Forgotten Heroes: Emily Murphy

Forgotten Heroes is a series of posts about extraordinary men and women who are (probably) not remembered by the average person.  Previous heroes include Elijah McCoy,  Nellie Bly and Charles Loring Brace

If you know of a forgotten hero who should be included in this series let me know about him or her in the comment section or via the contact form. My list of future Forgotten Heroes is growing short!

Time: 1917

Place: Alberta

Photo by Jkelly

Are women people? You might have smiled wryly or rolled your eyes as you read that question. Emily Murphy wasn’t smiling.

In Alberta in 1917 women weren’t legally included in the term persons according to how the British North American Act was interpreted at the time. Among other repercussions, this mean that women weren’t allowed to serve in the Senate. Emily wanted to change this.

The first step was to have women legally declared as persons. Her campaign became known as the Persons Case.

1 year passed.

Then 2.



Finally the case reached the Supreme Court in March of 1928. The question at hand:

Does the word ‘person’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act include female persons?

Five weeks later their unanimous answer was a resounding no.

Emily appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Great Britian and a year later the Supreme Court’s decision was overturned. (Remember, Canada didn’t officially become independent until 1982.)

I rarely venture into politics on this blog, but Emily’s decade-long struggle for women’s rights reminds me of something that recently happened in the country of my birth.

Last week a bill was passed in Virginia requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before they are allowed to have an abortion.

Sometimes doctors do need to do these types of ultrasounds during a pregnancy to diagnose potential problems. But politicians are not obstetricians. They do not have the appropriate background or training to determine if any – much less all – women need this procedure.

This is not a medical issue.

Once you peel back a few layers it’s not even really about abortion.

It’s about the same damn question we’ve been wrestling with in western society for generations:

Are women people?

Can they be trusted to own property, have a bank account, vote, run for office, work, fall in love (or stay single),  decide when or whether to become a mother?

Or are men the only ones qualified to decide what women are and are not “allowed” to do?

I think we need another Emily Murphy in this world.



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2 Responses to Forgotten Heroes: Emily Murphy

  1. Anonymous

    This is a very powerful post!  Not only was I pleased to learn about Emily Murphy’s fight to have women included in the category ‘person,’ but I really liked the way you brought it up to date with the comparison to the bill in Virginia.  You are so right in all you say and yes we need another Emily Murphy (or several!) for sure!

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