She Pushed From Behind:

Emily Murphy in Story and Song

"Nothing happens by chance, everything is pushed from behind." (Emily Murphy)

    People congregated around the Eternal Flame on Parliament Hill    

Person's Day is celebrated annually in Canada on October 18th. This year, 2004, marks the 75th anniversary of the court decision that finally acknowledged women as "persons" under the laws of Canada.

Five formidable women from Edmonton brought the "Persons" case first to the Supreme Court of Canada, and then appealed the decision to England.

 
       
 

Ruth heard stories of the Valiant Five from both of her grandmothers who themselves watched these women in action. She wanted to tell the tales herself.

In late summer 2003, Ruth called Teresa to say, "I can hear your voice singing this story." Teresa answered at that very moment there was a letter on her desk about Emily Murphy. Teresa was doing some research of her own into the history of social policy in Canada. What a coincidence!

 
 

After hours in libraries and archives, it became clear the Story of The Five was too big for one telling. So the focus was put on the "Captain" of the Famous Five, Emily Murphy.

For Ruth, the important thing was to start from the stories themselves. "I was amazed," she says, "that Emily Murphy, one person, could do so much and could be steadfastly interested in the welfare of the world". Ruth saw Emily Murphy as a community builder and a woman who constantly stuck her nose into things in order to change them.

As an Irish immigrant to Simcoe County, Teresa was curious about the fact that Emily Murphy had grown up just a few miles away from where she herself landed. Teresa was impressed by this woman who broke through many of the absurd barriers women faced in her day.

"But," says Teresa, "the more I dug into the story, the more I knew we had to name the racism that was part of first wave feminism and Canadian history more generally. I also began to wonder what we could learn from Emily Murphy in all her contradictions. What will people say of our movements for social justice 75 years from now? What blinders are we wearing that we don't care to take off?"

At midnight October 18, 1929 Defence Council Rowley told Emily that she, and all Canadian women, were Persons under the Law. Neither of them stopped to consider the "women of Canada" did not include Aboriginal women, nor women who were immigrants from Asia or Eastern Europe.

In their words and music, Ruth and Teresa paint a compelling picture of the early days of the women's movement in Canada. Theirs is part of a longer story of an ongoing rebellion.

It is in that spirit that they leave the last word to Emily who said, "It is not enough to be a Person. We must get involved. We must dip down and drink."