Little Bits of History

August 27

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 27, 2017

1927: The Famous Five file a petition. Also known as the Valiant Five, Emily Murphy, Irene Marryat Parlby, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards, were women’s rights activists from Alberta, Canada. They posed a question regarding the British North America Act, 1867. This act, also called the Constitution Act, was and remains a major portion of Canada’s Constitution. It defined the operation of the Government and federal structure which included the House of Commons and the Senate as well as the justice system and taxation procedures. Under Part IV “Legislative Power” was a section on how senators would be placed into office.

The Governor General of Canada held the power to make normal senatorial appointments. Today, this is done with only with the advice of the prime minister. Prior to 1965, an appointment was for life but today, they must retire at age 75. There are 96 seats in the senate, apportioned by province in the Act. What the five women wanted to learn was the definition of a particular word in Section 24. They asked, “Does the word ‘Persons’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?” Their petition was filed with the Canadian Supreme Court on this day.

The Supreme Court gave their unanimous decision on April 24, 1928. They believed that “Person” did not, in fact, include women in this instance. The last line of their judgment read, “Understood to mean ‘Are women eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada,’ the question is answered in the negative.” The women were not pleased with this announcement. Murphy had been advocating for women’s rights since 1916 and she gathered her partners in activism together for this question. In Canada, the federal government has the power to refer questions to the Court for clarification. The Court decided, but at the time, they were not the final arbiters of the question.

The next step was for the case to be brought on appeal before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. This was the court of last resort for the British Empire. The names were listed in alphabetical order, so it is Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General) but it is more famously known as the Persons Case. The committee found a different meaning of the word and Lord Chancellor, Viscount Sankey’s determination was that women were, in a broad sense, persons. With this reversal, it was now possible for women to become Senators. None of the five original women were ever posted to that seat, but on October 8, 2009 the Senate voted to make all five of them “honorary senators”. The first female senator came from Quebec and was Cairine Reay Wilson, appointed four months after the ruling which came down on October 18, 1929.

Women have been taught that, for us, the earth is flat, and that if we venture out, we will fall off the edge. – Andrea Dworkin

Women belong in the house – and the Senate. – Author unknown

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. – Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler

I ask no favors for my sex…. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks. – Sarah Moore Grimké



National Women’s Rights Convention

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 23, 2014
Mott, Stanton, Susan B Anthony

Lucretia Mott, Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

October 23, 1850: The first National Women’s Rights Convention begins. In 1840, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton went to London with their husbands for the first World Anti-Slavery Convention. The women were not permitted to participate but they became friends and planned to organize their own convention in support of women’s rights. It took them several years, but in 1948 they along with three other women worked to create the Seneca Falls Convention, an event attended by about 300 people and lasting two days. There were about 40 men in attendance causing dissention until Frederick Douglass took the podium and gave an impassioned speech on women’s suffrage.

The success of the first convention spurred the women on hoping to have these meetings in each state. Lucretia Mott was a drawing card and would only be in the area for a short time and so a Regional Women’s Rights Convention was called within a few weeks. It wasn’t until April 1850 before Ohio women began to petition their constitutional convention for women’s equal legal an political rights. Lucy Stone was leader in that state. She partnered with Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis to work toward this goal and eventually this led them to plan a National Convention. They began contacting other women to attend and speak. Stanton was one of the women sought as a speaker but she was unable to attend, due to the timing of her pregnancy.

Stone went to visit her brother who died of cholera shortly after her arrival. She was left to settle his affairs and accompany his pregnant widow back east. Fearing this would not allow her to attend the convention, she sent messages ahead and asked Davis to lead the convention in her stead. The affair had been scheduled for October 16 and 17. While traveling east, Stone contracted typhoid fever and was near death in Indiana. Since she was the leading signatory, the convention was delayed and Stone made it back to Massachusetts just two weeks before the opening.

There were 900 people at the first session, the majority of them men. Several newspapers reported on the event and over 1,000 people were there by the afternoon with more turned away at the doors. Delegates came from eleven states including one from California, a state admitted only a few weeks before. The National Women’s Rights Convention was held yearly from 1850 through 1860 but was interrupted by the US Civil War. Two more events were held after the end of the war. It would take decades longer before women were considered to be able to handle the vote and given a voice in the rule of the land. Their equal treatment under the law is still somewhat spotty and the Equal Rights Amendment failed ratification before the March 22, 1979 deadline. Even with an extension to June 30, 1982, the ERA could not pass.

I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives. – Jane Austen

I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves. – Mary Wollstonecraft

Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men. Is it possible for humankind to grow by the improvement of only one part while the other part is ignored? Is it possible that if half of a mass is tied to earth with chains that the other half can soar into skies? – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

There could be a powerful international women’s rights movement if only philanthropists would donate as much to real women as to paintings and sculptures of women. – Nicholas D. Kristof

Also on this day: Fore – In 1930, the first miniature golf tournament was held.
Bump! Boom! – In 1958, the Springhill mining disaster struck.
Poison Gas – In 2002, the Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis began.
Schtroumpfs – In 1958, the Belgian comic strip debuted.

It’s About Damn Time

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 18, 2013
Voting rights for women

Voting rights for women

August 18, 1920: The US Constitution is lengthened when the 19th Amendment is ratified. The amendment grants the vote to any citizen regardless of sex. It was the culmination of years of struggle. Back in 1755, Corsica was the first to grant women a say in their governance (it was rescinded when France annexed the region in 1769). In 1838, the Pitcairn Islands began the slow march towards equality. Not immediately taken up as a cause célèbre, it was decades before anyone else tried that stunt.

Some areas gave women a say in local government, but not national. Some gave widows or spinsters a vote, but not married women. In 1906, Finland was the first country to permit women to both vote and stand for election regardless of wealth, race, or social position. Slowly, more and more countries began to permit women a vote in some or all elections. Some states, even as early as colonial times, had recognized women as full adults and permitted them a voice in their rule. As more territories became states, women were granted a voice in at least local elections.

Distaff populations have been seeking equality for a long time. Queen Victoria in an ironic twist called the idea a “mad, wicked folly of Women’s Rights.” In the 1880s, the word “feminism” first appeared in France, spreading westward and arriving in the US in 1910. There were many women who advocated for the equal treatment of all. After the Civil War enfranchised the freed slaves – the male freed slaves – women became even more vocal in demanding this right for themselves.

After 18 months of protests by the Silent Sentinels, President Woodrow Wilson announced his support of women’s suffrage on January 9, 1918. On January 10, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the amendment but the Senate refused to even debate the issue until October and then it failed to pass. The National Woman’s Party urged voters to oust the anti-suffrage Senators in the upcoming election and they did. On June 4, 1919 the amendment passed both houses (304-89 and 56-25). Illinois was the first to ratify it on June 10. It needed 36 votes to be added to the Constitution and Tennessee was that state, ratifying it on this date.

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” – the Nineteenth Amendment of the US Constitution

“If the gods had intended for people to vote, they would have given us candidates.” – Howard Zinn

“The single most impressive fact about the attempt by American women to obtain the right to vote is how long it took.” – Alice Rossi

“You will never escape the will of the mob; about the best anyone has ever figured out how to do is herd them into voting booths.” – Barry Shein

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: In a democracy, the government is chosen by those who are ruled by it using an election in which participants cast votes. One of the precepts of the election system in the secret ballot which, at least in theory, keeps voters from being coerced or threatened while casting their votes. There are many different types of elections as well as different types of elected governments. Some systems have voters casting a vote for a particular candidate while other systems vote for a particular party and the party then seats their chosen candidate. The best practices of voting are not just the way the votes are cast, but also the way the votes are counted. There are a number of ways this can take place as well, many of them leading to the opportunity for voter fraud. There are also different methods for ascertaining if the person at the polling place is legally permitted to cast a vote in the particular election. To date, no system is perfect.

Also on this day: Virginia Dare – In 1587, the first child of English parents is born in the New World.
Lolita – In 1958, Nabokov’s famous novel was published in the US.
He – In 1868, helium was discovered.