Emily Murphy

Lived:March 14, 1868—October 27, 1933 (aged 65)
Career:Equal rights activist, jurist and author

Emily Murphy was a Canadian equal rights activist, jurist and author. Murphy was the first female magistrate in Canada and the British Empire, and helped to repeal discriminatory legislation against women in Canada. However, her legacy is disputed, with her contributions to feminism weighed against her racist views and her advocation of eugenics.

Murphy was born on March 14, 1868, in Cookstown, Ontario. Due to her family’s wealth and influence in society, Murphy was educated in private schools throughout her early life. In 1887, she married Arthur Murphy and had four children.

At age 40, Murphy began to organize women's groups and to speak about the disadvantaged and the poor living conditions in society, particularly for women and children. She began a campaign to assure the property rights of married women, and in 1916, persuaded the Alberta legislature to pass the Dower Act to allow a woman legal rights to one third of her husband's property. Also in 1916, Murphy and a group of women requested a special court, presided over by women in order to try other women, after being denied access to observe a trial for women when the testimony was deemed not "fit for mixed company." With the approval of the request, Murphy became the first female magistrate in the British Empire. In her first case, she found the prisoner guilty, but the defendant's lawyer questioned her right to pass sentence, since she was not legally a "person" under the British North America Act 1867. In 1917, she began a campaign to have women declared as "persons" in Canada, and, therefore qualified to serve in the Senate. The campaign became known as The Persons Case and reached the Supreme Court of Canada in March 1928. After the court held that women were not qualified to sit in the Senate, Murphy and the others appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain and on October 18, 1929, the Privy Council declared that "persons" should be interpreted to include both males and females.

Murphy died on October 27, 1933.