By Jennifer Schleich
December 18, 1849 was a bright day for Canadian women. At the time not so much, but certainly in retrospect; it was the day Henrietta Muir Edwards, a renowned Canadian women’s rights activist, was born.
If she were alive now she would be 165 years old. As such Google is showing props with a vintage-styled Google Doodle, designed by Nova Scotian comic strip artist Kate Beaton, about women’s rights and the suffrage movement, of which Edwards was an integral player.
She was a woman who made things happen for women, and who “fought for it all with unflappable conviction”, writes Beaton about her doodle.
If not for Edwards and her famous four companions, I might not be a person today – like they were not persons during much of their lives. Imagine that, not being a person. Some people don’t have to imagine: still in parts of our world today are huge disparities in human and civil rights.
“[She] deserves a wider recognition for her work,” adds Beaton. “She fought for women’s rights, women’s education, women’s work and women’s health, across the country and from a very young age… she allied herself with likeminded activists and founded a number of movements and societies to improve the lives of women.”
An accomplished writer, Edwards developed the first Canadian magazine for working women and was the author of several books on the legal status of women.
Thanks to the work of Edwards and her colleagues Canadian women were formally granted the right to vote, outside of wartime, in federal elections in 1919 and beginning in 1929 women were finally recognized as persons. However, if you were a first nations woman during the early 20th century you were dually deprived of rights and freedoms. Despite the 1929 Privy Council declaration of women as persons under the law, first nations women in Canada didn’t receive the unrestricted right to vote until 1960.
During her celebratory speech following the Privy Council’s decision to recognize women as persons, she is quoted as thanking all those who supported her and her fellow activists, women and men alike, except, “not perhaps the Judges on the Supreme Court of Canada, but certainly the Lords on the Privy Council!”
Emily Murphy, Nelly McClung, Irene Parlby and Louise McKinney were the other four women who were part of the group known as the “Famous 5”.