Canada 10/150: Henrietta Muir Edwards

Henrietta Muir Edwards
The Famous Five

By Anita Bromberg

"Who is your hero?" So my daughter asked me recently. A good question deserves another good question so I, of course, asked her to name her hero. She quickly named Malala Yousafzai. My first reaction was to be impressed that she knew about this Nobel Peace Prize winner, a girl just a bit older than my daughter, who is admired around the world for her courageous fight for women's rights to equality and education. A great choice, of course. Then my daughter added that the person had to be a Canadian. Well, Malala was supposed to have gotten honorary Canadian citizenship, so that should be good enough, I suggested. My daughter jumped on this, adding that that was a relief, as she doubted there were any Canadians who could match her. Canadians were not the heroic type, she thought.

Now that troubled me. Surely there had to be a Canadian-born woman we could think of. When in doubt, surf the net. And there, right in my face, was my answer. Thank you, Google Doodle of the day. That day's doodle turned out to be about Canadian-born Henrietta Muir Edwards, one of the Famous Five, a group of five Canadian women dedicated to the cause of equality and women’s rights.

Born in 1849 in Quebec to a privileged family, Edwards became a legal expert as well as an artist. Like the other four of the group, she was tireless in the cause for women's rights. By the time she was 26, she was publishing Canada’s first women’s magazine, Women’s Work in Canada. In 1893, she helped found the National Council of Women of Canada, an organization that until today works to improve the quality of life for women, their families and society. She is also credited with establishing the prototype for the Canadian YWCA and helping to found the Victorian Order of Nurses in 1897.

In 1927, she became one of the Famous Five who signed a petition asking the Supreme Court of Canada to reinterpret the law concerning the term ‘person’ in the British North America Act. However, it was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London that reversed the Supreme Court decision in 1929 and granted Canadian women the right to be appointed to the Senate. Along with the other women dubbed the Famous Five, Edwards would change the world of women in Canada and other countries before she died in 1931.

Unveiling of a plaque commemorating the Famous Five on June 1938 | Clockwise from left: Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung

With determination, perseverance and dedication, Henrietta Muir Edwards helped improve the plight of the women of her time. Yes, we too have our own Canadian heroes.

“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.” – Henrietta Muir Edwards

Watch The Famous Five and the Persons Case produced by CPAC - Cable Public Affairs Channel


Equality march 20


Famous 5 Foundation

Henrietta Louise Edwards, Historica Canada

Henrietta Muir Edwards, Library and Archives Canada

Henrietta Muir, Status of Women Canada

From the CRRF's clearinghouse

Visible Minority Women, Statistics Canada  



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