Famous Five Portraits Unveiled at UVic

March 30, 2011

Since early March, members of the University of Victoria Law community and its visitors have been able to view original portraits of the “Famous Five”, courtesy of Professor Benjamin Berger.

The portraits can be seen in the reading room of the Diana M. Priestly Law Library. The UVic Law news release provides more information about the loan of the paintings and the “Famous Five” themselves:

In 1927, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung and Irene Parlby petitioned the Supreme Court of Canada to clarify the legal definition of “person” and, more specifically, to determine if that definition extended to women. At stake was a woman’s eligibility to sit in the Canadian senate. In 1928, the Supreme Court ruled that women were not considered to be persons for the purposes of such appointments and therefore could not be named senators.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council subsequently overturned that controversial ruling. Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General), also known as the Persons Case, was a landmark for women’s equality rights in this country. It recognized that constitution interpretation must adapt to changing times, be read in a “broad and liberal” manner and respond to changing social circumstances.

The Famous Five portraits were created by Saskatchewan artist Alice E. Tyler and the series is one of only two such sets in Canada. Professor Berger owns the artwork and made it available to the library on a long-term loan so that law students and other visitors to the library will be reminded of the groundbreaking nature of the Persons Case in Canadian legal history.

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