During the early 20th century, at some point in their
lives many women lived independently. Some women became
engaged while living with their families, while others lived
alone for a time before getting married. Still others
remained single for most or all of their lives. Women who
were single chose this course, for there was no shortage of men on the Canadian prairies. In fact, many women
moved to the West in pursuit of marriage.
Sometimes even women who did not intend to get married
fell in love, which was the case with Irene (Marryat) Parlby.
Like many women of her time, she came to the Canadian West
seeking adventure, but upon meeting Walter Parlby,
agreed to marriage. Though her husband died in 1952, Parlby
lived many years later, passing away at the age of 97.
Women tended to live longer than men, meaning that wives
were more likely to become widows than men were to become
widowers. A number of other factors contributed to this
tendency. Mine accidents and war claimed many husbands
prematurely. Also, as it was common for husbands to be 10
or more years older than their wives, so they were usually
the first to pass away. On the other hand, as Nellie McClung
observed, many wives died early due to overwork or
childbearing. Another example of the pervasive gender
inequity was that while widowed husbands were likely to
remarry, most widowed women did not.
Divorce was uncommon in the early 20th century. Some
women endured unfulfilling and abusive marriages because
provincial laws governing shared family property and spousal
support offered them little upon separation from their
husbands. Physical abuse was considered sufficient reason
for divorce and entitled ex-wives to more compensation, but
was difficult to prove. Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise
McKinney, and Irene Parlby worked hard to change these laws
by championing the Dower Act and other provincial
legislation. Nonetheless, unhappy couples were unlikely to
divorce because marriage was considered sacred and divorce
|Heritage Trail: Irene Parlby and the Persons' Case
|Irene Marryat was raised to be a proper young
English lady. But as historian Merrily Aubrey
explains, she gladly left behind the stuffy tearooms
of Victorian England when she married an Alberta
rancher by the name of Walter Parlby.