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The Famous Five: Heroes for Today
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Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Single Women

The Family

Women on Homesteads

Women's Experience in Cities and Towns

Stereotypes & Ideologies

Reading: "Brilliant Western Woman Talks to Canadian Business Women's Club"

Reading: Distinction of Spheres


Irene Parlby

I do not think I should be very wide of the mark, if I said that the older parts of Canada have for years regarded Alberta as a rather peculiar place, favorable to the breeding of extreme radicals, and peculiar political phenomena, and let it go at that. One wonders if it ever occurs to them that there are always causes and conditions which breed these things.

                                                              óIrene Parlby

Like many women in Western Canada during the early 20th century, the Famous 5 experienced life much differently than we do today. The Canadian prairies, the last frontier to be settled in North America, offered them freedoms they had never enjoyed before. The opportunity and excitement of creating a new life drew hundreds of thousands of people to the region from Europe, Eastern Canada, and the United States. Many found their new lives to be more carefree but also quite difficult. Isolation, primitive housing, and extreme weather challenged their best efforts and determination to succeed.

Due to the social status quo, employment opportunities for women were limited, and their wages were generally lower than men's. As wives, they were expected to look after their homes and raise children, remaining subservient to their husbands, willingly or not.

Discriminatory laws reinforced these conditions. With few exceptions, women could not vote or hold political office, married women held few rights to the money or property shared with their husbands, and changes to these laws were slow in coming.

Not all women faced these conditions to the same extent. The Famous 5, for example, came from progressive families and married financially privileged, supportive husbands. Regardless of their position, they were aware of the circumstances that affected most women. Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy, in particular, wrote extensively about women's lives in the early 20th century. By understanding the social environment they were working within, one can recognize how difficult and significant the work of the Famous 5 was in helping women achieve greater equality.

This section looks at the experiences of women who lived during the same time and in the same place as the Famous 5. We see that they faced different circumstances depending on factors such as marital status and whether they lived in rural or urban locales. Nevertheless, each of these women faced similar difficulties due to their gender.

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