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The Famous Five: Heroes for Today
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Legislation Championed

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

Detail of statue of Henrietta Muir Edwards by Barbara Paterson, on Parliament Hill in OttawaThe woman is queen in her home and reigns there, but unfortunately the laws she makes reach no further than her domain. If her laws, written or unwritten, are to be enforced outside, she must come into the political world as well—and she has come.

                                                    —Henrietta Muir Edwards (1901)

From the age of 25, until her death at the age of 82, Henrietta Muir Edwards worked to improve women's lives in Canada. An expert on Canadian laws affecting women and children, her voice on legal issues carried a lot of weight with women's groups. While she could point attention to the flaws in legislation and advocate change, she knew that women needed to have a say in legislation. Because she recognized that legislation to protect women and children would be more likely to be enacted once women had a political voice, she was an advocate of female suffrage.

Edwards welcomed the vote once it was granted to women in Alberta, for she firmly believed that women had demonstrably earned the right to a political voice. She attributed the comparative ease with which women achieved the vote in Alberta to "the Alberta women who, by their courage, endurance and ability did team work with their husbands and brothers in all that has made for the development of the province...[thus, they proved themselves worthy of the vote] by measuring up to the requirements of new surroundings and new duties...."

Some of the legal reforms Edwards championed include equal grounds for divorce; equal custody of children; reform of the prison system, especially as it pertained to women; adoption of mother's allowances; female suffrage.

One especially notable change in legislation for the protection of Alberta women that Edwards played an active part in securing was the Dower Act. Together she and Louise McKinney drafted a bill regarding Dower rights that McKinney introduced to the legislature. Until it became law, a husband held complete rights over any property owned by the family, which sometimes created severe repurcussions for women. The Dower Act required that the wife be consulted and provide her signature before her husband could do anything with their shared property. Though the Dower Act was one of Alberta's most progressive and it was passed in 1925, it was many years before it was enforced.

Henrietta Muir Edwards' major contribution to the review of provincial and federal laws relating to women earned her a reputation for knowing more about laws affecting women than even Canada's Chief Justice.

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