Storytellers bring Famous 5 back to life

By Rob Vogt Local Press Writer

There was a time when women were not equal before the eyes of the law. They were not even viewed as legal persons. That changed when the Famous 5 petitioned the Privy Council of England, who ultimately declared that women were persons under the law.

That paved the way for women to be appointed to the senate, stand for elected office, and begin to enjoy all the rights men did. On Saturday, Oct. 5, five storytellers called “The Valiant Five” came to the Claresholm United Church to tell the story of the Famous 5. Each storyteller took on the role of one of these remarkable women, and told that woman’s life story.

Mary Hays played Louise McKinney, Betty Hersberger played Henrietta Muir Edwards, Doreen Vanderstoop played Emily Murphy, Donna Barnfield played Nellie McClung, and Karen Gummo played Irene Parlby. Louise McKinney has a special place in history, not only because she was from Claresholm, but she was the first woman elected to a legislature in the British Empire. She contributed much to society including legislation protecting the property rights of women; equal pay for equal work; changing guardianship rules so both men and women could be guardians; bringing public health nurses to rural areas; and working on sanitation laws. She also signed the basis for union to create the United Church of Canada, and was heavily in involved with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Mary Hays played Louise McKinney in the Valiant Five. “I’m a story teller,” she said. Hays has been telling historical stories for years, especially of people in social justice. She told the story of Nellie McClung at one point, and wanted to expand that to include the entire Famous 5. Consequently, she and Betty Hersberger created the Valiant Five.

“Everyone researched and created their own section,” Hays said. Then they put it all together in rehearsals to dramatize the history. Rehearsals and performances began in January of 2019. They have put on 10 shows, including ones in Alix, which is the home of Irene Parlby; Red Deer; Olds; Calgary; and now Claresholm.

Hays came to Claresholm for the first time two years ago to do research at the museum and library. “Claresholm has really touched my heart to perform here,” Hays said. “It was exciting to be here tonight.”

She was drawn to McKinney in particular because of her work with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. “I love how she had such a passion,” Hays said.

Moreover, McKinney brought together the right to vote and temperance movements. “It really rallied women to make a difference,” Hays said.

Then, McKinney was the first woman elected to a legislature in the British Empire.

“The courage and determination (she had),” Hays said. “It’s so beautiful.” Moving forward, the Valiant Five will continue performing their show as long as they can. “It’s a story we can tell over and over again,” Hays said.

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Famous 5 Come Alive – The Valiant Five came to the Claresholm United Church on Saturday night, Oct. 5 to tell the story of the Famous 5, who fought to have women legally recognized as persons in Canada. From left are Karen Gummo as Irene Parlby; Donna Barnfield as Nellie McClung; Mary Hays as Louise McKinney, who was from Claresholm; Betty Hersberger as Henrietta Muir Edwards; and Doreen Vanderstoop as Emily Murphy.