March 5, 2014

Women's History Month: Irene Parlby One of the Famous Five

The Famous Five were 5 Canadian women who created a petition  in 1927 they sent to the Supreme Court of Canada to ask if women were "persons" under the law. In 1928 it was unanimously decided by the Court that the answer was "no" but in October 1929 the decision was overturned and for the first time women were legally considered "persons". 


It totally blows my mind to put this in context - my mother was 13 years old before she was considered a person. My grandmother was 35. I cannot imagine not being considered a "person". 

Women's History Month: Irene Parlby One of the Famous Five One of the group of Famous Five was Irene Parlby. I wanted to know more about Irene - who was she and what kind of upbringing did she have that contributed to her determination to make changes for women.  

Unforunately I've never had the opportunity to see the movie The Relunctant Politician about Irene's contributions to the women's movement.   

There are a few brief biographies of Irene online but they don't have the kind of meat I was looking for. Who were her parents? Where did she live? What was her life like?

Baptism Elizabeth Lynch in Bombay India 1845. FindMyPast.co.uk
My research found that Irene was born Mary Irene Marryat in London England in 1868 to parents Ernest Lindsay Marryat and Elizabeth Lynch. Her father was a British Army Colonel and was stationed in India for part of his military career. Irene's mother Elizabeth was born in Bombay India in 1845 to Edward Patrick Lynch, a well-known Lt.-General in the English Army. Edward Lynch entered the India army in 1826 and was stationed in India, Persia and Afghanistan. 
Marriage Marryat-Lynch in Bombay India 1866. FindMyPast.co.uk
Elizabeth lynch was a widow when she and Ernest married in Bombay India in 1866. She had married Maxwell Graham in India 3 years previously. Her first husband died of cholera one year later in March 1864 at the age of 25. Maxwell was also in the Army. Elizabeth was 20 years old when she was widowed. At the time of their marriage, Ernest Marryat was  a Lieutenant in the Royal Bombay Engineers. 

There was a strong military presence in Irene's family with her father, maternal grandfather and maternal great-grandfather highly placed army officers. Being raised in a military family no doubt meant a strong emphasis on routine, discipline, accountability and duty. 

The Lynch family had long standing ties in the military. Irene's great-grandfather Henry Blosse Lynch had a varied career - as a mountaineer, volunteer in the Indian Navy, Persian Gulf surveyor, explorer, interpretor who was fluent in Arabic and Persian. and many other accomplishments. 

Irene's father Edward Patrick Lynch was born in Mayo Ireland. He enlisted in the Indian Army in 1825 and did not marry until 1843 when he wed Louisa Stirton in Bombay.  Louisa died in October 1846 on board a ship sailing to England [Gentleman's Magazine. Jan. 1847. p. 110. http://search.fibis.org/frontis/bin/aps_detail.php?id=1162466 On her passage to England, Louisa, wife of Major E.P. Lynch, K.L.S., Bombay Army]. In 1848 Edward married her younger sister Emily Elizabeth.

The Stirton sisters were the daughters of Andrew and Sarah Stirton and were born in London England. Andrew was born circa 1784 in London England and in the 1851 census he is listed as a Marine Fund Holder. 1851 was a rough year for the Lynch family. On January 1 of that year, Edward and Elizabeth Lynch's 16 year old servant Sarah Shuaghnessey died of Cholera and the next day their only son, 1 year old Edward Bloss Stirton Lynch, also passed away. By the time of that 1851 census the two older sisters, 6 year old Elizabeth and 7 year old Sarah were living with their Stirton Grandparents, Andrew and Sarah, in England. The girls were most likely sent away after their younger half-brother died.

The 1871 census for London England finds Mary Irene as a 3 year old living with her mother Elizabeth age 25 and younger brother Ernest Patrick Lynch Marryat age 1. 

By 1896 Mary Irene had left England for Alberta Canada where she met and married Walter Parlby. It was then that Irene began taking an active role in women's issues. She became President of the United Farm Women of Alberta and was later elected the first female cabinet minister in Alberta. Irene's focus was on improving the lives of rural women and children but her social activism had far-reaching effects for all women once she became involved in the petition to have women recognized as people. The decision that women were persons eligible to be named to the Senate of Canada was handed down on October 18, 1929.

Her only child Humphrey Parlby was born in 1899 in Alberta. Irene retired from politics in 1935 but continued to speak passionately about women's rights. She died at the age of 97 in Alberta.

Notes: Other information and material about Irene Parlby is available at the Glenbow Archives, Alberta

2 comments:

Celia Lewis said...

This is a wonderful post, Lorine. I knew very little about these 5 women, and I'm ashamed to say that! We take many of these important struggles for granted now, don't we. Thank you for your details of one of these Famous Five women.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Celia thank you for your feedback. I never know when I write these posts about Canadian topics whether or not anyone enjoys them.

I must confess that I had never heard of the phrase "Famous 5" until I started to find info about Nellie McClung (who everyone in Canada must have heard of!).

I was fascinated that it was a group of women (not just one or two) who led the fight to have women recognized as people - and equally intrigued (and somewhat horrified) to find out it didn't happen until 1929!

I'm fascinated by social issues of all kinds and what makes certain people take such an active role in fighting for change. And yes we do tend to take it for granted and yet when I was first married in the late 1960s I could not get a credit card in my name, only in my husband's even though he was in school and I was the one with the job!