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It Is Good to Live in These First Days When the Foundations of Things Are Being Laid, to Be Able, Now and Then, to Place a Stone or Carry the Mortar to Set It Good and True - Emily Murphy

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"It is good to live in these first days when the foundations of things are being laid, to be able, now and then, to place a stone or carry the mortar to set it good and true."

~Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy is heralded as being one of Canada's greatest women who helped further the Canadian feminist movement in the nineteenth century. She is most famous for her court battle to have women declared "persons" under the British North American Act. Some of her achievements also include: being the first female magistrate in the British Empire, author of several books, president of the Women's Canadian Club, and was active in implementing the Dower Act. Emily Murphy is regarded as being an influential woman in the first-wave feminist movement and she represented the women of her time period. Yet, despite all her accomplishments and her belief in equality for all, she was a strong advocate of eugenics and sterilization as well as being a racist, which mars her legacy. The question then is, should Emily Murphy be praised and held up as a role model to women when she degraded and disparaged immigrants and non-white people. The answer to this question is complicated as Murphy was a product of her time and one cannot simply view her through the lens of contemporary principles. However, this also cannot be used as an excuse for her negative rhetoric, but to understand Emily Murphy's view one must look at the era in which she belonged. Emily Murphy may not be a role model to women but society cannot overlook her deeds and accomplishments.

Emily Murphy was not always interested in women's politics and the suffragist movement. She was born in Cookstown, Ontario in 1868 into a family environment of "affluence, accomplishment, affection, and high ideals."1 In 1887 she married Arthur Murphy, a minister, and settled down to married life. For the next ten years Emily and Arthur moved around Ontario wherever a clergyman was needed. During this time Emily and Arthur had two girls. In 1898 the Murphy's moved to England for a year where Arthur would act as a missionary. It was during this time that Emily Murphy began her career as a writer. She began writing under the pen name Janey Canuck, the feminine form of Johnny Canuck, which was a nickname for a Canadian, and wrote four books under this pseudonym. In 1916 the Murphy's moved to Edmonton and Emily began to get interested in politics starting with community projects. She became focused on women and property rights. During this period in Alberta a wife did not have any property rights. Murphy went about to rectify this. She became a primary figure in the campaign for the Dower Act, which recognized a married women's right to a share of property.2 In 1911 the Dower Act was passed, stating that wives would get a third of their husband's estates even when a will was not present. This was another advancement of women's rights thanks to Emily Murphy. Another great achievement of Murphy was to be appointed first female magistrate of the British Empire. This was not a role that Murphy campaigned for but fell into by accident. She was trying to get the Attorney General of Alberta to set up a women's police court ruled by women and with cases that involved women, when he suggested that Murphy herself fill the position of magistrate. So, in June 1916 Murphy took on another role- police magistrate. As well during this time Murphy became the first woman appointed to the Edmonton Hospital Board and became president of the new Federation of Women's Institutes. All these achievements made her an important force in the first-wave feminist movement. Yet, Murphy herself dismissed being called "feminist". She once said, "I do not like the word Ð''feminist.' It is a poor and paltry word when applied to a movement which today dominates all other questions that involve the social, individual and moral freedom of the entire world. This is a Ð''humanist' movement."3

One of Emily Murphy's greatest achievements was getting the recognition that women were "persons" under the British North American Act. This process came about when a lawyer in Murphy's court opposed her hearing his case declaring that under the BNA women were not "persons" - the BNA used the term "person" in the masculine form.4 The argument over whether women were persons went all the way to the Alberta Supreme Court where they sided with the women and declared that women were "persons". The ruling in Alberta, along with the Equal Suffrage Act of Alberta, which stated, "women had the same rights and privileges as men,"5 showed to the rest of the country that Alberta was a progressive province. The next move on Emily Murphy's part was Section 24 in the BNA, which dealt with Senate positions. The question was argued that if women could hold down positions of magistrates and MP's, MLA's could they not then be appointed to Senate? This issue was debated and argued from 1921-1927 involving three Prime Ministers- Sir Robert Borden, Arthur Meighen, and William Lyon MacKenzie King- with no resolution. Finally in 1927 Emily Murphy's brother, William, who was also a lawyer found a loophole where any group of five people could petition the court for "clarification on a constitutional point."6 Thus, the "famous five" emerged. Emily Murphy, along with Nellie McClung Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby, petitioned the Supreme Court of Canada to have the BNA revised to include women under the word "persons." On April 24, 1928 the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously voted against the women and sided with the BNA. This did not stop Murphy and the other four women, they took their case to the British Privy Council and on Friday, October 18, 1929 the Privy Council overturned the Canadian Supreme Court ruling and declared that women were "persons" and could run for Senate. This was a victory for all Canadian women. Murphy is reported to have said after winning:

"It should be made clear that we, and the women of Canada whom we had the high honour to represent, are not considering the pronouncement of the Privy Council as standing for a sex victory, but, rather, as one which will now permit our saying Ð''we' instead of Ð''you' in affairs of the State."7

Today there are 30 women in the Senate thanks to the "famous five's" decision to question the right to be considered Ð''persons.'

In the early nineteenth century Canada had started opening its doors to Eastern Europeans and they were considered to be inferior to British immigrants. The Eugenics perspective helped fuel the



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