A photograph of mine is hanging in the Supreme Court Building in Parliament Square in London England. It’s been there for a month now and 12,500 people have already come to see it. It will remain on display till September 23.
The photograph is one I took at the Manitoba Legislature grounds in Winnipeg. It features the statue created by Helen Grange Young to honor five Canadian women who petitioned the British Privy Judicial Council in 1927 to allow women to be recognized as persons in their own right. The Supreme Court of Canada had ruled they were not persons and therefore they were not eligible to run for public office in Canada. So they took their case to the British Privy Judicial Council. From 1833 to 1950 this council served as the highest court of appeal for the colonies of the British Empire, including Canada. The Privy Council ruled in favor of the women’s petition to be recognized as people.
Earlier this year I was contacted by Mr. Ben Wilson the Communications Director of the British Supreme Court who said they were planning a special exhibition in their building this summer featuring some of the landmark cases that had come before the British Privy Judicial Council during its more than a hundred years of operation. They wanted to include the women’s rights case advanced by the five Canadian suffragettes Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung and Louise McKinley. These women are often referred to as The Famous Five. Mr. Wilson the court communications director said while searching for a photo to include in the display about The Famous Five he came upon a blog post I had written about the women. My post included photographs of the special artwork that has been erected at the Manitoba Legislature to honor them. He wondered if I would be willing to let the Supreme Court use my “wonderful photographs” of the sculpture. I replied that I’d be honored.
Last week Mr. Wilson kindly sent me photos of the exterior of the Supreme Court building in London’s Parliament Square where my photo is exhibited. He also sent photos of the room where my photography work is displayed with the story of The Famous Five and a copy of the press release announcing the exhibition. The press release highlights three stories featured in the exhibition including the one about The Famous Five. Mr. Wilson also sent a photo of Lady Hale, the Deputy President of the Supreme Court opening the exhibition.
Although together they were a formidable team for advancing women’s rights each of The Famous Five did many admirable things on their own. Henrietta Muir Edwards was a founding member of the Victoria Order of Nurses and published the first magazine for working women in Canada. Emily Murphy was the first female magistrate in the British Empire and was instrumental in having the Dower Act passed which insured wives would inherit a portion of their husband’s estate when he died. Irene Parbly served as a cabinet minister and sponsored the Minimum Wage Act for Women. Louise McKinney a member of the Alberta legislature introduced legislation to support people with disabilities, immigrants and widowed and single women. Thanks to Nellie McClung Manitoba became the first province in Canada to give women the right to vote in 1916. The people of Canada owe a great debt of gratitude to these five women.
Although I wish I could have gone to London to see my photograph of The Famous Five on display in the Supreme Court Building I am still thrilled to have played a small part in having these crusading women’s story told outside of Canada.