First in Swan River, Manitoba, and then in Edmonton, where she lived from 1907, Murphy combined family life, writing and a multitude of reform activities in the interests of women and children. In 1911, responding to persistent public pressure organized by Murphy, the Alberta legislature passed a DOWER ACT protecting a wife's right to a one-third share in her husband's property. Murphy was also prominent in the suffrage movement, as well as a longtime executive member of the CANADIAN WOMEN'S PRESS CLUB (president 1913-20), the NATIONAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN OF CANADA, the FEDERATED WOMEN'S INSTITUTES OF CANADA (first national president) and over 20 other professional and volunteer organizations.
A self-taught legal expert, in 1916 she was appointed police magistrate for Edmonton and then Alberta, the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. Exposed to a succession of cases involving prostitution and juvenile offenders, she became an implacable enemy of narcotics, which she blamed for much organized crime and for victimizing the defenceless. The Black Candle (1922) by "Judge Murphy" was an expansion of articles published in Maclean's magazine describing in lurid detail the evils of the drug trade; her exposé led to laws governing narcotics that remained unaltered until the late 1960s. But, like many in the vanguard of reform, Murphy's record is uneven. Her anti-drug campaign led her to attack Chinese immigration and she supported EUGENICS.
Challenged on her first day on the bench by a lawyer who asserted that as a woman she was not a person in the eyes of British law, Murphy soon embarked on a decade-long campaign to have women declared legal "persons" and therefore eligible for appointive positions, including the Senate. With the support of 4 other Alberta women, Henrietta EDWARDS, Louise MCKINNEY, Nellie MCCLUNG and Irene PARLBY, she carried the PERSONS CASE to the Privy Council in Britain, which ruled in a celebrated judgement in 1929 that women were indeed persons under the BNA Act. The long-sought Senate appointment eluded Murphy, however, and she died in Edmonton of diabetes in 1933.
Murphy, a self-described rebel, was an outspoken feminist and controversial figure. In recent years she has attracted criticism for her views both on eugenics and immigration as well as acclaim for her success as a suffragist.
Author SUSAN JACKEL Rev: CATHERINE CAVANAUGH
Links to Other Sites
A profile of Emily Murphy. From Library and Archives Canada.
Watch the Emily Murphy Heritage Minute from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
The Famous 5
This website focuses on the Famous 5 and their struggle to advance the legal rights of Canadian women. From the Alberta Online Encyclopedia.
The “Persons” Case
A brief overview of the historic “Persons Case” from the Parliament of Canada website.
Are Women Persons? The “Persons” Case
An online feature about the legal implications of the "Persons" Case. From Library and Archives Canada.
Changing Women, Changing History: Canadian Women
This Library and Archives Canada site features biographies of women activists who have made substantial contributions to the lives of all Canadian women. Also offers teaching guides and reference sources.
The Famous 5 Foundation
The Famous 5 Foundation honours the Famous 5 and other Canadian women. See their biographies of the "Famous 5" as well as the latest news about programs and events.