The fifth member of the Famous Five women shares her name with the "Persons Case", Edwards v Canada (Attorney General), simply because her surname occurs first in the alphabet . Henrietta Muir Edwards challenged mainstream Victorian-era Christian attitudes that accepted the exclusion of women. Refusing to accept women's subordinate position to men, Edwards considered everyone equally "coworkers with God" . Her activism directly helped those in need and she rallied others to join.
The oldest of the Famous Five women prided herself on challenging traditional, antiquated beliefs in society. Edwards was born in 1849 to a wealthy, cultured, and religious family in Montréal, but spent her adult life relatively poor compared to her four colleagues. Her legal research and activist work always went unpaid . Although most young, wealthy women of her day followed their privileged and traditional trajectory, Edwards used her Evangelical Christian principles to provide relief for less fortunate women. Rather than marry young, she convinced her father to buy a large house in downtown Montréal where she and her sister provided rooms, meals, reading classes, job training, and legal advice for young single women . Edwards provided these services by creating the Working Girls Association, which eventually became the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Edwards and her sister also founded "Working Woman of Canada", the first Canadian magazine for working women .
After marrying Dr. O.C. Edwards in 1876, Edwards and their three children accompanied Dr. Edwards as he practiced medicine throughout Canada, including the Northwest Territories, Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta. Wherever they lived, she uplifted women and children who were at a disadvantaged position in society . She engaged family, friends, and activists in discussing social issues. To advance her goal of women's equality, Edwards followed and researched Canadian law . She earned the reputation of being well-versed in laws affecting women , and wrote organizational bylaws and letters to garner support for women's foundations . In 1899, she became Convenor of Laws for the National Council of Women, compiling provincial laws affecting women and children .
Edwards was able to use her social position to leverage support for women's issues. With the assistance of Lady Aberdeen, the wife of the Governor General of Canada, Edwards founded the National Council of Women, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and the YWCA . She lobbied extensively for the Alberta legislature to pass the Dower Act, SA, ch 14, in 1917 which gave property rights to widows. Edwards recognized that to gain rights equal to men, women needed to be recognized under property law, as suffrage was historically granted to property-owning men. In her post as Chair of the Provincial Council of Alberta, she furthered her cause to gain equal rights for parents in divorce matters and for women in prison .
When she was not working hard for equal rights, Edwards spent her leisure time painting and was known widely for her talent therein. She painted portraits of Lord Strathcona and Sir Wilfrid Laurier, among others. Much of her work was exhibited in Montréal, Ontario, and Chicago . She was a loving wife and mother, and considered herself blessed to have had her husband's companionship "in perfect accord" for 39 years, as well as her three remarkable children, only one of whom outlived their mother .
It might seem that Canadian society's views "changed" with the introduction of voting rights for women in 1916 and with the Persons Case in 1929. However, we must remember that changes in law reflect societal values and that laws are not enacted in a vacuum. The women's suffrage movement preceding the 20th century and the work of the Famous Five forced society to recognize that a woman should be viewed as equal to and distinct from all other men, including her husband, father, brother, or son. Women's organizations such as those founded by Edwards and Lady Aberdeen, along with the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Women's Canadian Club, and the Women's Press Club, not only effected social change, but reflected the general progressive attitudes emerging out of Victorian-era Canada and Britain. The driving force behind the legal reform which gave women voting rights and the right to be appointed to the Senate can be attributed to notable members of the movement, including the Famous Five.
 Nancy Miller, The Famous Five: A Pivotal Moment in Canadian Women's History, "Henrietta Muir Edwards, First to Sign" (Cochrane: Deadwood Publishing, 2003) [Miller] at 66.
 Miller, supra note 1 at 69.
 Library and Archives Canada, Celebrating Women's Achievements, "Henrietta Muir Edwards", https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/women/030001-1106-e.html [Collections Canada].
 Canadian Women Artists History Initiative, "Edwards, Henrietta Muir", Concordia University, http://cwahi.concordia.ca/sources/artists/displayArtist.php?ID_artist=136 [CWAHI].
 Miller, supra note 1.
 Collections Canada, supra note 5; Miller, supra note 1.
 Miller, supra note 1.
 CWAHI, supra note 6.
 Miller, supra note 1.