FAQ | Women in the Senate: the "Persons" case

28 February 2008

Five Canadian women took on the Supreme Court of Canada and won a place for their own in Canada’s Senate. In 1928, the Court had ruled that women were not eligible to become senators because they were not "persons" within the meaning of the sections of the British North America Act governing Senate appointments. Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby persuaded the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (U.K.), then Canada’s highest court, to overturn the decision, which it did in 1929. Canada’s first woman senator was Cairine Wilson (Ontario), appointed in 1930. In 1972, Muriel McQueen Fergusson (New Brunswick) was named Speaker of the Senate and became the Parliament of Canada’s first woman Speaker. Later, in 1993, Joyce Fairbairn (Alberta) was named the first woman Leader of the Government in the Senate.