Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Tale of Two Women Botanists, Sybilla Merian and Carrie Derick

These are beautiful botany drawings by Dutch artist Maria Sybilla Merian from 1730. During the Scientific Enlightenment women were kept out of the new field of science in general  - with the exception of Botany.

After all, looking at flowers was a genteel thing and one didn't need a formal education to document what they looked like, just an observant nature and some drawing ability. (And if women could embroider flowers, they could certainly draw them.) The importance of Merian's work: she went to Surinam to document 'new' species.

I've written a great deal on this blog about McGill Botanist, Carrie Derick, who happened to be a Canadian feminist pioneer and the first female full professor in Canada.

Just recently, I completed a final draft of Furies Cross the Mersey, a book about Carrie Derick and her role as lead suffragist in Montreal in the 1911/1913 era. I include a note about Merian. I have Derick owning two prints of hers, framed in her living room. That is made up, but I got most of my info from Margaret Gillett's little book on Derick, No Fool She.

Carrie Derick was President of the Montreal Council of Women from 1909-1912 (the era of my e-book Threshold Girl) and the President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, founded in 1913 and dissolved in 1919.

Also in 1912 she was appointed Full Time Professor of Botany at McGill, a 'courtesy' appointment as she had been turned down for the position of Chair of Botany, even though she had been acting as de facto Chair for 3 years.

She continued to be education chair of the National Council of Women - and she used her authority as a Botanist to promote eugenics, which is why there will never be a Heritage Minute about her, although there is a street named after her in Verdun. No question, some of her beliefs were quite scary: you can read about them in Gazette articles from the era. She gave lots of talks on the subject.

Still, it must be understood. Eugenics, in 1910 was very chic. 

McGill was eugenics central (according to the Oxford book of Eugenics), The Ontario Hygiene Reader for high schoolers had a chapter on eugenics, or choosing your mate well, and the 1912 Child Welfare Exhibit in Montreal (mounted by top citizens, English and French, and attracting hundreds of thousands of people) had a eugenics display. The NY exhibition, held a year before, made no mention of eugenics, but many of the smaller US exhibitions did, the Pittsburg Exhibition in 1913 calling itself a child welfare and eugenics exhibition. 

Google News archives shows that eugenics was discussed through the 20's into the early 30's and then stopped. I wonder why? (Well, we know why.)

There were two types of eugenics, positive, where a young person was told to choose his/her mate well, or negative, removing 'defectives' from the gene pool.. and of course the definition of defectives was left to the individual.

One funny article from the thirties I found has a lady decrying that young girls only are looking for a guy with a nice car and a 'life of the party' face and not worrying about genes.

There's a book of Derick's posted on a collection of Botany articles published in the Montreal Herald in 1900.

The Nicholsons of Richmond read the Herald, so it is very likely that Edith Nicholson 'met' Carrie Derick through her work long before she met her in the flesh at McGill in the 1920's. In my story, their paths cross at suffrage meetings.

By C.M.D!!! Did they not want to say this was written by a woman?? I think so. The preface says these drawings are from the pen 'of a well known botanist of high standing'...No wonder Derick got into feminist activism, as the case of 18th century  Merian reveals, women Botanists were not such an unusual thing.

              Carrie Derick writes a note to French Canadian suffragist Marie Gerin Lajoie on McGill Botany Paper

                                    This is a more scientific paper, autographed by Derick.

 A drawing from Flora Nicholson's 1911/12 Nature Diary for Macdonald Teachers College. I don't know if she ever met Derick (through her sister Edith) but in my e-book Threshold Girl I have her attend a meeting of the Montreal Council of Women.

Flora refers to the dowdy Miss Derick as the woman who studies flowers but does not wear them on her hat.

More of Merian's work.

Cleaning the Cupboards, physically and psychically

My Verre Francais Amourettes pattern from family. The Internet has lowered the price on this classic art nouveau/deco piece, but I don't care. I've always thought it was lovely, even as a child seeing it in my aunt's home.

I can't stand the sight of my story Furies Cross the Mersey, third draft, so I put it aside and decided to spend my time cleaning up my house.

Metaphorically and literally.

My husband spent a week off lately cleaning out the garage, which makes room for any stuff I might want to keep there.

Last winter, I cleaned out quite a few cupboards and drawers, although the drawers have filled up again, especially in the kitchen.

Well, everyone knows the drill. (I kept a drawer full of stuff commemorating my son's 2009 trip to Greece with his now wife.  He isn't interested right now, but one day he may be. And besides, he lives in a small apartment. I also kept a box of his school work from grade 5, but that's just something I want to keep because my parent's never kept any school work of mine.)

For me, it's a psychic cleansing. Our big house over the years has been a place where family, friends and our grown kids stored all their stuff for short and long periods.

It's really bugged  me!

And then the grandparents died and that meant going through a coupleof life times of accumulated memorabilia and keeping only what really REALLY matters.

My in-laws, who kept a very neat  house on the outside, never threw out anything, not in 50 years! That's why I have the 1000 Nicholson Family Letters that I have turned into books about the Edwardian Era.
Picture of me and the Nicholson trunk of letters and stuff I found, from the Montreal Gazette, 2005.

Threshold Girl, Diary of  a Spinster, Not Bonne Over Here and soon Furies Cross the Mersey (a book that contains the Nicholson letters and the story of the suffragists of Montreal and the first female full professor in Canada, Carrie Derick of McGill).

I also have all my husband's elementary school report cards, his Centennial Year Phys Ed competition Silver Badge, etc. etc.

My husband stored most of his parents' stuff in the garage upon cleaning out their house ten years ago and now, happily,  all that remains are a few boxes of papers he wants to burn rather than throw out, although I hardly see the danger of throwing out tax returns from 1955.

I am determined not to leave behind such a house when I pass on.. (Of course, I will).

If I died tomorrow, I asked myself yesterday, how would I want my stuff ordered so that my kids will know what to keep and what to throw away or sell in a garage sale.

Like my two Rembrandt vases from around 1900. They belonged to my grandmother and then my aunt, then my mother and now me.

But I am the only person who knows they are Thomas Forester vases from Stoke On Trent, worth not very much, about 600 dollars I was told by a Antiques Roadshow Lady, but pretty and also a key piece of family history.

I have photographs of these vases from the month I was born, my parents sitting under them at my Aunt's home on Harvard in NDG in Montreal.

So, all I have to do is type the story of story of the vases on a Word Doc and stick it in said vases, for my kids, who could care less at the moment about such things.

And I will take any family photos I have and put names to faces. That is important. I have so many old family photos with people I have no idea who they are.

Oh, and I'll print them out too. Digital memorabilia is very ephemeral. What are my grandchildren going to think when they find a floppy disk 40 years from now? Or an audio tape, or even a DVD?

My Tuscan bathroom.. with my grandmother's urns, from her marriage at 1901 under the sinks. Hmm. The urns were at the head table at my son's wedding last year.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


The oldest thing in my house, a 1857 book of Romantic Poetry and the second oldest thing in my house, my crap laptop..(joking.)

Yesterday, I put away my 3rd draft of Furies Cross the Mersey, my story about the British Invasion of Suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13 - because I need some distance from it. I need to be able to see it with fresh eyes.

I hope to launch the ebook on amazon when Carrie Mulligan's movie Suffragette comes out in a little while.

So I watched tennis instead, 5 channels of it: the US Open, the Berdych match, the Dancevic match, the Sharapova match and the Wozniacki match, all at the same time. Too much tennis.

 Caroline Wozniacki practicing two weeks ago in Montreal. My pic.

Well, I flipped back and forth. Sometimes I put two channels on the screen.

Then, I turned off the sound and tried to find something on BBC Radio Four to listen to and found an omnibus version of  Kate Chopin's the Awakening,  but I discovered I can't watch tennis and listen to a radio play.

 They I went to litteratureaudio and listened to someone with a nice voice recite a bit of Zola's Nana.

I decided I wanted to hear some poetry. How quaint. But, poetry recited by amateurs is awful. I went to YouTube to see whether  SirPatStew or Jeremy Irons had some readings up there. No, unfortunately.

I found a nice Yeats poem read by Colin Farrell.

I did find all of my favorite poems on the Net. (My favorite poems tend to be other people's favorite poems, ee cummings, Dylan Thomas, Beaudelaire) But reading poetry on the Net does not work for me. Too many ads and flashing banners.

So, I decided to buy a poetry book off Kindle (instant gratification) because I no longer have any of the poetry books I bought in the past.

But then I remembered  I had at least one poetry book, an old one belonging to Edith Nicholson, my husband's great aunt, who was the inspiration for Furies Cross the Mersey because she was the one who left behind newspaper clippings of suffragette Barbara Wylie visiting Montreal in 1912. 

Imagine reading a real (and really smelly) hardcover book. What a concept!

I pulled the book off a nearby bookshelf, the one in the living room beside the immense pile of DVD's that no one ever watches anymore because everything is on PVR or Netflix - and it's just too bothersome to load a DVD.

The Poets of the Nineteenth Century, published in 1857.(They got a little ahead of themselves.) This book just might be the oldest thing in my house, and my house  is full of old things.

It was published plunk in the Victorian Era!
The book has 100 illustrations.

Now, not my favorite era, the romantics. Still, the first REAL poem I ever read, I think, was a Wordsworth, Daffodils. In the fourth grade. "I wondered lonely as a cloud."

 We had to transcribe it and the neatest pages with the best hand-writing got posted on the wall.

I didn't make the wall.

So I don't know whether I remember that incident for the beauty of the poem or for the humiliation of being the only girl in the class who didn't get her poem posted. (Something like that.)

Edith Nicholson didn't put her name in this green volume, but I am sure it is hers. Why? Because it contains a number of women poets.

Now, back in the 1960's, Tennyson, Coleridge and Shelley and Byron, Keats and Tennyson were household names, in my household anywhere as my mother and father were classically educated.

But not Charlotte Smith, Anna Seward, Mary Tigh, Joanna Baillie, Mary Russel Mitford, Mary Howitt, Amelia Opie.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, maybe, but she was married to a poet, am I right?

The only woman poet I was familiar with was Joni Mitchell and her cloud poem Both Sides Now: Bows and Flows of Angel Hair that just got voted in some CBC survey the best Canadian song ever. (I think.)

I imagine only specialty English classes at specialty Women's Colleges covered these 19th century women's poets. 

Today, I can look up these names on the Internet and see their portraits too.

The Internet is reviving women's history. There's even information there on Carrie Derick, the first female full professor in Canada and the subject of my book Furies Cross the Mersey (because she was involved in the Canadian suffrage movement). Up until now, the only info on Derick was contained in a couple of books by McGill Professor Margaret Gillett.

But I digress.

Wait, I see a poem by a Mary Howitt: the Ballad or Richard Burnell.  I did  know one of her other poems! My mother often recited it. "Will you walk into my parlour said the spider to the fly."

Daffodils figure in Furies Cross the Mersey. In February 1913 the Montreal Suffragists mounted a Suffrage Exhibit (that Edith attended).  In an effort to separate themselves from the militant antics of the British Suffragettes, they put lots of Jonquils and Valentines everywhere.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Silly Little Fish Story

Yesterday, a beautiful late summer Sunday, I took a walk on the not-so-wild side.

I decided to buy a whole fish and grill it and serve it up with salads made with the organic veggies I had bought at Vankleek Hill the day before.

Why not?

Nice weather is a gift in Montreal, most years.

And winter's a'comin'. Indeed, they seem to be predicting a cool autumn.

I took this pic on my road two days ago. Yikes!

A few years ago, in a similar spontaneous mood, I bought a whole sea bass at Adonis on the West Island an baked it, with fennel, and ate it by all by my lonesome, and it was sooooo good.

Too good to be eaten alone, with Foo Foo the cat staring me down.

But, back then, my husband wouldn't eat fish that wasn't breaded and out of a box.

Today, I've convinced him of the pleasures of fish, if it is fresh. Well, a couple of trips to Nova Scotia convinced him. Fresh fish can be a wonder.

Adonis is too far to travel these days with these gas prices, not on a whim, so I went to the grocery store in St. Lazare. It's a nice big beautiful IGA serving the upscale community.

I passed many beautiful horses grazing by the roadside, a bonus for me. (I didn't have time to take pictures of them, but they were brown and glistening and peaceful looking. One roan in particular. I think the colour is roan, kind of beigey/mauve.)

They had no sea bass at this IGA. The only whole fish was a trout. "Truit biologique" said the nice counter lady (fish monger? Fishwife?)

I knew that didn't mean wild trout, but I bought it anyway. 18 dollars.

I stuffed it with fennel and garlic and red onion and my husband grilled it and it was...awful.

It was like eating protein mush, no texture, no taste. Just like the BBQ chickens we get these days. It just turns me of.

On top of it, for some reason, there were flies around. I've never had flies in my back yard gazebo. What's up!

"This trout needs a Hollandaise sauce," I said.

I'm guessing it was farmed trout. Not a muscle on its body.

Anyway, another fish tale about the 'best laid plans.' If you start with huge expectations you are bound to be disappointed.

The last trout I had eaten was at Cafe Mélièz in Montreal and it was superb, presented on a bed of squash.

The very first time I ate trout was in Wabush Lake, in 1958.

My father would go out fly-fishing and catch me a tiny little fish or two and my mother would gut them and fry them in butter. I was, even back then, the only member of my family who liked to eat fish.

Unless the tailings from the iron mines got in the lake back then, that fish was as pure as can be. The butter too.  Truit biologique.

My dad and me in Wabush. He's got little fishlings in his fingers or is it fingerlings in his hands?  I ate these ones. no doubt.

Years later, when I was about 14, I spent a few weeks in the summer in the Laurentians, visiting an older friend of my mother's. She had her grandson there, Ti Loup was his name. ( I guess he was Louis the second.)  He was about 12 or so (pre-adolescent) so we got along well, very well, I remember.

We spent the days wandering in the forests and playing in the streams and one time we came upon an 'old' man fly fishing and he said if I could guess the breed of trout he had just caught, he would give it to us. "Speckled trout,"  I said with assurance. He gave us the fish.

Up until then we had been living on hamburgers, almost raw, and peaches, which tasted way better than they do now.

I remember feeling so healthy during those two weeks. (I guess I was freeing my lungs from all the lead in the air in Montreal.)

I bought a basket of peaches yesterday at the IGA, but I'm not sure whether or not they will be edible. It's touch and go these days.

My husband didn't mind the trout. He has no great expectations when it comes to our fishy friends.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Making Maybe Movies in Vankleek Hill, Ontario

Vankleek Hill in Eastern Ontario is looking good these days, those turn of the last century homes all spiffed up. (Some West Islanders from Montreal moving there to retire, it seems.)

Queen Anne Revival houses up the ying yang.

If they ever need a location for the movie of Threshold Girl (that takes place mostly in Richmond, Quebec) they can use this locale.

 There I am in the rear view mirror, taking pictures. Rear view mirror. How appropriate!

This house resembles Tighsolas, in Richmond, built by Norman Nicholson in 1896.

Tighsolas, Richmond Quebec in 1910 or so. The house is still there. The new owner invited me to visit, reaching me by my blog, but I never heard from her since then.

I am editing Sister Salvation about the Montreal Suffrage movement in 1912/13. Tighsolas is one location.

In fact, the story has so many locations, it cannot ever be a movie or tv serial like Downton Abbey.

I did this on purpose; I tried to showcase the variety of homes in Montreal in 1911, from Julia Parker Drummond's Scottish Baronial castle on Sherbrooke, to a one room tenement flat with no windows- and everything in between.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Do Women Read the Montreal Gazette? They do!

A very interesting front page insert in the November 28, 1912 Montreal Gazette, right under an article SUFFRAGETTE OUTRAGES, about them setting fire to pillar boxes.

The Headline Suffragette Outrages is about the tamest I've seen, but the headlines got more and more sensational, of the murder and mayhem variety, in the next little while as the Mrs. Pankhurst's militants ratcheted up the civil disobedience, culminating in Emily Davison's death in June 1913... and then came war.

And this was the very time the Montreal Suffrage Association was being organized. You can almost understand why they promised to be sane and sweet and reasonable at their launch in March 1913.

February 1913 headline.

I'm just about finished Sister Salvation, my story about Montreal in the Era and the battle between the suffragists and suffragettes as in Pankhurst sympathizers.

It starts with Pankhurst's visit in December 1911 and ends with the launch of the Suffrage Association with Miss Carrie Derick, McGill professor as President.

It's as much Derick's story as anything. During this time she was fighting for her professional dignity at McGill.

 Toronto papers applauded Pankhurst.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Peaceful (and not so peaceful) Protests, Then and Now

A very strange strike out in the minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association.

The modern media-generated trope with respect to the suffragettes of Great Britain in the 1910 era, consists of a young, bright but very bored member of the aristocracy getting involved with a cell and going out one night to break a window pane or two and then getting arrested, only to be released from jail when her angry but loving father intervenes through connections.

That's what happened in Upstairs, Downstairs anyway and in Downtown Abbey.

Upstairs, Downstairs did not have a budget for outdoor scenes, let alone complicated outdoor scenes.

In November of 1912, about 200 well-dressed women walked up the high street, then stopped in unison, pulled out hatchets and started breaking plate glass windows in shops.

This was a peace of theatre and very effective even in a world without Twitter. The proper middle class woman of Edwardian England was supposed to be shopping in those stores, not breaking the windows down. What were the men of England to think?

This was to protest the Prime Minister going back on his word with respect to the reading of a Conciliation Bill that was to give some women in England the vote.

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst was in the United States at the time and she claimed in her autobiography, penned only the next year, that she didn't know anything about the renewal of destructive militancy, that the troops back home figured it out for themselves.

A mention of torture through forcible feeding in a resolution in the Minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association. There were some members who strongly supported Pankhurst, but in public the organization showcased their "peaceful and reasonable educative aims.' One of the executives, a clergyman, told the inaugural press conference in March 1913 that 'it would be better if the suffragettes starved to death in jail."

Pankhurst spoke in Montreal, in December 1913, after the renewal of the window breaking campaign and that probably wasn't good timing for the Montreal Suffragettes who had invited her to speak back in October.

Right now I am editing Sister Salvation, my story about the Montreal Suffrage Movement of 1912/1913, and the story centers around the idea of protests and marches.

There were no marches at all in Montreal.

Indeed, a curator of the Museum of History, contacted me a while back wondering if I knew of any artifacts extant regarding the Suffrage Movement in Canada.

I didn't.

There aren't any, as far as I know. Women in Canada didn't make placards and pins and such for their protests.

They didn't protest. They wrote letters to Borden and sponsored education evenings.

There was a Suffrage Exhibit in February 1913, but that event sold literature and pamphlets and sweet suffragette chocolates and valentines.

Mrs. Pankhurst was really ratcheting up the civil disobedience at that time and the Montreal Suffragettes didn't want to get associated with her anymore.

It's too bad that the truth about the suffragettes and their movement isn't well known, although Meryl Streep's new movie Suffragette might change that.
Dr. Ritchie England of the Montreal Council of Women picking up Mrs. Pankhurst in December 1911 at the train. England had only recently been made President of the MCW. It was Carrie Derick who asked for Pankhurst to be brought to Montreal. This pic is from the Montreal Star from a photo from Margaret Gillette's We Walked Very Warily about women at McGill.

A lot can be learned about the Suffragettes and their goals and methods-and Votes for Women, their magazine is available online.

A lot can be applied to what is happening in the news today, especially when it comes to Ferguson Missouri.

The suffragettes took to militancy after being put in prison for peaceful protests, for being arrested for protecting themselves from the police or refusing the protection of the police..for instance.

Americans held many marches, one huge one May 3, 1913, where a lawyer called Inez Milholland, or horseback, led over 10,000 marchers down Fifth Avenue.

That even figures in my story Sister Salvation as well.