PERRIN, EDITH, gentlewoman and social reformer; b. in England, daughter of Thomas Perrin and Margaret —; d. single early in 1909 in England.
For Edith Perrin, the spring of 1893 was a momentous one. The convergence of changes in both her private life in England and the public lives of women in Canada would combine to allow her to embark upon a course of social activism in British Columbia. At home, her brother William Willcox Perrin, the well-known progressive vicar of St Luke’s Church in Southampton, brought her the exciting and gratifying news that Queen Victoria had appointed him to the see of British Columbia in the Dominion of Canada and that he would be consecrated bishop at Westminster Abbey. Miss Perrin agreed to accompany her bachelor brother to his new posting and assist him by undertaking many of the duties routinely the responsibility of a cleric’s wife.
Edith Perrin arrived in Victoria at an auspicious time for a woman of her abilities, situation, and outlook. Intelligent, socially secure, and unencumbered by the daily responsibilities of motherhood or employment, she examined her new surroundings and found much to be remedied. As the sister of the bishop she quickly became aware of the societal and personal distress connected with drunkenness, poverty, prostitution, child neglect, and overwork. In concert with a growing band of like-minded women, she joined the campaign to extend the traditional role of woman as helpmate from the confines of family life into the public sphere [see Eliza Arden Robinson]. Characterized as maternal feminists, this generation of activists argued that social problems were amenable to solution through appropriate amounts of personal persuasion, public education, and legislative force. Strength in the public realm was achieved through the formation of women’s associations that operated as educational and lobby groups.
Edith Perrin’s skills as an organizer were immediately apparent in the formation in 1894 of the Local Council of Women of Victoria and Vancouver Island. As chairman from 1895 to 1899 of the council’s influential committee on laws for the protection of women and children, Miss Perrin initiated investigations into the conditions of working women and children and the prevalence of the sweating system in Victoria. She served as president of the club from 1899 to 1903, and under her guidance it vigorously campaigned on behalf of women seeking positions on the Victoria school board and helped in securing legislative changes to provide police matrons, medical care for mentally ill women, curfew laws, child protection, and the introduction of domestic science into the provincial school curriculum. She also represented British Columbia on the board of the National Council of Women of Canada in 1896 and 1897 and attended the convention of the International Council of Women, held in England in 1897, as a delegate of the national council. For her outstanding service, life memberships in the Victoria and national councils were awarded to her in 1903.
Like many female reformers of this period, Edith Perrin also devoted her energies to the temperance cause [see Grace Sarah Hall Thompson; Huldah S. McMullen]. She belonged to the Victoria branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of British Columbia, and her contribution to it was most obvious in her position as secretary to the WCTU’s provincial Refuge Home for prostitutes and unwed mothers. From 1897 to 1901 she lobbied the provincial government, cajoling its members to contribute to the building fund so that a new house could be built away from the “centre of the city, with temptations and snares at its very doors.”
Concern for society’s marginal members also was apparent in Miss Perrin’s advocacy of improved conditions for dependent and delinquent children. The formation of the Children’s Aid Society of Victoria in 1901 was due in large measure to the campaign mounted by the Local Council of Women during Perrin’s presidency to secure provincial legislation for the protection of neglected, abandoned, and illegitimate children. Fittingly, she served as the society’s first president during 1901 and 1902 and remained on the board until she left Victoria.
Just as her brother’s situation served as the catalyst for Edith Perrin’s move to Canada, so too his actions prompted her permanent return to England in 1904. At the age of 56, Bishop Perrin decided to marry and Miss Perrin vacated Bishop’s Close, her home of 11 years. Her co-workers at the Local Council of Women regretted the removal of their “loved President” whose “sound judgment, kindly tact and devotion to the work” had served not only their organization but several others. Her legacy to British Columbia remained in the legislative changes she helped to instigate.
Daily Colonist (Victoria), 1894–1904. Victoria Daily Times, 1894–1904, 1909. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). Lyn Gough, As wise as serpents: five women & an organization that changed British Columbia, 1883–1939 (Victoria, 1988). L. L. Hale, “The British Columbia woman suffrage movement, 1890–1917” (ma thesis, Univ. of B.C., Vancouver, 1977); “Votes for women: profiles of prominent British Columbia suffragists and social reformers,” In her own right: selected essays on women’s history in B.C., ed. Barbara Latham and Cathy Kess (Victoria, 1980), 287–302. [I. M. Marjoribanks Hamilton-Gordon, Marchioness of] Aberdeen [and Temair], The Canadian journal of Lady Aberdeen, 1893–1898, ed. and intro. J. T. Saywell (Toronto, 1960). NCWC Yearbook, 1894–1904. O. R. Rowley et al., The Anglican episcopate of Canada and Newfoundland (2v., Milwaukee, Wis., and Toronto, 1928–61). Who’s who in western Canada . . . , ed. C. W. Parker (2v., [Vancouver?], 1911–12), 1. Who was who, 1929–40 (1941). Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of British Columbia, Report (New Westminster), 1894–1904. Year book of British Columbia . . . , comp. R. E. Gosnell (Victoria), 1897.
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