In 1927 five women brought a case to the Supreme Court of Canada to establish the right of women to be appointed to the Senate. These women were Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, and Irene Parlby. At the time women were not legally recognized as “persons” and could be denied rights based on narrow interpretations of the law. In fact, while some women in Canada gained the right to vote in 1916, many women — particularly women of colour — did not. By 1960, all women in Canada won the right to vote.
In recognition of the “Famous Five” bringing this case to the SCC, we have chosen five of our women authors to spotlight for Women’s History Month. These authors produce award-winning writing we love to read, and we’ve included some of their reviews and interviews as well.
Here’s a brief book list for our “Famous Five” interpretation:
- [Sharps], Stevie Howell
- Stevie Howell was first inspired to write poetry by listening to The Smiths on repeat (even while she slept) for about five years, until she was curious about the references in the songs. The first poem she remembers reading was 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol'. Howell thinks a great poem is made up of layers of meaning, innovative form, and humour. Her book [Sharps] is written about the idea of “Hell, no”. She begins to write many of her poems by ranting in bed at night, but when the poem comes, she’ll scribble it out anywhere.
- Catch My Drift, Genevieve Scott
- When Genevieve Scott finished her first book, it felt like the most honest thing she’d done in her life. She chose fiction because she’d always made up stories without thinking and, while nonfiction seemed intimidating, her current creative project allows her to fold in poetic observations Scott sees her role as a writer as being an empathetic watcher of the world and works by setting a goal of writing a certain number of words daily. She recommends not stopping in the middle of writing because you’ll break your concentration. On a stalled writing day, Scott picks up a book for inspiration and suggests you do the same.
- Conspiracy of Hope, Renée Pellerin
- Veteran CBC journalist Renée Pellerin led a team of national health reporters who covered the release of a Canadian report on breast screening. The study showed a high rate of over-diagnosis, a conclusion that did not surprise Pellerin. In the 1990s, she’d produced a CBC Marketplace documentary, which made a similar point: “the evidence that screening saved lives was weak,” she said. What did surprise her was the vehement response to both the 2014 study and the Canadian scientists who’d conducted it. Ugly threatening emails followed. This strong reaction was the catalyst for Pellerin to write Conspiracy of Hope.
- English Lessons and Other Stories, Shauna Singh Baldwin
- The idea for English Lessons and Other Stories originally came from a radio program Shauna Singh Baldwin hosted for three years. Baldwin says writing helps her live with more awareness and gives her permission to ask questions. Writing fiction gives her the chance to experience other careers, and the best part of writing is hearing from a reader that her stories have changed lives in some way. Baldwin considers herself a feminist writer, and she feels you should write the book that only you can write.
- Mary Pratt
- When women are positioned in relation to men, their identities may be defined by them. Mary Pratt was often a daughter, mother, wife, and chose to be an artist. This was in spite of a teacher informing her there could only be one artist in a marriage and she wasn’t it, or being denied enrolment to the Glasgow School of Art while pregnant. Pratt had nine honorary doctorates, was a powerful advocate for the arts, and the first Atlantic woman to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. She passed away in August 2018 and left behind a legacy not soon forgotten.