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Edwards, Henrietta Muir (1849–1933)

Edwards, Henrietta Muir (1849–1933)

Canadian journalist, suffragist, and organizer. Name variations: often listed as one of the Alberta Five also known as the Famous Five. Born Henrietta Muir in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on December 19, 1849; died in 1933; married Dr. Oliver C. Edwards, in 1876.

Born into a wealthy family in 1849, Henrietta Muir was educated in Canada, Europe, and the United States. As an acclaimed painter of florals and miniatures, in 1875 she founded the Working Girls' Association in Montreal (a fore-runner of the YWCA); the organization ran a 60-room boarding house and provided women with vocational education and employment opportunities. Seven years after her 1876 marriage to Dr. Oliver C. Edwards, Henrietta moved with her husband to Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan. In 1890, the couple moved to Ottawa. While there, Henrietta helped to found the National Council of Women and the Victoria Order of Nurses with Lady Aberdeen (1857–1939). In 1903, Henrietta moved to Fort Macleod where she compiled a handbook on the legal status of women in Alberta. In later years, she acted as the convenor of laws for the National Council of Women and the president of the Alberta Provincial Council.

In the 1920s, along with Emily Murphy , Nellie McClung , Louise McKinney , and Irene Parlby , Henriette Muir Edwards launched a court case challenging the historical prohibition of women holding public office. While the Canadian constitution grants this privilege to "persons," in 1928 the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously decided that women were not considered persons under the law and could not hold office. "Women are persons in matters of pains and penalties, but are not persons in matters of rights and privileges," went the 1876 British Common Law ruling. Edwards and the others took the matter to the British Privy Council, then the highest court of appeal in Canada, which reversed the decision. Shortly after, the first woman was appointed to the Canadian Senate. Every year since 1979, in Commemoration of the Persons Case, Status of Women Canada recognizes the contributions of the Famous Five with the Governor General's Award at which outstanding Canadian women are honored.

In December 1997, Honourable Hedy Fry , secretary of state (Multiculturalism), joined with Jean Augustine , Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and Isabel Metcalfe , president of the Ottawa chapter of the Calgary-based Famous 5 Foundation, to celebrate the unanimous passage of a motion in the House of Commons that recommended the Famous 5 Foundation statue be placed on Parliament Hill. The motion was spearheaded by Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps and presented in the House by Augustine, chair of the National Liberal Women's Caucus.

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