Martha Louise Munger Purdy Black

Martha Black is well known in the Yukon. Although she was reported to be the first woman to cross the Chilkoot Trail, she was actually the 5th (first was “Dutch Kate” Wilson in 1887, 2nd was Bell Healey in 1888, 3rd was Emilie Tremblay in 1894 and 4th was Jesse McDougall in 1895).
Martha Munger was born on this day, February 24, 1866 in Chicago.

When news of the Klondike gold discoveries reached the Outside, Martha and her husband Will Purdy made plans to head North. At the last minute, however, Will Purdy got a better offer to go to Hawaii. Martha was determined to break away from the straight-laced life she had led, and continued on without him – she was never to see her husband again.

Martha left Dawson for a year, but returned in 1900, when she joined a mining syndicate. The following year, her father arrived with the machinery to set up a sawmill, and a stamp mill for assaying the ore from quartz mines which were being developed. Martha was put in charge of the mills, and when she needed a lawyer, George Black came highly recommended. Within 2 weeks George had proposed marriage, but Martha held off for over 2 years. They were finally married in Martha’s large home at the sawmill on August 1, 1904. George was elected to Parliament in 1921 and served until 1935, when he was forced to resign due to ill health. Martha then ran in his place, and at the age of 69, she became only the second woman ever to be elected to Canada’s Parliament.

If you go to Whitehorse there is a beautiful “May Day” tree just off of 2nd by the city office building. The placque there says that it was Martha Black’s tree. In the spring when it blooms with hundreds of fragrant white blossoms, it is a beautiful reminder of a great lady. Martha died in 1957 in Whitehorse.

From numerous sources.



2 Replies to “Martha Louise Munger Purdy Black”

  1. Hello; To correct you…Martha Black was not 5th woman to cross Chilkoot Pass; we know of others including Anna DeGraf who did so in 1894; she also re-crossed it again in 1897….see her book:”Pioneering on the Yukon; 1892-1917″. In addition, we know of others in 1897, including Mr and Mrs Fred Card, who lost a baby at Lake Linderman on May 23rd 1897; Mr And Mrs J. D. McKay, are also reported to have buried their infant daughter next to the Card baby in 1897. You are quite correct in stating Martha was not first white woman to cross the Pass…that info. was attributed to a family member who supplied Kansas State U. with a bio. sketch of his Aunt Martha…we have tried to get themn to correct it to no avail so far. Otherwise,,,keep up the stories…great work.

  2. Hello again; In my note to you regarding the posting about Martha Black, and being the 5th woman to cross the Chilkkot Pass, I neglected to include the likes of Belinda Mulrooney who rose to fame in the Gold Rush,( see “Staking Her Claim” by Melanie J. Mayer and Robert De Armond) She is reported to have climbed the Chilkoot Pass in 1897 also. Then there was Ethel Berry who was at Forty Mile with her hubby Clarence , as early as 1896; The Day brothers…Hugh and ? we cannot recall his name at present…but they had their wives with them in Forty Mile before the Gold rush…..and the list of awesome women continues to grow. Hope this helps and provides fodder for another article!

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