Maude Keen Riley has been called a sixth member of the Famous Five. Indeed, she worked closely with Emily Murphy and Henrietta Muir Edwards in fighting for equality and was an accomplished campaigner for women’s rights. But it was unwavering focus on child welfare that defined much of her advocacy. After the particularly difficult birth of one of her three children – both she and the baby nearly perished – she promised God that she would dedicate her life to bettering the lot of children and families. For Maude, child welfare was both a moral obligation and a patriotic duty to ensure the future of the nation.
Her famous mantra was that “Children should be well born, well treated, well housed, well fed, and well taught.”
Born in 1882, Maude took her teacher training in Ontario and came west, settling in Calgary in 1904 and teaching at the Nose Creek School. In 1918, she helped found the Calgary Child Welfare Society, which then became the Alberta Council on Child and Family Welfare. She served as president of the Council for 39 years. Unafraid to be labeled a busybody or do-gooder, Maude was a potent political force in her own right, all the more so with sixty women’s groups allied with her Council, totaling a membership of nearly 80,000.
She wouldn’t take no for an answer when it came to improved child welfare – from milk pasteurization and reformed dower rights, to free hospitalization for maternity and the establishment of family courts and family allowances – and she relentlessly and eloquently lobbied for change.
In the 1934 annual report of the Alberta provincial executive of the National Council of Women, Maude wrote:
“If this old world is to be made straight at last, it will require all the brains and all of the energy of all the men and of all the women pulling together. But the sad fact remains today that women are being pushed more and more into the background. Woman was not created to be a trailer.”
Maude passed away in 1962.