Yet despite the power of her inspiration for so many women, Murphy's
larger-than-life persona has recently become a lightning rod for debate.
Murphy's racism and her support for eugenics are now infamous.5 We wonder now
how we ought to relate to a historical figure who was both a fearless champion
of women's equality, and an outspoken advocate and powerful agent of inequality
in the areas of race, religion, and mental and physical disability. Yet as we
struggle with our own ambivalence around Murphy's legacy, it is interesting and
instructive to look back to the voices of the Alberta women who encountered
Murphy in her work as the first woman police magistrate in the British Empire.
We should not be surprised to find our own conflicted responses to Murphy
reflected in the responses of the many Alberta women whose lives she influenced.
Indeed, Murphy's exuberance in the exercise of legal power was not always met
accolade and support even in her own time. A fascinating critique of
Murphy's sensibility and lack of compassion for women who failed to measure up
to her standards is found in an exchange of correspondence, dated February,
1921, between Murphy and a woman named Virginia Clin. Clin, having been released
from the mental hospital in Ponoka, wrote to Murphy to complain about her
treatment there. Clin had some considerable savings she had hoped would provide
her with the means to live once she got out of the hospital. These savings
appear to have been devoured by an account rendered by the hospital to cover her
stay there. One can imagine the disappointment, frustration, and alienation
Virginia Clin must have felt upon receiving the following letter from Emily
Miss V. Clin.
My dear Miss Clin:
I have your letter of the 16th of February. It is indeed regrettable
that you have had to pay out your savings on account of ill health, for I am
sure you have been a thrifty, hard-working girl to have saved the amount of
money you mention. Still we are all subject to a like misfortune, none of us
being immune from sickness.
According to your letter, you were in the hospital for about 1600 days,
and during that time paid out $917.00 which sum included your transportation,
board, laundry, food, medical attention etc. The hospital charges $1.00 a day
apart from transportation, so you see the total account would be $1600.00, and
that the hospital stood to lose approximately $700.00 on your illness.
I may say that $1.00 a day only pays for the actual expenses of the
patient, and does not cover the costs of staff, buildings, and upkeep. These
are all borne by the tax-payers of Alberta.
I would like to point out too, that if you had remained ill for the rest
of your life, the hospital would have kept you without any remuneration
whatsoever. When you come to think it over like this, you will, I am sure,
agree that you have not been looking at it properly.
After all, apart from the financial end of the question, you owe a debt
to the hospital that money could never repay, in that they restored you to
sanity again. Never forget that.
If I were you, I would forget any grievance which you feel you may have,
because if you brood on it, you may become insane again. Don't let yourself
think for a moment that you were held improperly, for the Government is only
too glad to get rid of their patients upon whom they are losing money.
Think kind, helpful thoughts like a good girl, and I am sure all will be
well with you. You say you were a friend of Irene Lewis. Poor Irene was not so
fortunate as you, for you know she died in one of her spasms. Esther Lewis is
home again and doing well.
I am glad you wrote to me, and hope this letter will straighten out your
Yours very truly,