ ? The attorney was claiming that her office was being occupied illegally (not legally). Perhaps the word ‘didn’t’ has been omitted?
    E.g. She DIDN’T occupy her office legally.
    Proposed correction in capital letters:
    “… but his attorney challenged her ruling on the grounds that she was not a ‘person’ and occupied her office ILLEGALLY.”
    It might also be helpful to mention that this is the person holding up the newspaper with the headline. It is stated that the participants are named from left to right, but it would make things very clear to also state who is holding the empty chair, who is holding the newspaper up, who is seated and clasping her hands etc.


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