Famous Five

Bev Walkling
32nd Sarnia Guides


When we were studying Famous Canadian Women this year I did a role play of Emily Murphy. I dressed in what I felt was relatively appropriate gear and did the following speech.

My name is Emily Murphy and I was born in the 1868. When I was growing up I always thought what a wonderful thing it would be to become a Lawyer, and so I studied hard and eventually became one. I was very proud, when I was appointed the first Woman Magistrate in the British Empire.

Do you know what a magistrate is? Do you know what the British Empire was?

Well, I started work at the Women’s Court in Edmonton, and on my very first day there, I ran into a problem. Do you know what judges do? They have to make rulings or judgements about the evidence which lawyers put before them.
Well, on this day, I made a judgement, and the lawyer for the defendant challenged me! He said, that because I was not a “person” I was not able to fulfill the duties of a magistrate! Can you believe it?

I just kept right on with my sentencing, but I did some research, and found out that according to what was then the law, a woman was a person when it came to being punished, but not when it came to having rights and privileges. How absurd! Women are just as much persons as men are!

Well, he was the first lawyer to make that challenge, but far from the last. In 1917, one of my rulings went to an appeal court and they finally said there was no reason that a woman couldn’t hold public office on the basis of her gender. I thought I’d won! But I soon discovered this meant nothing to the Federal Government. I wanted a federal government appointment, but got nowhere! In 1927 I and four other women appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada for clarification of the laws that said women weren’t “persons”.

This court case finally went to the high courts in England, and at last they agreed, women were indeed “persons”. And that paved the way for all the Canadian women who have been involved in Parliament ever since. I’m proud of the part I played to give you opportunities today!