Born in 1868, Emily Ferguson Murphy spent some time growing up in Cookstown before moving to Western Canada. She became a prominent figure in the fight for Women's Rights. Biographical notes by: B.E.S. Rudachyk. Women are not "persons." So ruled the Supreme Court of Canada in 1928. Last week Justice Beverley McLachlin was appointed that court's first female chief justice. Both of these events are historically linked to the Simcoe County "Newsmaker of the Decade" for the 1920s - women's rights advocate and reformer Emily Murphy. Emily Ferguson Murphy was born in Cookstown, Ontario on 14 March 1868. She was the third child and the first daughter of Isaac Ferguson and Emily Gowan. Described by her biographer, Christine Mander, as a "vivacious, fun-loving girl," Murphy was educated at Cookstown and at Bishop Strachan School, Toronto. On 24 August 1887, she married Rev. Arthur Murphy in St. John's Anglican Church, Cookstown. They had two daughters. Murphy first came to public attention as an author, writing under the pen name "Janey Canuck." Her books include, among others: The Impressions of Janey Canuck Abroad (1901), Janey Canuck in the west (1910), Open trails (1912), and Seeds of pine (1914). She also wrote many book reviews and articles for magazines and newspapers in Canada and abroad. In 1903, the Murphy's moved from Ontario to Swan River, Manitoba. From 1907, they lived in Edmonton. At the time, the Canadian West was a hot-bed of reform and radical fervour. Blessed with "a refreshing honesty" and "integrity," Murphy soon took a leading role in political and social issues in Alberta. A champion of women's rights, she worked tirelessly to win women the vote. She was also deeply interested in the welfare of children. In 1910, she spearheaded the effort to set up the Victorian Order of Nurses in Edmonton. She called for the opening of municipal hospitals throughout Alberta. In time, she became the first woman to sit on the City of Edmonton hospital board. She also led the fight for the election of women as school trustees in the province. She sat as the president of the Canadian Women's Press Club from 1913 to 1920. She was the first national president of the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada and was a member of the National Council of Women of Canada. All told, Murphy belonged to more than 20 volunteer and professional organizations. As she was fond of saying: "Almost every experience is good for a woman that doesn't kill her." Emily Murphy practised what she preached. The year 1916 saw both political and personal triumph for Murphy. Politically, women won the right to vote in the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Personally, on 19 June 1916, Murphy was appointed judge of the Edmonton juvenile court. At age 48, she became the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. She served until her retirement on 21 November 1931. As a magistrate, Murphy was humane and compassionate. There was also iron in her soul. Emily Ferguson Murphy Through her work on the bench, Murphy became, in the words of Susan Jackel, "an implacable enemy of narcotics, which she blamed for much organized crime and for victimizing the defenceless." Her book, The Black Candle, published in 1922 "led to laws governing narcotics that remained unaltered until the late 1960s." In 1925, Murphy was appointed official visitor to the jails and mental hospitals of Alberta. Like many of her time, she supported the Alberta Sterilization Act. Tragically, between 1928 and 1972, the province's Eugenics Board labelled 2,822 children as "mentally defective" and had them sterilized. Compensation claims are just now being settled for this dark period of Alberta's past. But for this blot on an otherwise sterling career, Murphy's goal was, as Christine Mander writes: "complete equality of opportunity for women and a better Canada for Canadians. To whatever post she was appointed...she funneled every scrap and every ounce of energy, imagination and drive." Murphy was the force behind the famous "Persons Case." Her first day on the bench in 1916 was marred by the challenge of an Edmonton lawyer. He argued that women were not persons under British law. Accordingly, they were not eligible for appointive positions - like the bench or the Senate. The issue was left hanging until Murphy's brother, Ontario Supreme Court Justice William Ferguson, came across a provision in the Supreme Court of Canada Act. It granted the right of petition to any five persons for a ruling on constitutional points of law. The constitutional door was ajar. Emily Murphy barged right in. She invited four stalwart women's rights campaigners to meet with her near the end of August 1927. Henrietta Edwards, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung, and Irene Parlby all accepted the invitation. Together the petitioners became known as "The Alberta Five." Newton Wesley Rowell, K.C., a future chief justice of Ontario, argued their case before the Supreme Court of Canada in March 1928. On 24 April, the court rendered its unanimous decision. Women were not persons entitled to hold public office as senators. The women had lost. Undaunted, they appealed to the highest court in the British Empire. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council heard their appeal on 22 July 1929 and reserved judgement. Then, on 18 October 1929, the law lords overturned the Supreme Court ruling. In delivering the decision, Lord Chancellor Sankey called the "exclusion of women from all public offices...a relic of days more barbarous than ours..." Canadian women were indeed persons under the British North America Act. "The Alberta Five" won the day on behalf of Canadian women for all time. The way was now clear for Emily Murphy to be called to the Senate. The call never came. Instead, it went to an easterner with impeccable liberal credentials. On 20 February 1930, Mrs. Cairine Reay Wilson became the first woman appointed to the Senate of Canada. Undoubtedly disappointed and hurt, Murphy accepted the decision with apparent grace. Emily Ferguson Murphy, "Janey Canuck," author, journalist, civic leader, magistrate, and political and social reformer died on 27 October 1933 from complications arising from diabetes at Edmonton, Alberta. Emily Murphy has been described as a rebel and as a reformer. Like all labels, each has its merits and its shortcomings. One label that most can agree upon, however, is that Emily Murphy was a fighter. As she was so fond of saying: "Whenever I don't know whether to fight or not - I always fight!" Indeed, "The world loves a peaceful man, but gives way to a strenuous kicker."