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The Famous Five: Heroes for Today
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Private Life

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

L-R: William Muir Edwards, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Dr. Oliver Cromwell Edwards, and Alice EdwardsBorn in Montreal in 1849, Henrietta Louise Muir was raised in an affluent, cultured, and religious family. She studied art in New York, had flower paintings exhibited in the Royal Canadian Academy, and painted miniature portraits of such prominent contemporary figures as Sir Wilfred Laurier and Lord Strathcona. With her background and education, she could have lead the life of a socialite, but Edwards—an evangelical Christian, who believed in practicing what was preached—was moved by the plight of working women in Montreal, and her sense of justice launched her into a life-long career as an advocate for women.

In 1876, she married Dr. Oliver Cromwell Edwards, but marriage did not divert her focus from welfare work. Nor did her hobbies of chess, amateur photography, taxidermy, and the study of Esperanto, an artificial language based on words common to the chief European languages, created to be a universal language.

Doctor O. C. Edwards and familyFollowing the birth of their three children, William, Margaret, and Alice, the family moved west to Indian Head, Saskatchewan in 1883, when Dr. Edwards became the first general practitioner in the Northwest Territories. Edwards gave up her luxurious home and personal maid cheerfully, exchanging these comforts for a tent near an Aboriginal encampment. There, in addition to caring for her children, Edwards discovered her true passion for women's rights. She became involved in feminist organizations, and spent her time writing to fellow activists, and studying Canadian Law.

In 1890, the family moved to Ottawa, where Edwards joined forces with Lady Aberdeen to found the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) and the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON). Not long after, work called Dr. Edwards west again. In 1903, the Edwards family settled near Fort Macleod, Alberta, where Dr. Edwards was the physician for the Blood Reserve. During this time Edwards built up a fine collection of Aboriginal artifacts, which she later sold to the University of Alberta, despite receiving more lucrative offers from organizations in the United States. She also developed a friendly acquaintance with Frederick Haultain, Premier of the Territories, with whom she discussed her views on a variety of issues. Edwards also crossed paths with Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby and Louise McKinney—as one might expect since all five women were actively involved in the pursuit of women's rights, and legal reforms.

Doctor O.C. Edwards home on Blood reserve, AlbertaThroughout her life, Edwards continued painting, and one of her treasured possessions was the set of china dishes that she painted for the Canadian exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Painted at the request of Canadian government officials, she was allowed to keep the set after the fair.

From 1915 on, Edwards owned a house in Fort Macleod. Dr. Edwards and Henrietta had planned to retire there, but when he suddenly died, Henrietta's sister Amélia Muir (a music teacher who had lived with her on the Blood Reserve) moved in. Edwards' daughter Alice lived on a ranch near the town, but when her husband served with the Canadian army overseas, she and her children moved to live with Henrietta in Fort Macleod. Edwards' other daughter Margaret died in childbirth in 1915, and her son William died in 1918.

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