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News Articles - Famous Five now on Website

Famous Five now on Website
Edmonton Journal, May 7th, 2003
By Don Thomas

(Copyright Edmonton Journal 2003)

EDMONTON - They've been recognized with life-size sculptures on Parliament Hill, and now the achievements and stories of Alberta's "Famous Five" women are available to the whole world by computer.

A Web site describes the life and times of Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung, who led the battle that resulted in the British Privy Council declaring in 1929 that women are "persons," eligible to be elected to the Senate.

More than a dry collection of facts, the site at www.abheritage.ca/famous5/ includes photos, film clips, early radio interviews with the pioneering feminists, some of their writings and background information on how restrictive it was for women in the early 1900s.

"You really cannot engage people if you just want them to memorize facts," said Adriana Davies, director of the Heritage Community Foundation which developed the site, in co-operation with the Famous Five Foundation and Industry Canada.

"Learning by rote just doesn't engage contemporary students. They really want to understand people and their stories. We're a society that's looking for heroes, and I think these sites do this."

It's "warts and all" information, she said, acknowledging, for instance, that Murphy supported the eugenics movement that led to thousands of mentally challenged Alberta children being sterilized. It was a widely held view and, as a farm woman, Murphy sincerely believed that livestock improvement techniques could be applied to humans, Davies said. Only after the Nazis took it up was it recognized for how evil it could be.

The Edmonton-based heritage foundation aims to popularize Alberta's history, geography, culture and scientific and technical achievements by pulling information off library shelves and putting it on the Internet, she said. They've created sites on Alberta's fur trade era, settlement, ecosystems and political history. There's one on how Edmonton's "Little Italy" developed and the making of Treaty Eight. There's also a pictorial history of Edmonton with 10,000 digitized photographs from the City of Edmonton Archives.

The history sites have up to 40,000 hits a month, with use falling sharply in July, indicating school children are heavy users. The launch took place at Oliver school, one of three schools housing the Nellie McClung girls junior program, which stresses academics, development of independent attitudes and teamwork in an all-girl setting.

The girls have unofficially adopted as their motto McClung's fighting words: "Never retreat, never explain, never apologize. Get the job done and let them howl."

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