If 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
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.