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Macleod woman honoured in new ‘Famous Five’ mural

Artist Kris Friesen in front of the ‘Famous Five' mural unveiled recently in Edmonton. Henrietta Muir Edwards of Fort Macleod is at left. Photo by Bruce Edwards,

A Fort Macleod woman who fought tirelessly for the rights of women and children was honoured recently in Edmonton.
Henrietta Muir Edwards and other members of the Famous Five who spearheaded the “Persons Case” are featured in a mural by Edmonton artist Kris Friesen.
“The Famous Five were a group of strong-minded, trail-blazing Alberta women who challenged the status quo and created lasting and positive change for every Canadian woman,” federal Public Works and Government Services Minister Rona Ambrose said. “These women are an important part of our country’s history.”
The historic decision to include women in the legal definition of “persons” was handed down by Canada’s highest court of appeal — the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain — Oct. 18, 1929.
The five Alberta women who mounted the arduous two-year legal challenge — Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung and Henrietta Muir Edwards — became known as the “Famous Five.”
Following Edwards’ death Nov. 10, 1931 in Macleod Municipal Hospital from pneumonia, Nellie McClung paid tribute to “her kindness and wonderful character.”
“She was a friend to everyone and laboured earnestly for the welfare and education of all of our people,” McClung said in The Macleod Gazette. “She saw herself as one who was helping to bring order and beauty to earth.”
Henrietta Louise Muir was born Dec. 18, 1849 in Montreal and in 1876 married Dr. O.C. Edwards.
The couple and their three children moved to Saskatchewan in 1883, back to Ottawa in 1890 and came to the Macleod district in 1903. Dr. Edwards died in April 1915.
The Macleod Gazette noted that Henrietta Muir Edwards’ interests in the rights of women and children started early.
“When quite a young girl she began social service work with young women and with her sister Amelia organized a Working Girls Home in 1875 in Montreal, which was sort of a predecessor of the YWCA,” the Gazette reported.
During the same era, Henrietta launched the first Canadian magazine for working women, aptly entitled Working Woman of Canada, which she and Amelia edited.
While living in Ottawa Henrietta Muir Edwards had a large bible class at St. George’s Church and was president of the YWCA.
“She was interested in the organization of the Victorian Order of Nurses and was present at the organization of the National Council of Women to which she has devoted her energies every since,” the Gazette reported.
Henrietta Muir Edwards and Lady Aberdeen in 1893 founded the National Council of Women, and for nearly 35 years Edwards served as chair for Laws Governing Women and Children.
In 1927, Edwards joined forces with Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby to sign a petition requesting that the Supreme Court of Canada reinterpret the law concerning the term “person” in the British North America Act.
That led to the Supreme Court decision to grant Canadian women the right to be appointed to the Senate.
In an article announcing her death, The Macleod Gazette took note of another aspect of Edwards’ life.
She studied as an artist in New York and had a studio in Montreal and Ottawa, having had some of her paintings exhibited by the Royal Canadian Academy.
“She also excelled in china painting and miniatures, and was requested by the Dominion government to paint a set of china for the Canadian art exhibit at the World Fair in Chicago in 1893,” the Gazette noted.
In addition to the new mural in Edmonton, statues of the Famous Five stand on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and in downtown Calgary.

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