Walking along Wellington Street in Canada’s Capital is like taking a trip through the country’s law-making process. Along the length of this short street, visitors pass by the House of Commons, the Senate and the Supreme Court of Canada. And, if visitors veer off the path just a little, they will find themselves having tea with five women who changed the rights of Canadians forever.

A hundred years ago, Canadian women did not have the right to own their own house, to vote as they saw fit, to aspire to many professions. And they did not have the right to be appointed as a member of the Canadian Senate.

In 1928, the Famous Five — as Alberta’s Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy and Henrietta Muir Edwards are better known — fought to be recognized as “persons.” At that time in Canada, women could not legally be appointed to the Senate. The Famous Five decided to fight this law, and took their case all the way to the Supreme Court. They were denied the right, but they were not deterred. Their next stop was Britain’s Privy Council, which overruled the Supreme Court decision.

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Walking along Wellington Street in Canada’s Capital is like taking a trip through the country’s law-making process. Along the length of this short street, visitors pass by the House of Commons, the Senate and the Supreme Court of Canada. And, if visitors veer off the path just a little, they will find themselves having tea with five women who changed the rights of Canadians forever.

A hundred years ago, Canadian women did not have the right to own their own house, to vote as they saw fit, to aspire to many professions. And they did not have the right to be appointed as a member of the Canadian Senate.

In 1928, the Famous Five — as Alberta’s Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy and Henrietta Muir Edwards are better known — fought to be recognized as “persons.” At that time in Canada, women could not legally be appointed to the Senate. The Famous Five decided to fight this law, and took their case all the way to the Supreme Court. They were denied the right, but they were not deterred. Their next stop was Britain’s Privy Council, which overruled the Supreme Court decision.

Between the First World War and Second World War, Canadian women won many rights, including the right to vote, hold office, own property and sit as a senator. In subsequent years, more legislation was extended to protect the rights and freedoms of other Canadians, such as people of Aboriginal descent, people with disabilities and new Canadians.

Civic engagement — when ordinary citizens participate in democratic change, such as getting involved in protests, petitions or peace marches; writing letters to their members of Parliament; or challenging a law in court — is a cornerstone of Canadian democracy. The struggles and achievements of the Famous Five and other pioneers in social engagement have affected Canadians across the country, and continue to inspire citizens to exercise their hard-won rights.

On the very grounds where the Famous Five won their historic victory, a monument commemorating their success can be seen and enjoyed by all. Created in 2000, by Alberta artist Barbara Paterson, the Women Are Persons! cast bronze monument is one of the few on Parliament Hill that honour “ordinary” citizens.

The action is frozen in a moment of victory — the women raise cups of tea in celebration and hold a newspaper of the day, boldly declaring that “Women are Persons!” The artist chose this scene deliberately: 100 years ago, Canadian women campaigned for “suffrage,” as the right to vote is sometimes called. As part of their effective organizing strategy, suffragettes held “pink teas,” parties deliberately festooned with doilies and pink decorations, a setting distasteful to men, where women could plan action to further women’s rights.


In a tip of the hat to both the past and the future, Paterson included an empty chair in her sculpture, inviting visitors to celebrate the Famous Fiver’s victory for all Canadians.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Photo of Women Are Persons!, Peace Tower in background, 2005

The monument celebrates the Famous Five’s victory, just a short distance from the Parliament Buildings.

National Capital Commission
c. 2005
© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.


Photo of Nellie McClung holding newspaper, 2007

Newspapers of the day declared that “Women are Persons!” in the wake of the Privy Council decision in favour of the Famous Five.

National Capital Commission

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.


Women Are Persons!

The Famous Five are shown celebrating their victory with cups of tea. An empty chair invites visitors to join the party.

National Capital Commission

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.


Since 1928, many women have served in the Canadian Senate. Choose one and write a short paper about her life, her achievements and her contributions to Canada.
Since 1928, many women have served in the Canadian Senate. Choose one and write a short paper about her life, her achievements and her contributions to Canada.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Newspapers have to capture the heart of a story in a few short words. Often, a person other than the writer of the main story composes the headline. Look at a national newspaper, either in print or online. How do headlines encourage people to read further? How can people across the country understand the headline? Would a headline about the same story get a different treatment from a local newspaper? Compare two newspapers, one national, one local. Select a story but don’t include the headline. Exchange stories with a classmate. Write a headline for the story.
Newspapers have to capture the heart of a story in a few short words. Often, a person other than the writer of the main story composes the headline. Look at a national newspaper, either in print or online. How do headlines encourage people to read further? How can people across the country understand the headline? Would a headline about the same story get a different treatment from a local newspaper? Compare two newspapers, one national, one local. Select a story but don’t include the headline. Exchange stories with a classmate. Write a headline for the story.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Who are the people making a difference in your community? How have they changed things for the better? Look up the term “civic engagement.” What does it mean? In small groups, select someone from your community, past or present, who has made a positive difference. Design a monument to celebrate his or her successes. In Barbara Paterson’s sculpture, the empty chair invites visitor participation. Can your monument do the same? Propose this monument to the rest of your class.

Extend the activity! Two copies of Paterson’s bronze sculpture were cast: one is on Parliament Hill, the other is in Calgary, Alberta. Does your monument have a provincial or national angle? Could it be located in Canada’s Capital? If appropriate, suggest an Ottawa location for a copy of your monument.
Who are the people making a difference in your community? How have they changed things for the better? Look up the term “civic engagement.” What does it mean? In small groups, select someone from your community, past or present, who has made a positive difference. Design a monument to celebrate his or her successes. In Barbara Paterson’s sculpture, the empty chair invites visitor participation. Can your monument do the same? Propose this monument to the rest of your class.

Extend the activity! Two copies of Paterson’s bronze sculpture were cast: one is on Parliament Hill, the other is in Calgary, Alberta. Does your monument have a provincial or national angle? Could it be located in Canada’s Capital? If appropriate, suggest an Ottawa location for a copy of your monument.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • appreciate the contribution women have made to Canadian society;
  • use effective text to write a persuasive headline;
  • celebrate those engaged in local community–building.

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