Nellie McClung: Famous Five Challenge British North America Act

‘Never retreat, never explain, never apologize – get the thing done and let them howl,” Nellie McClung once said.

Born Nellie Mooney in Chatsworth, Ont., she eventually moved to Manitoba for work as a teacher, where she boarded with the McClung family.

Their suffragist matriarch, Annie McClung, soon became a feminist influence, and her mother-in-law when she married Robert McClung in 1896.

Nellie McClung published her first novel, Sowing Seeds in Danny, in 1908. The bestseller (and her 15 other books) may have made the mother of five a household name, but perhaps what she’s most remembered for is the Persons Case.

A group of five women, known as the Famous Five, challenged the British North America Act in 1927 because it did not recognize women as “persons,” preventing them from being appointed to the Senate (although women could run federally – McClung was elected to the Alberta Legislature as a Liberal in 1921).

The group appealed the Supreme Court’s initial unfavourable verdict, and saw it overturned in 1929. Eighty years later, and 58 years after her death in 1951, the Senate named McClung and her co-conspirators Canada’s first “honorary senators.

” But McClung’s legacy – including for her support for eugenics and the Alberta Sterilization Act of 1928 – is not without criticism.

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