Henrietta Muir Edwards

Henrietta Muir Edwards

Henrietta was born in 1849 to a privileged Montreal family. She was an evangelical Christian who believed in practicing what was preached. After ” finishing” school and the obligatory tour of Europe, she talked her father into buying a big house in downtown Montreal where she established the Working Girls Association where single girls could get rooms, job training and legal advice. (This establishment was a forerunner to the Y.W.C.A.)

Marriage to Dr. Oliver Edwards didn’t change her work. It just made it harder because Dr. Edwards moved frequently, even to the Northwest Territories where he was the doctor for Indian Reservations. Henrietta wrote her fellow activists, studied Canadian Law, and looked after her three children. In 1890 back in Ottawa, she joined forces with Lady Aberdeen. She helped Lady Aberdeen establish the National Council of Women in 1893, and became First Convener of the Standing Committee on Laws. In 1897, again aided by Lady Aberdeen, she formed the Victorian Order of Nurses to serve the health needs in frontier areas.

Lady Aberdeen had the prominence and the contacts, but it was Henrietta who organized follow-ups and wrote the necessary by-laws and letters. She did the grinding backroom work. Wherever Henrietta went, the National Council of Women went. They needed her for her growing knowledge of law concerning women and children. In the end, judges and lawyers asked her advice.

Henrietta wrote the handbook on the Legal Status of Women in Canada published by the Canadian Government in 1917. She also penned a similar publication relating to Alberta Law in the same year and a revision in 1921.

In 1927, at the age of 78, she joined the other four ladies to challenge the B.N.A. Act. The case became known as Edwards vs. Attorney General because the names of The Famous 5 were listed alphabetically.
Henrietta was the oldest and poorest of The Famous 5. While Emily Murphy was the driving force at the front, Henrietta did what she did best: the practical research, the letter writing and the keeping of things on an even keel. She deserves her place in law books and on the “Person’s Case” which changed so many laws and narrow interpretations of law.

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