This summer we celebrate the 150th birthday of our nation. Canada Day is a time to give thanks for our great country and remember those who’ve left a lasting legacy of influence on it. Last month I shared the story of Nellie McClung, one of Canada’s pioneers in women’s rights and equality. This month I want to highlight another member of Canada’s “Famous Five”, Henrietta Muir Edwards. Henrietta was a devout Christian and a strong leader in the feminist movement. She was a key figure in founding a number of important Canadian institutions, including the National Council for Women, the Victorian Order of Nursing (VON) and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
Henrietta was born in 1849 into an affluent and religious family. In her early years, she joined movements for women and justice. She pursued studies in the field of the arts which strengthened her determination to ensure women were recognized for their contributions. Along with her sister Amelia, she founded the Working Girls Association and launched the first magazine for women entitled Working Women of Canada. She financed this with proceeds from her artwork of various paintings and miniatures.
She married Dr. Oliver Edwards and after the birth of her three children moved to Saskatchewan. There she discovered her true passion for women’s rights and became involved in the feminist organization.
At age 44, she helped found the National Council of Women and the Victorian Order of Nurses. She was also Chair of the Provincial Council of Alberta for many years. In 1927 she joined forces with the other four members of the Famous Five and who together were instrumental in redefining the role of women in Canadian society.
Hard won political victories have certainly resulted in the betterment of women’s lives, notably through the women’s suffrage movement and through other efforts to ensure that women are able to participate in life outside the home. It is wonderful that most of us have freedom of choice to work at a meaningful occupation if we wish. We as women have also been able to enter into the democratic process and even to run for political office. We can pursue education, train in a professional field, and participate in sports and recreational events. These choices are available to us largely because of the efforts of previous generations who fought for women’s equality.
We are grateful to both the women and men who had a heart for women and who have campaigned for the justice of all people.
Still, after 150 years of progress and increasing equality, many women are not yet experiencing true freedom. Biases still exist and the battle of the sexes hasn’t been resolved. The mere fact that we call it a ‘battle’ shows how much further we still have to go. And as good as it is to change laws we need to acknowledge that the root problem goes far deeper.
For true freedom we need to recognize that the root is spiritual. It is about true identity and purpose – ones that can only be bestowed upon us by our creator Father. When men and women have that change of heart from the inside out, then they will experience what God wanted from the very beginning: equality of men and women, true healing of our fractured relationships, and freedom we give as a gift to each other.
What a day to celebrate that will be.