A sex worker, a Calgarian and a central figure in the Persons Case that officially recognized women as persons. Her name may not be as familiar to you as Nellie McClung or any of the Famous Five for that matter, but it was Lizzie Cyr’s legal case that paved the way for the Famous Five to challenge the British North America Act.
Lizzie Cyr was convicted of ‘vagrancy’, a term used back then to regulate or criminalize prostitution by one of two female magistrates in the British Empire in 1912. Her lawyer decided that he was going to appeal Lizzie’s conviction and argued that the judgment could not stand because the magistrate was a woman and was not considered a person. The Alberta Supreme Court upheld the magistrate’s right to occupy her position and her conviction of Lizzie stood. In turn, this created an opportunity for the Famous Five to argue that if she was allowed to occupy her position that meant she was indeed a person.
Stories like this and many more, are part of the reason YW Calgary chose to launch a project called HerStory in honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial. While the Persons Case only paved the way for white women to be seen as persons, it is one example of how frequently women’s impact on history is lost. Knowing this, we wanted to engage with our communities to learn more about the pivotal role women have played.
HerStory will tell the stories of 150 women whose stories may be known, or lost to history who have impacted Calgary and surrounding area. If the history books have taught us one thing, it’s that the only important contributions to history were made by men – women’s impact on history was minor and not worth remembering. Only through a deeper dive into history and its prominent figures are women and the incredible things they accomplished over the last millennia. We know what women have accounted for 50 per cent of the population for most of time, but most history recalls historical men and their impacts.
Which makes women’s impact on history even more impressive because it came at a time when women were discouraged from stepping outside their limited roles offered. In fact, when women did accomplish something exceptional, more often than not, men would be credited. Think Emily Murphy, an Alberta woman who helped pass legislation to protect a woman’s right to a third of her husband’s property, or Mary Irene Marryat Parlby, the first woman in Alberta to hold a cabinet post in government and the second in the British Empire.
The future, hopefully is one of equity and balance. We intend to honour the women who came before us and paved the way towards a more equal society.
Stay tuned to our website to see the final list and for more details on the creative installation to come in Fall 2017.