Person’s Day Speech

Person’s Day

My name is Donna Reid and I am a city Councillor

This event is sponsored by 4 organizations working in partnership: They are The City of Cambridge, The Cambridge YWCA, Ideas Unlimited and the Zonta Club of Cambridge. This is the third and last event in a series of programs under the umbrella of the Cambridge Celebration of Women. This is the first year of holding the Cambridge Celebration of Women and the 3 events that are historically important to the women’s movement. International Women’s Day in March, Charter Day in April and now Persons Day in October. These events are designed to build awareness of women’s issues, celebrate our successes and engage our community, neighbours, friends, politicians, businesses, men, women and children in building an inclusive society.

Now to this important event- The Celebration of Person’s Day.

1929 was a great year for women. It was the year that the famous five trailblazers were successful in having women declared persons. This was a necessary step for Canadian women because Prime Ministers refused to appoint women to the senate as under the BNA act women were not defined under the word persons. Therefore it was deduced that only males could be persons.

It was necessary for the famous five to travel to England to go before the Privy Council because only it had the power to enact change in the BNA Act. And so these women made history with their courage and foresight. Without their determination, women might still be denied a democratic right given to men.

The Lord Chancellor of England’s Privy Council announced the unanimous decision. He stated “the exclusion of women from all public office is a relic of days more barbarous than ours. And to those who would ask why the word person should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not?

Our women heroes are depicted here in the artistic collages made by Our Cambridge Artist Barb Young. I am the lucky person who owns this bit of history. The women who went to England on behalf of Canadian women are

  • Nellie McClung
  • Emily Murphy
  • Louise McKinney
  • Henrietta Muir Edwards and
  • Irene Parlby

The famous five are depicted in statutes on Parliament hill in Ottawa-the only women to be granted this privilege.

Every Oct. 18 Canadians across the country celebrate this victory. It took 8 years for this group of five women to claim victory and with this declaration that women were indeed persons, women were able to be appointed to the Canadian Senate.

This day marks an important juncture in the feminist movement toward equality for women. Although in 1918, the Women’s Franchise Act gave the federal vote to every woman in Canada over the age of 21 who was a British subject, it didn’t include Asians until 1948, Inuit until 1950 and status Indians until 1960. It wasn’t until 1919 that women could be elected to the House of Commons.

The declaration of women as persons in 1929 now made it possible for women to be appointed by the Prime Minister to the senate. Disappointingly, Judge Emily Murphy was not appointed to the senate; she was the wrong political party for the first appointment available and the wrong religion for the second. The first woman appointed was Cairine Wilson in 1930, an activist for child welfare and anti-fascism.

Around the area here at Ideas Unlimited are 10 story boards that depict Canadian women who have shown the same courage and dedication to democracy, equity and inclusiveness.

As you read each woman’s story, imagine what Canada might be like if these women had not lived. Imagine what we and our daughters might not enjoy today if their efforts hadn’t taken place. Their contributions brought cultural change at all levels. Attitudes toward women in business, in boardrooms, in politics, in executive positions are changing. The country still has a long journey before it can declare all persons are treated equitably but women such as those depicted here are part of that journey. There are also student projects related to this day for you to enjoy.

It is my hope, you will share these boards and related materials/books with your children so they will have a greater understanding of those who came before and of what kind of Canada they want to see. After all, it is our youth who will be our leaders of tomorrow. May they rise to the occasion and bring peace, harmony and inclusiveness to our country.

The boards will be here until Oct 30th so bring out your neighbours and friends and celebrate these and other women who make a difference. Celebrate Persons Day 2014 with our partners here today.

Please share with us some refreshments, some stories and most of all hope for the future.

Thank you for coming.