The story of the Famous Five and of The "Persons" Case is a case study in transformational leadership.
It's the story of five ordinary women, born in the mid-nineteenth century, who joined the trek west with their families to frontier Canada. Each had a history of advocacy on behalf of women and children. All were prominent suffragists. When they arrived in Alberta, each had already had significant victories in her own particular areas of activism.
They arrived on fertile soil where grassroots reform movements flourished. The women of the frontier who had arrived before them had contributed their own labour to building homesteads alongside their husbands. The Famous Five extended this pioneer spirit, taking female influence further, into a larger sphere of community and politics.
In the face of prejudice and opposition, they built alliances with other women’s organizations and brilliantly communicated their vision for a society where women could participate in public service equally with men. They refused to take no for an answer—even when turned down by the Supreme Court of Canada.
When women were campaigning for the right to vote in the early 1900s, their suffrage meetings were frequently disrupted by angry opponents. Many women were forbidden by their husbands and fathers to attend these meetings, and others simply did not have the confidence to do so because of the strong, chaotic opposition.
Pink Teas were developed as a subversive way for women to gather and discuss various issues of importance, including suffrage. Only women were invited, and frilly decorations and many pink doilies and ribbons festooned the tea tables. If opposition appeared, the organizer would simply change the subject.
To commemorate the Famous Five and to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the "Persons" Case, the Famous 5 Foundation commissioned and installed larger-than-life bronze monuments in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Five contributions of $200,000 covered the costs of the monument and remain the largest donations made by women to a women’s project in Canada - Ann, Roxanne & Jane McCaig; Lena Ann Hanen; Kiki Delaney, Senator Vivienne Poy; and Heather Reisman.
The artist, Barbara Paterson, was selected by a national jury who was captivated by her depiction of the five women as they hear about their victory. Nellie McClung is shown holding up the October 18 newspaper headline that announces this world-changing news, while Irene Parlby stands beside her. Henrietta Muir Edwards lifts her teacup in a toast to their success, as Louise McKinney excitedly clasps her hands. Emily Murphy, the woman who led their fight, stands beside a chair inviting you to sit with them and to make the best contribution you can to the generation in which you are living.