Emily Murphy was appointed the first female judge in Canada in in 1916. Her rulings however, were challenged by lawyers because under Canadian law women were not ‘persons’. The challenge was based on a court decision of 1876 which stated: ‘Women are persons in matters of pains and penalties, but are not persons in matters of rights and privileges’.
The British North American Act of 1867 established the Dominion of Canada. The ruling, which stated women were not persons, was made under that act. Murphy and four other Canadian women initiated a campaign to have the ruling overturned. Their petition to the Canadian Supreme Court in 1927 failed.
The women then took their case to the Privy Council of the British government. At the time it was Canada’s highest court. On October 18th 1929 women were declared as ‘persons’ under Canadian law. In its ruling the Privy Council stated: ‘the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours. And to those who would ask why the word ‘persons’ should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not?
A petition by Judge Emily Murphy and four other women to the Canadian Supreme Court failed to have women declared ‘persons’ failed in the year 1927 On This Day.
Nellie McClung brandishing a scroll declaring that Women are Persons