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March 12, 2005

Janey Canuck

One of the most frustrating things about identity politics, or any politics that refuses anything but a party line, is the notion that this or that political perspective can act as a guarantee for the rest of a person's views. Take Canadian icon, Emily Murphy for example. We were taught she was a feminist icon without the awkward fact of her also being a racist. This is the history we should have been taught in high school.

The honour of being represented by a statue on Parliament Hill is usually reserved for prime ministers and royalty, but an exception was made for the Famous Five: Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy, the Alberta women who won the Persons Case that gave women the right to sit in the Senate.

The five were recently added to the back of the new $50 bill as part of the 75th anniversary of the Persons Case. That's what most people know.

What most people may not be celebrating during this International Women's Week is that in 1922 Emily Murphy began writing under the pen name Janey Canuck in Maclean's and other publications, regularly vilifying Asian immigrants, American blacks, Jews and Eastern Europeans who had chosen Alberta as their home.

Recall those fifty dollar bills from circulation now, please.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at March 12, 2005 10:31 AM

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If we followed that logic, though, we'd have to lose most of our public figures before the 1940s. Canada was once a virulently racist country...

Posted by: Ben [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 14, 2005 06:50 PM

This is true and I see no point in trying to (so sorry for this difficult to avoid pun) white-wash history. That said, I think there is a difference between casual stupidity of the past (or indeed the present) and valorizing someone who actively campaigned for eugenics laws. I just read a remarkable piece by noted pre-1940s figure, Aleister Crowley arguing against racism and anti-semitism. He is not even remotely Canadian but I would rather see him on the fifty than Emily Murphy.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 14, 2005 06:58 PM

Understood. It's very interesting, though, that many of those who are thought of as having been very "progressive" were part of the eugenics movement. Margaret Sanger, too, for instance.

I'll generally cut people of a certain age some slack on casual racism. Provided that they're dead.

Posted by: Ben [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 15, 2005 05:24 PM