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.
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
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.