Emily Murphy, First President, FWIC

When I find a well written article of interest, I feel I should use it, with credit to the writer. The following article on Emily Murphy is one of them.  Ruth Fenner

Emily Ferguson was born into a well-to-do family in Cookstown, Ontario in 1868. Both of her grandfathers were active politically, one having founded the Orange Lodge in Ontario, while the other had persuaded the young lawyer, John A. MacDonald to enter politics. Her father too, was a remarkable man who believed  that his sons and daughters should share equally in household chores and responsibilities.  Here was the beginning of Emily’s passionate  belief in equality for women.

In 1887, Emily married Arthur Murphy, an Anglican clergyman. They lived for the first ten years of their marriage in western Ontario where three daughters were born.

On a visit to England in 1898 with her husband who was on a preaching mission, she came in contact with many poor, destitute and despairing men and women. This experience had a lasting influence which led, later in her life to her pressing for good legislation and social reform.

When ill health forced her husband’s retirement from the ministry, they moved to Swan River, Manitoba and Emily began reviewing books and writing under the pen name “Janey Canuck”. As an author she achieved wide acclaim and her books sold quickly.

After four years in Manitoba, the Murphy’s moved to  Edmonton where in 1916 she was appointed the first woman magistrate not only in Canada, but in the British Empire. This position sharpened her awareness of the potential power for social reform held by women’s organizations.

At the inaugural meeting in Winnipeg in 1919, Emily Murphy was unanimously elected the first President of the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada, the newly formed national organization of rural women.

Judge Emily Murphy was the initiator of the of the famous series of legal actions which became celebrated as the “Persons Case.” In this, she was joined by four other women from Alberta and they became known as the “five persons from Alberta.” The action was fought through courts in Canada and Britain until its successful outcome in 1929 when women were declared “persons”. This case was a landmark in the annals of women’s struggle for equality. Amongst other things it means women could be summoned to the Senate, a reform for which the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada had been pressing since its beginnings.

In 1933, she was made a Life Member of FWIC,, an honour she cherished among the many already conferred on her. King George V had acknowledged her achievements by investing her with the Order of St. George of Jerusalem.

Her contribution to social reform and her ceaseless efforts to improve the lot of women were recognized by the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board when in 1960 she was named “a person of national historic importance.”

On April 17, 1985 the Canadian Government issued special stamps to celebrate the coming into effect of Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantee equality of Rights for Women. Emily Murphy was one of the two women activists selected for commemoration on these stamps.

Jenny Morgan, Tweedsmuir History Curator

This article first appeared in the January/February/March 1986 issue of The Federated News.


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