On March 29, 1912 a group of women and men met at 808 Wolseley Avenue, home of Mrs. A. G. (Martha Jane) Hample, Winnipeg’s first businesswoman. Their main objective was to organize and work for woman suffrage but they were also concerned about a number of social and educational issues, including the working conditions in factories.
There is a generalization in many articles about the PEL that this was a middle class group of “wealthy Winnipeg women” only interested in the right to vote.
There certainly were women who could afford to spend time campaigning on suffrage and other political and social issues, because they had other women to clean their houses and care for their children, but that certainly did not apply to all members.
The first big event planned was a public meeting to give information about their organization and about woman suffrage to the public. Three speakers were suggested for this event and were to be contacted – Rev. Connor, Mrs. Nellie McClung and Mrs. D.E. McEwen, Brandon. Nellie would later become an active member of the League.
The Famous Five or The Valiant Five, were five prominent Canadian suffragists who advocated for women and children
Nellie McClung (née Mooney), well-known novelist, teacher, social reformer, and suffragist, eventually served as a member of the Alberta Legislature between 1921 and 1926. She actively campaigned for mothers allowances, birth control, free medical and dental treatment for school children, public health regulations, temperance, and the rights of women. She also campaigned for fairer property rights for women and the rights of women in divorce. In 1936 she became the first woman on the Board of Governors for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and in 1939 was Canada’s sole woman representative to the League of Nations.
Henrietta Edwards (née Muir) was 78 years old when the petition was signed and forwarded to Ottawa. She was a journalist and an accomplished artist, painting miniature portraits and china, which were exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. In 1875, she organized the Montreal Working Girls’ Association, a forerunner of the Young Women’s Christian Association. The purpose of that organization was to provide poor working girls with vocational training and help in finding employment, as well as housing and recreational facilities. Being a legal expert, she worked as Conveyor of Laws for the National Council of Women. Prison reform was one of her chief interests. She also worked helping to organize public libraries, urged the establishment of mothers’ allowances and equal parental rights, and pressed for divorce to be granted on equal grounds. Her book, The Legal Status of Women in Canada, was published by the federal government and she was a member of the Alberta Government Advisory Committee on Health.
Emily Murphy (née Ferguson) strongly believed women’s associations could help with social reforms and worked to establish several women’s clubs in Canada, as well as serving as President of the Canadian Women’s Press Club. Her efforts resulted in The Dower Act being passed. She believed that insanity was a disease, not a crime. Writing under the pen name of “Janey Canuck,” she spoke out on drug addictions in her book The Black Candle and on birth control in Pruning the Family Tree. She also worked toward the establishment of public playgrounds and the election of women as school trustees.
Louise McKinney (née Crummy) had the distinction of being the first woman to be elected to a legislature in the British Empire. Active in the Alberta farm community as a social reformer, she was instrumental, along with Emily Murphy, in having The Dower Act passed in Alberta. She also helped introduce laws for immigrants and more effective liquor laws and she aroused public opinion against the unjust status of widows and separated wives.
Irene Parlby (née Marryat) began her public life in 1916 when she took over the presidency of the United Farm Women of Alberta. Later elected to the Alberta Government, she became the second woman in the British Empire to serve as a cabinet minister, and was Minister without Portfolio in the Alberta Cabinet from 1921 to 1935. During her years in public office, she supported 18 laws affecting the lives of women and children. These included a bill to improve the quality of rural education, legislation to provide municipal hospitals and public health nurses to rural districts in the province, and The Minimum Wage for Women Act. She was also responsible for having obstetrical nurses placed in outlying districts of the province not having doctors, and establishing child welfare clinics.