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Henrietta Muir Edwards

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Private Life

Public Life


Legislation Championed

Reading: "Motherhood, God's Greatest Gift"


Detail of statue of Henrietta Muir Edwards by Barbara Paterson, on Parliament Hill in OttawaIf women had the vote there would be no need to come twice asking for better legislation for women and children, no need to come again and again for the appointment of women inspectors where women and children are employed; we would not ask in vain for the raising of the wage or consent. We do not want to vote as men, we want to vote as women—the more womanly the better.

                                     —Henrietta Muir Edwards, 1907

Henrietta Muir Edwards was an activist for suffrage and political rights for women, worked closely with women's missionary societies for over four decades, and advocated public libraries, mothers' allowances, equal parental rights, equal grounds for divorce, and penal reform. In 1908, at the request of the Canadian government, Edwards compiled a summary of Canadian laws, both federal and provincial, which pertained to women and children. She subsequently prepared two handbooks on legal matters affecting women entitled Legal Status of Women in Canada (1917), and Legal Status of Women in Alberta (1921). Involved with the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), from 1886, Edwards viewed temperance as an important cause. She was also President of the Ottawa YWCA during the 1890s. She helped establish the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) in 1893, and served as the Convenor of Laws for the organization for 35 years. She also worked together with Lady Aberdeen to co-found the Victorian Order of Nurses (1897).

Around 1903, the Edwards family moved west to Alberta, where Dr. Oliver Cromwell Edwards worked as medical officer on the Blood Indian Reserve, 40 miles west of Lethbridge. Edwards remained there until her husband's death in 1915, after which she settled in Fort Macleod where she was chosen to chair the Alberta Laws Committee. When the Alberta executive of the National Council was formed, Edwards became its President, and also served as the first Convenor of the Council's Standing Committee on Laws Affecting Women and Children. It is not surprising that she was the first President of the Alberta Local Council of Women since she served as the NCWC's key spokesperson and organizer in Alberta and on the prairies, having organized each of the Alberta Local Councils of Women starting in 1905.

Edwards played an active part in securing legislation for the protection of women in Alberta. Before her involvement, there was no Dower Law in the province and as a result, a husband held all rights pertaining to any property owned by the family. She was influential in working with other women to have an act passed requiring the wife's signature before her home could be sold. However, it was many years before the Dower Act was enforced. When the campaign for women's suffrage developed in Alberta, Edwards played a major role.

When the "women as persons" controversy arose, Edwards was 80 years old and living in Southern Alberta. Nonetheless, she accepted Emily Murphy's invitation to tea, travelling by train for many hours to Murphy's Edmonton home on August 27, 1927.

Edwards was responsible for much of the legal research required before the Famous 5 could present their case to the Supreme Court as well as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. She was annoyed and disappointed when the Supreme Court of Canada announced on April 24, 1928 that women were not considered persons by law. Finally, on October 18, 1929, headlines throughout the British Empire repeated the news: "Privy Council Declares Women are Persons!"

The Calgary Women's Canadian Club held a celebratory lunch for the Famous 5 on January 23, 1930. As noted in the Albertan, when it came her time to speak, Edwards said she must give credit where credit was due. She acknowledged the support of many women but said that it was equally important to thank the men who had helped with the cause. "Well, not perhaps the Judges on the Supreme Court of Canada, but certainly the Lords on the Privy Council!"

Henrietta Muir Edwards died in Fort Macleod on November 10, 1931, aged 82, and was buried in Edmonton with her husband and son. Her gravestone lists only family dates and a Bible verse.

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