Mattie Rutherford: Mother of Edmonton

1905 Street, Edmontonians In The Spotlight

Mattie Rutherford, the wife of Alexander Cameron Rutherford, is vital to the history of Edmonton and Alberta, and to our narrative at Fort Edmonton Park. Mrs. Rutherford worked tirelessly to support both her husband’s career, and the interests of the new city of Edmonton (1904) and the new province of Alberta (1905). Luckily for her and for us, the advent of Mother’s Day just so happens to fall in 1905.

Mother’s Day was officially established on May 9, 1905, by Anna Marie Jarvis to honour her mother Ann Jarvis who fought throughout her life to establish a holiday meant especially for mothers. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Ann Jarvis organised “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in an effort to improve health and sanitation for soldiers.

This was based on an idea put forward by Julia Ward Howe, a writer, pacifist, and suffragist who was also active during the Civil War. Howe argued that a mothers’ day should be created not only to honour the contribution of mothers to their own homes and families, but also the networks and social ties created by them, as well as their political and societal contributions. This was tied to the popular suffragist idea of women as caretakers not only in the home, but also in the public arena as nurturers of the greater social good.

When the Rutherford family left their home in Kemptville, Ontario, for Strathcona in 1895, it must have been especially difficult for Mattie. She left behind her parents and sisters in nearby Ottawa. Compared to her home back East, Mattie must have been intimidated by small-town Edmonton and Strathcona. Alexander and Mattie brought their two children, Cecil and Hazel, with them. They had another daughter, Marjorie, in 1903, though she passed away when she was a toddler. This too was very difficult for Mattie.

Despite being remembered as a shy woman, Mattie worked to forge social connections and networks to help support her husband’s political career. She often entertained guests, and rose to social prominence in the new city; her receptions and teas became the highlight of Edmonton society. She also supported Alexander’s work to create the University of Alberta, acting as the honourary Vice-President of the Women’s Educational Association (1910). The social ties and societal contributions created by Mattie would surely have been looked upon with pride by women like Ann Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe.

Further, Mattie enjoyed many domestic pursuits. She was known as an excellent cook and housekeeper. She loved to garden, and was very skilled at sewing, knitting, and embroidering, as well as playing the piano. Her hospitality became the stuff of legends among many political and university figures.

Based on her enormous contributions to the growing city of Edmonton, we hereby propose that Mattie Rutherford be recognised as one of the mothers of Edmonton. The founders of Mother’s Day would most certainly approve.

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The Rutherford Family, 1898

Sources: Babcock, Douglas R. Alexander Cameron Rutherford: A Gentleman of Strathcona. Calgary: The Friends of Rutherford House and University of Calgary Press, 1989.