3 Important Things to Consider When Teaching About The Famous Five

If you teach social studies in Canada, then chances are you need to cover The Famous Five. Keep reading for 3 important considerations when teaching students about Canada’s Famous Five Women and the Persons Case.

1) Who Were the Famous Five in Canada?

The Famous Five include:

  • Emily Murphy
  • Henrietta Edwards
  • Nellie McClung
  • Louise McKinney
  • Irene Parlby

Canada’s Famous Five fought for white women’s rights. They were petitioners in the Persons Case which achieved the right for women to run for Senate.

2) The Controversy

Recently The Famous Five have been criticized for being racist and elitist. They were associated with the eugenics movement which led to the forced sterilization of thousands of people. Many of whom were Indigenous women. They also only fought for the rights of white women, excluding all persons of colour.

3) So What Do We Do?

So what is an elementary teacher supposed to do? I don’t know about you but I have no desire to talk with my fifth graders about forced sterilization. But at the same time, I don’t feel comfortable teaching the traditional talking points to students without giving them the full picture. After all, I wouldn’t want my students to feel lied to.

Here’s how I handle this. I start by teaching students about all of the positive things that the Famous Five accomplished, especially for women’s rights. Then I let students know that even though they did some great things for Canada, the Famous Five were not perfect. They made some really big mistakes and promoted harmful ideas.

Most of the time, fifth graders then draw connections to other Canadian leaders who also made a difference for the country but weren’t necessarily good people or made significant errors.

I like this method because it reminds students that the people that we learn about in Social Studies class aren’t meant to be worshiped. We learn about them and analyze them, but we never assume that they were perfect.

Need a resource to help you teach about Canada’s Famous Five Women? Check out my unit on TPT by clicking HERE.

Want more tips and tricks for teaching Canadian History? Check out my Ultimate Guide to Teaching Canadian History Blog Post by clicking HERE.

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