October 01, 2023
Women’s History Month in October every year gives teachers a chance to change that perspective so that students begin to appreciate women’s contributions to history, and as part of that history, women’s fight for equality as a powerful social movement.
"We want women leaders today as never before. Leaders who are not afraid to be called names and who are willing to go out and fight. I think women can save civilization. Women are persons."- Emily Murphy (1931)
Every October since 1992, Canada celebrates Women's History Month, with the highlight being Person's Day on October 18. October has been selected because of the historical significance of the "Persons Case" decision of 1929, a landmark victory in the struggle of Canadian women for equality.
For several years, Judge Emily Murphy and other women fighting for women's equality, urged the Government of Canada to appoint a woman to the Senate - without success. The Government cited Section 24 of the British North America Act (BNA Act) which said that only "qualified persons" may be summoned to the Senate. Declaring that women were not "qualified persons", and women were therefore ineligible for the Senate.
In August 1927, Emily Murphy and four Alberta women - Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby, later known as the "Famous Five" - petitioned the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain, for clarification on women's eligibility for appointment to the Senate.
On October 18, 1929, the Committee ruled that Section 24 of the British North America Act should apply equally to women. With that decision, women became eligible for nomination to the Senate. One year later, Cairine Reay Wilson became the first woman to take her place in the Senate of Canada.
This historic decision created a new precedent for women in gaining access to sectors of society previously reserved only for men. With women now eligible to sit in the Senate, the country's highest male-dominated institution, they could no longer be denied access to other institutions and establishments reserved just for men.
Therefore, Women's History Month represents an opportunity to highlight the past and present contributions of women to Canadian society and to recognize the achievements of women from all walks of life as a vital part of our Canadian heritage. It also provides an opportunity to highlight how we all benefit today from the achievements of the original Famous Five and other women activists in the quest for women's equality. And, foremost, it represents an ideal opportunity to instill a sense of pride in our historic origins as well as to provide role models for all Canadian women - young and less young.
October is Women's History Month. In 2016, on the hundredth anniversary of (some) women in Canada winning the vote, ETFO produced a short video on voting and political participation.