A young English woman of middle-class privilege, Mary Irene Marryat left behind a sheltered Victorian life in 1896 to journey to Canada in search of purpose and adventure. In the ranching country east of Lacombe, Alberta she met and married Walter Parlby, an Oxford scholar, and settled down to the challenges of pioneer life.
Irene and Walter became actively involved in the cooperative movements, joining the United Farmers of Alberta to improve the lives of farm families. Irene Parlby served as president of the United Farm Women of Alberta for four years (1916-1920), lobbying government for better education and health care in rural areas. When the U.F.A. formed the provincial government in 1921, Mrs. Parlby was named Minister without Portfolio, and for 14 years pushed for reforms in health, education, and the rights of women and children. Mrs. Parlby became famous as one of five Alberta women who launched the petition leading to the Privy Council's 1929 ruling that women are "persons" eligible to sit in the Canadian Senate.
In 1930, Irene Parlby was appointed by Prime Minister R.B. Bennett to represent Canada at the League of Nations. In 1944, she retired to a quiet family life at her homestead on Parlby Lake where she lived until the age of 97 - remembered by Albertans as a champion of farm families and the rights of women.