From the archives: Emily Murphy (Herstory 1974)

Historica Canada’s Heritage Minutes: Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy is best known for her undaunted work in the “persons case,” the battle she waged for eight years to prove that women are persons in the eyes of the law. She was born and educated in Ontario. In 1904 she moved to Winnipeg where she conducted the literary section of the Winnipeg Tribune. Moving to Alberta in 1907, she became very active in civic affairs, especially in the attainment of laws for the betterment of conditions for women and children.

Emily Murphy, via Wikimedia Commons.

Emily Murphy, via Wikimedia Commons.

A few months after the passage of the enfranchisement act in Alberta, she was appointed a police magistrate for the City of Edmonton – the first woman in the British Empire to hold such a post. The very first day she presided over her court, the counsel for a defendant to whom she had imposed a stiff sentence, told “Her Honour” that she was not legally a “person” under the BNA Act and had no right to be holding court anyway. It was this incident that began the struggle against the Senate, the Supreme Court of Canada, and even the Privy Council in London, England. Although she spent the better part of her life working for this goal and was recommended for appointment to the Senate, the Canadian Government never saw fit to appoint her to the post. She lived to see her obvious claims ignored twice.

Under the pen name “Janey Canuck” she wrote many books and articles mirroring western life. In one of them she said: “Lean on no one. Find your own centre and live in it, surrendering it to no person or thing.”

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