Edith Archibald (1854-1936)

Reformer, Suffragette, and Woman of Influence

In April 2001, the Canada Parks and Monuments Board declared Edith Archibald a "person of national historic significance" for her role in the first wave of feminism in Canada. A reformer and woman of influence, Archibald was instrumental in the women’s suffrage movement in Nova Scotia and held several leadership positions in the Local Council of Women of Halifax.

Edith Archibald (1854-1936) was born in St. John’s Newfoundland but raised in New York City, where her father served as the British Consul General. At the age of 20, Edith married her second cousin, Charles Archibald. The couple lived in Port Morien, a small Cape Breton mining village then known as Cow Bay, where Charles managed a coal mining company. They had a large house and property that overlooked the bay, and there raised four children. It was in Cow Bay that Edith became active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which, like its sister organizations across the country, campaigned for prohibition and women’s suffrage. In 1892, the Cow Bay WCTU raided three illegal saloons in the area! Edith was also an active member of the provincial and national branches of the WCTU, and devoted herself to the suffrage cause both within and outside that organization.

In 1894, the Archibald family moved to Halifax, where Charles Archibald became a director of the People's Bank (later the Bank of Nova Scotia). Later that year, the Local Council of Women of Halifax (LCWH) was formed. Its first meeting was chaired by the Lady Ishbel, Countess of Aberdeen, from the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC). Lady Aberdeen described Edith as an "able and wise woman." Edith served as the Council's secretary for the first year, and then Vice President. In 1896, Edith was elected President of the LCWH. Edith was a staunch Protestant, and fought to have the Lord's Prayer recited at the start of Council meetings. This sparked controversy, since the LCWH was open to women of all religions. With no resolution in sight, Edith resigned as president soon after she was elected. Despite the disagreement, Edith returned as president in 1899, and remained in the position until 1905. As president, Edith helped found the Victoria Order of Home Helpers (later Victoria Order of Nurses) in 1897, and between 1910 and 1912, she led the Council's campaign to gain representation for women on the Halifax School Board. Edith was also a leader in the women's suffrage movement in Nova Scotia, working tirelessly for decades to win women the right to vote, which they were grated in 1918.

Edith Archibald was a founding member of the Halifax Ladies' Musical Club, and strongly supported opportunities for women as composers - she herself was a composer of patriotic music. And like all leaders of the LCWH, she threw herself wholeheartedly into the work of the Red Cross Society during the First World War.

After the war, Edith turned her attention to history and literature, writing several books, including a history of the Nova Scotia Branch of the Red Cross. She was active in charity and health reform and played a key role in the establishment of the Halifax Children's Hospital, which later became part of the Isaac Walter Killam (IWK) Hospital.

Edith Archibald died in May, 1936, which made front-page news. Her influence is commemorated by a plaque at the Council House for the Local Council of Women Halifax.