It’s hard to believe. Canadian women have only been considered persons under the law for 92 years.
That’s why October 18, 1929 is historic. It’s the date when Canadian women were included in the legal definition of "persons".
Before the British Privy Council overturned the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision that denied women personhood and made women ineligible for appointment to the Senate. They were considered property and not persons.
Women were no different from any chattel or objects owned by a woman’s father or husband.
In 1927, five women: Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Henrietta Muir Edwards, who became known as the Famous Five, challenged the notion that “qualified Persons” referred to only men. And therefore, women couldn’t be appointed to the Canadian Senate because they weren’t persons under the law.
Edwards v A.G. of Canada (a.k.a. the “Persons Case”) challenged section 24 of Constitution Act, 1867 (aka British North American Act) and the definition of “qualified Persons”.
After the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision stating women were not “qualified persons” under s. 24, the Famous Five appealed the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision refusal to define “person” to the British Privy Council, which had the final legal say. Back in Canada’s colonial days.
On October 18, 1929, Lord Sankey read the Privy Council’s judgment. Lord Sankey of the Privy Council read out the Privy Council’s decision reversing the Supreme Court of Canada’s earlier decision.
Lord Sankey stated, “The “exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours.” He went on to remark “to those who ask why the word [persons] should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not.”
Thank ye, Lord Sankey!
The Persons Case is an incredibly important to Canadian legal history. From this case, the Living Tree Doctrine regarding Canadian constitutional interpretation. This doctrine views constitutional interpretation as progressive and adapting to our changing society. Rather than a rigid strict interpretation; it is elastic. More to the point, this case is the root of how women came to be considered persons under the law.
Commemorating Women’s Personhood in Canada
So, it’s never forgotten that persons includes women, Lady Justice Apparel™ created our Persons Day shirt.
The word "person”…
“may include members of both sexes, and to those who ask why the word should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not.”
Edwards v. Attorney General of Canada,  AC 124 (PC)
But while women were now consider "persons", the 1929 decision didn't include racialized women such as Indigenous women and women of Asian heritage.
However, the Persons Case decision was the beginning of the long march towards gender equality for Canadian women. One fight self-identifying womxn and racialized women are still fighting.
Lady Justice Apparel™ Recommended Readings
Want to read more about the Persons Case? We highly recommend reading Robert J . Sharpe’s book, The Persons Case: The Origins and Legacy of the Fight for Legal Personhood .
Also, check out CanLII, where you can read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision regarding the Reference re meaning of the word “Persons” in s. 24 of the British North America Act,  SCR 276, or read the words of Lord Sankey and final words on whether women are considered persons in Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General), 1929 CanLII 438 (UK JCPC).