Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Period Piece

.I wrote Period Piece about 10 years ago. It was published in Chatelaine and on Oprah's old Oxygen website.
Period Piece

Originally in Chatelaine Magazine and Oxygen. All rights reserved by the author.

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I got up in the morning with a bleeding nose and I raced to the bathroom to stuff a wad of toilet paper up the afflicted nostril. As I was busying myself with this ridiculous performance, I noticed a delicate, almost lyrical trail of blood on the bathroom floor. "How pretty, "I thought. But then a prim little voice in the back of my head immediately piped in, "Better wipe it up: They'll think it is menstrual blood!"

I didn't want to gross out my family. No. No. Not the man I've been intimate for 15 years. Not the children for whom I've changed about a million mortifyingly stinky diapers.

In my house, where bodily functions are nobody's secret, (and where my now happily toilet-trained children love to imitate Jim Carrey as they leave the bathroom - waving their arms and saying "Pyyyoooo! Don't go in there!") my period is still a taboo subject. It just doesn't seem fair!

It's not merely a family quirk: it's a cross-cultural prejudice.

Even on television, with the floodgates of poor taste being flung wide open every week on network and cable TV, menstruation is seldom mentioned. There's no end to the sexual stuff on TV but periods aren't discussed. Period.

Seinfeld may have had its Emmy winning masturbation episode, but no critically-acclaimed menstruation episode.

The only female blood movie TV screenwriters seem interested in exploring comes from knife stabs and gunshot wounds.

Now, I ask, "Why do men find one type of female blood so much more appealing than another?" I recall watching my husband sitting impassively through an X-files episode as a woman was having her heart pulled out of her chest. Yet one glimpse of a blood-stained panty and he's lunging toward the bedroom window for air.

Mulder: (excited) Take a look at this mattress, Scully. There's blood on it. You know, the ancient Wadoodoo people of Peru have a legend where men fall from the sky and disembowel virgins in their beds.

Scully: (taking a closer look) I'm afraid you are imagining things again, Mulder. This woman merely had her period.

Mulder: (lunging toward the window for air) Oh, no. Not that!

I'm confused. Why are men so put off my female menstrual blood? It is the blood of fertility and isn't that what men are supposed to like best about us, our fertility? Hasn't that always been the excuse for men's obsession with big breasts?

Ally McBeal and one of the other impossibly gorgeous female lawyers, talking to each other from adjacent booths. (Crinkling sound in the background.)

Ally: Have you seen that candidate for the articling position.

Other: Yes, she certainly looks...ahh.. fertile.

Ally: (scowling) She's going to be hired for those big breasts of hers..

Other: Oh Ally! That's unfair, You're just sensitive because you're so..ah, gee, the damn applicator fell into the toilet. Do you have a spare tampax?

Ally: Flat-chested! .FLAT-chested!. Why don't you just SAY IT! .Here, take the stupid thingy.. (She opens the stall door and tosses the tampax at her) It's three years old. Do you think anyone this skinny even has a period?

Yes, periods can present a problem, especially for working women. We all have our horror stories. An unfortunate co-worker, busily engaged at work, once bled all over her office chair. Her fellow female coworkers leapt into action, making like an impromptu typing pool SWAT Team; one woman threw her sweater around the poor unfortunate; another hustled her to the bathroom and yet another sped away with the chair.

I once had to attend an all day board meeting on a particularly heavy day and couldn't help wondering if everyone knew why I had to leave the room so often. "If I am lucky, "I thought, "they'll think I have a cocaine problem."

O.K. They're a problem, sure, but not the CURSE, as women my mother's age liked to describe them.

So, why does our culture fear and loathe the female menses, causing us women to fall into that trap to one degree or another? Maybe because periods are our connection to the nature, the life-cycle and the cycles of the moon. - and even the most rational mind can see this is so.

Elaine (munching on a snack, flipping through a magazine.) Oh, Jerry, I just left my old sanitary napkin on the top of the toilet by mistake. Just toss it in the garbage."

Jerry: WHAAAA??

Kramer. (hands akimbo) Why are you so upset about a soiled sanitary napkin. The menstrual cycle is women's connection to nature and the life-cycle.

Jerry. It's disgusting! Ask George. He feels the same way.

George: Sorry, Jerry. I am comfortable with Elaine's womanhood.

Elaine: (smirking) He's easy with the period.

Jerry. All I know is I want that thing out of my house or, or, I'm going to call the movers..

Then, why wait for some screenwriting hack to take the daring step? Hey, Sex and the City: what are you waiting for? Tell a menstruation story today - at dinner. Do it in all reverence. Do it for women for women everywhere.

by Dorothy Nixon --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Change Meeting on a Tennis Court

(From McGill archives. RVC tennis players.)




Scene 2: The tennis courts west of  Royal Victoria College of McGill, a monumental five story limestone structure resembling more a luxury railway hotel than a seminary, with an entrance off Sherbrooke Street with a seven arched loggia and crenellated balustrade, and many, many steps leading up to it.

Two young women in crisp white duck middy blouses over long ankle length skirts, black kerchiefs at their necks, white laced sneakers on their feet and large wooden tennis racquets on their laps, sit on a bench and await their turn on the court.

“Warm up!” orders a lady coach from the back of the court.

“Yes, Miss Cartwright,” the girls answer in tandem.

They stand and begin stretching out their legs. 

One girl is tall and slim-boned, the other shorter, with a trim muscular build and broad coat hanger shoulders that make her waist, uninhibited by stays for the time being, seem smaller than it is.

The tall girl has medium dark brown hair with few highlights tied up in a bun and pale skin, because she is an indoor, studious type and the shorter girl has long strawberry-blond hair laced with golden threads and because she is an outdoor type her hair is tied back in a ponytail.  She also has applied a liberal amount of Hains Skin Balm to her face to protect her skin from the sun and wind.

The shorter girl has blue eyes, an upturned nose and a pink rosebud mouth; the tall girl has hazel eyes, on the greenish side, a broad face with prominent cheekbones, a long tapered nose and a wide mouth with thinnish lips and beautiful straight teeth as white as milk.

The tall, serious girl is Mathilda Jenkins; the shorter golden girl is Penelope Day.

They are strangers to each other. They have just been slapped together for the first time, in the very first P. E. class of the year, an absolutely random act that will have serious implications for the future.  I promise.

But life is like that, isn’t it?

“Aren’t you excited?” asks Miss Day. “This year we get to take classes on campus with the men.”

She sighs an extended stage sigh as she stretches her right leg out at an outrageous angle demonstrating uncommon flexibility. “I just know I won’t be able to concentrate and I will fail out before I get my degree.” And, then, she touches her nose to her knee.

“They are just pimply boys for the most part,” replies Miss Jenkins, looking less elegant attempting a similar, less ambitious stretch. “Hardly worth our consideration.”

“And when we walk to class,” continues Miss Day, undaunted by the previous remark and rolling her right shoulder, “Up Sherbrooke and through the McGill Green, I plan to stick out my tongue when the boys sing their silly songs mocking us women students.”

“It’s just a few upperclassmen who do that. Smart Alek’s. I’ve already taken classes on campus. It is no big deal.”

“How is that?”

“Because I took Botany last year and the laboratories are all on the main campus.”

“Oh.”

“Miss Derick’s laboratory, where no male student dare mock us women students, us Donaldas.”

“Oh, yes, the Science Lady. I don’t take Botany. I study modern languages,” says Miss Day.  “German and Italian.  It will be useful when I travel the world in the circus,” and, to prove her point, she performs a cartwheel so deftly that the coach doesn’t even notice.

“I take Botany and Geology and Natural Sciences. I want to be a pharmacist when I graduate. My father owns a pharmacy on the edge of Westmount and St. Henri. Your father?”

“My father travels,” Miss Day answers evasively. “He and my mother are away in Europe for two whole years. “


“What’s he doing there?” asks Miss Jenkins, not taking the hint.

“He’s in diplomacy. In Serbia. You’ve heard of that place?”

Yes, Constantine and iconoclasty and that Prince, What’s His Name… I can’t recall. I took History two whole years ago.

“Yes, I agree,” says Miss Day, “What’s the use of going to college when you forget everything you’ve learned the day after the final exam?”

“We’re not here to learn to be human encyclopedias. We’re here to learn to think for ourselves,” counters Mathilda, her voice rising an octave or two.

“I don’t want to think for myself. No one likes people who think for themselves, especially women,” says Miss Day provocatively, with a pretty pout on her lips and a deliberately vacuous look in her eye.

Miss Jenkins does not know what to respond. She cannot tell if Miss Day is joking or not. She has a mind to end the conversation there, for ever and ever, because life is too short to waste on the shallow, but she is puzzled by this girl, this Penelope Day.

So she continues, being provocative in her turn, “I would imagine you’d learn Italian and German faster travelling in Europe with your parents.”

“Well, my parents don’t agree. That’s why they’ve plunked me in this horrible prison.”

“The College is more like a fancy hotel than a prison, I think,” says Miss Jenkins.




“A fancy prison is still a prison” replies Miss Day. “And how would you know? You live at home!” And then she breaks out into song.

“I’m only a bird in a gilded cage,

A beautiful sight to see,

You may think I’m happy and free from care,

I’m not, though I seem to be.”

'Tis sad when you think of her wasted life…


 “And on school break,” continues  Miss Day in a normal unconfrontational tone,  “I have to stay with my crazy old Aunt, Lady Dulcette, in Long Island. I’m in her care. She’s the patroness of the Long Island Farm for Wayward Girls, don’t you know?  She makes these girls work out in the fields with spades and buckets. I’ve seen pictures.”

“What are they in there for?”

“I don’t know. For smoking cigars in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria, I guess. Or for wearing a hareem skirt on the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Penelope has read about these incidents in the Social Notes of the newspapers.

She suddenly changes the subject because she starts to feel lonely. “What are your extracurriculars?”

“Debating team. Yours?”

“Hockey and tennis”

“You are good at sports then?” asks Miss Jenkins, although she’d already figured it out watching the nimble creature perform her warm up.

“Very,” replies Miss Day.

“Only debating, you?  No sports.”

“No sports. Miss Hurlbatt is giving a citizenship course, though, so I’ve signed up.”

 “Citizenship. Sounds dreadful. And with that humourless old cow from England.”

Now it is Penelope’s turn to write off Miss Jenkins as a boring and dull type.

“Don’t you know?” asks Mathilda. She lowers her voice for no reason. “Citizenship is code for suffrage.”

“Suffrage?”

“Woman suffrage. Votes for women. Certainly, you’ve heard about that?”

“Yes, sort of.”

“Miss Hurlbatt is a leader in the Montreal Movement and rumour has it she knows Mrs. Pankhurst personally from her days in London. Miss Derick, too, is involved and a host of other Donaldas – old ones who graduated ages and ages ago.

“You’ve read about Mrs. Pankhurst and her militants, haven’t you? In the newspapers.”

“No, not really. I stick to the society and fashion pages. And sports pages.”

“Well, consider taking Hurlbatt’s course. It might be more interesting than you think.”

“Citizenship! Ick. I would rather join La Société Francaise and recite Victor Hugo in front of the pigeons in Phillip’s Square.”

“Miss Day and Miss Jenkins.  You are up next,” shouts Miss Cartwright using her palms as a megaphone and the girls’ conversation ends there, which is good as it was taking a dangerous turn.

Proper young ladies in 1910 do not discuss politics.

“Yes, Miss Cartwright,” they both reply as the players on the court stop playing and walk up to the net to shake hands.

“Our turn,” says Miss Jenkins to Miss Day. “Please be kind.”


“And you don’t be lazy and let me win too easily,” replies Miss Day. “There’s nothing I hate more.”


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Suffragette Omnibus II, the British Suffragettes in Canada


This is a capture of a 'scene' from A Soul on Fire, by Frances Fenwick Williams, published in 1915.

It's a dinner table scene taking place in sophisticated English Montreal circles. Frances Fenwick Williams was Press Secretary of the Montreal Suffrage Association in 1915. So, she knew of what she spoke, perhaps exaggerating a tad :)

When I first read this paragraph, I assumed that FW was using the names Christina Bankhurst and Windholme Churchham for Pankhurst and Churchill out of fear of being sued or something.

How could anyone not know the name of Winston Churchill?

But this is 1915 and clearly Fenwick Williams is mocking the ignorance of people with a pronounced opinion on Woman Suffrage.

I imagine that in that era, Pankhurst's name was more recognizable by the Anglo Man and Woman on the Street than Winston Churchill's. Pankhurst gave a speech in Montreal in December, 1911 at Windsor Hall. It is a pivotal moment in my story Furies Cross the Mersey, available on Kindle.

Much in the way most Montrealers today won't recognize the name Ed Milliband, even in the age of Internet. (I hope I spelled that correctly...:)

Now, Winston Churchill had spoken in Montreal, too, in 1901, also at Windsor Hall. He was lecturing about the Boer War and promoting himself to the world.

The reporters said 'Sir Randolph's son has a way with words' or something to that effect.

Cartoon mocking Borden's ban of suffragettes in 1912


In 1912, Prime Minister Borden of Canada visited London to discuss NAVY issues and was accosted by three British Suffragettes, including Miss Barbara Wylie, who demanded votes for Canadian women.

Soon, the suffragettes were banned from entering Canada, branded as undesirables. They came anyway. Read Furies Cross the Mersey.

It is likely this ban was invoked because Borden had invited Prime Minister Asquith and Churchill to Canada.

Churchill was afraid of the suffragettes, in large part because they were going to take away his champagne..



 Clipping saved by my husband's great Aunt Edie about the February 1913 Montreal Suffrage Exhibit that was all about happy families.


A newspaper clipping saved by Edith Nicholson from September 1912, upon British suffragette Barbara Wylie's arrival in Montreal. The reporters, apparently, almost missed her. They expected a battle-ax to detrain and instead were met with a lovely looking young woman. :)

Miss Wylie walks to the speaker’s platform, confidently, her heels clicking like a foot soldier’s on the hardwood floor.

Her eyes look bigger and brighter than on the other day at the college. Could that be kohl around the lids? And rouge de theatre on her cheeks?

The pretty suffragette begins by describing the events of 1912 with respect to the WSPU, Mrs. Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union: How the year began with 19 women in Holloway Jail.  How Emily Davison Wilding was brought to trial in January for setting fire to a pillar box. How Asquith went back on his word with respect to the Conciliation Bill while Mrs. Pankhurst was on tour in America. How several hundred women broke plate glass windows in the West End of London. How police raided the offices of the W.S.P.U. in March and arrested the Pethwick Lawrence’s. How Christabel Pankhurst escaped to France.

How Mrs. Pankhurst made a speech about ‘the argument of the pane.’

Once her list is complete she speaks in earnest.

“We women have nailed our flag to the masthead and we can no longer retreat with honor, so we will go on and never falter, until women have received the vote on an equal basis with men.”

The hall erupts in applause, Edith and Marion and Penelope and Mathilda’s wild hand-clapping is as enthusiastic as any in the audience.

‘I encourage you Canadian women to gather in thousands and go and see Mr. Borden. Use all ‘ladylike’ constitutional methods first." Edith Marion Penelope and Mathilda laugh loudly with most everyone else. "And should these fail, then I think that the Canadian women should be as willing to show an unselfish and high spirited constant devotion to the cause of liberty as the women of England.”

There is more loud applause, but rumble of discontent rises from the back of the room.

“Women did not object to making themselves conspicuous in tennis or golf and they should not be afraid of it in the cause of liberty for women who are enslaved.”


Wylie from Votes for Women, in an article discussing her trip to Canada.

Miss Wylie hits a high note on the word enslaved and it is almost too much to bear for the women in the audience. They send out a loud raucous roar.

Penelope’s colour rises to a deep red.

She imagines herself leading a suffrage parade down Sherbrooke, with tennis racquet in hand. She yells out, “Yes, liberty!”

Wylie acknowledges her comment with a nod and continues, “Of course, we shall never win the moment by physical force. We cannot turn ourselves, and go out in the thousands like the Serbs with our guns. What we can do is to express ourselves, our moral force, our physical force, in some way the people understand, even in putting a stone through a window, which may be a most righteous, heroic and religious act.”

The room is in awe, but an old curmudgeon in the back disrespectfully breaks Wylie’s witchy spell.

“But militant methods are absolutely wrong and have actually prevented women from getting the vote,” he says. He continues, “Despite the fact you are charming in personality, I call on the Montreal audience to express its disapproval of militancy and all it stands for.”

There are loud boos. And a few cheers, mostly of the baritone variety.

Dr. England intervenes from the Chair.

“Mr. Holt.  Miss Wylie has been asked to speak as a guest of the Montreal Council of Women and to state her views. It was not our intention to pass any resolution for or against militancy. But, kind sir, since you have brought up the issue, we must allow Miss Wylie to reply.”

Miss Wylie replies, pointing an accusing finger at the man: “You, sir, are the same kind of man as some of the cabinet ministers of England who express sympathy with the objects but feel that it would have come about had it not been for militancy.”

“I imagine,” replies Mr. Holt, “that comparing me to a cabinet minister is placing me very low down in the suffragette scale.” He gazes around the room waiting for a laugh that does not come.

“Let me give you an example,” says Miss Wylie.  A man stuck in a rut on a dark road may gather a lot of sympathy from passersby but if he pulled his horse across the road, he might get abuse and no sympathy, but he might get out of his own rig to get out of the rut.

Applause from the front. Boos from the back.

Another man rises to his feet to say that he is in support of militancy. That the easy peaceful methods are like a stage coach, the militant like an automobile which proceeds by a series of explosions much more quickly.

“Miss Wylie has advocated constitutional methods first,” he says. “But if a need arises for militant methods I would be willing to take part in the shame and opprobrium that would come to those who fight so that my mother and sister could vote on an equality with myself.

Yet another man leaps forward from the back to express his regrets that the man should express these sentiments.

Dr. Ritchie England cuts short his comments by declaring the meeting closed.

She is out of her depth here and knows it.


Miss Wylie looks as if she is not quite sure what has happened.  Heated arguments are de rigueur  at her speeches in England. Why not a little rowdyism? Who’s going to pay attention otherwise? Certainly not the press.
Excerpt from  by Dorothy Nixon,Furies Cross the Mersey 2014. All Rights Reserved.

A social note about a talk Wylie gave in a private parlour to a small group of Society Women in Montreal, before her YMCA talk. This bit says the women weren't impressed. In a letter to Votes for Women Wylie said she gave away all of her copies of Votes for Women, sold three subscriptions and set up a talk at McGill's Royal Victoria College. My story Furies Cross the Mersey includes a fictional description of this talk. The scene above is adapted from the report in the Montreal Gazette. 


Well, this ad comes from the June 1913 Montreal Witness. Chapman's Bookstore was obviously the choice of the Evangelicals in Montreal...The Rev. Hugh Pedley was one such man and he also was on the board of the newly formed Montreal Suffrage Association. He gave a series of lectures in the era on Sinful Montreal...He especially hated the Theatre.

The Association kept their literature bureau at Chapman's, for a while anyway in 1913. Then they moved it to the Edinburgh Cafe, run by four spinster sisters from the Orkneys.

All this goes to show that the Suffrage Movement in Montreal in 1913 was closely aligned with the Protestant Evangelical movement.

No news for me here.... I'm finishing up a book, Furies Cross the Mersey, about the Montreal Suffrage Movement, the follow up to Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster. 

The Witness's from 1913 include a mention of my grandfather, Jules Crepeau.  He would soon be caught in a bribery sting, mounted by one Edward Beck, the  Editor in Chief of the Montreal Herald and have to litigate his way out of it. The Montreal Evangelicals despised CITY HALL and worked hard to Clean up the City, getting deeply involved in the City Elections, getting the Spinster Vote out.

My play Milk and Water is about another 1927 scandal involving my dear Grandpapa



Miss Edith Nicholson, my husband's great aunt, was out of a teaching job in the 1913 period. She had just quit her post at Westmount Methodist, a boarding school that converted Catholics to Protestantism.

 Her problem, she was a  teacher without diploma and most jobs available demanded a diploma.

She would soon get a job at St. Francis College in Richmond...A case of WHO YOU KNOW more important than WHAT YOU KNOW!

She had to take as summer course in Lachute in the summer of 1914.


I don't exactly know what she is doing in Montreal in 1913... but in a May 3 letter to her mother she says "We are going to see Mrs. Snowden speak, but she is not militant and for this I am very sad."

This is the last scene in Furies Cross the Mersey.


Mrs. Snowden's speech was reported in detail in the May 6 Montreal Witness.  I use the line in the headline. "Mrs. Pankhurst's troops are Cavemen."

The newspaper supported woman suffrage, but not the militant kind as this hysterical headline from around the 10th shows.


Reverend Pedley may have hated the Theatre, but Edith Nicholson and other Witness readers LOVED it! She and/or her sisters went to see Polly of the Circus, the Merry Widow  and Everywoman. Everywoman was a morality play, warning young women against the dangers of vanity, featuring beautiful young actresses in gorgeous robes. 

The motion pictures (the five and ten cent picture shows) were lowbrow for them in 1913, but by 1917, the war years, the Nicholson 'girls' were going to 'the movies' (as they now referred to them) regularly. Everyone in their social group was.


I found Miss Carrie Derick, the subject of my story Furies Cross the Mersey, on the 1901 Canadian Census, listed as a lodger.  Misspelled Cary Derick.

She is listed as a university lecturer, making 1000 a year, a very good salary. Her sister is a teacher, so also works.

I can't tell the street, but it is in St. Antoine Ward. (No doubt near McGill.)

She is not living with her boss :) Dr. Penhallow, who is listed a a lodger somewhere else.

LODGER. Hmmmmmmm.

On the 1901 census, Penhallow is listed with a woman, Sarah, a year or so younger with the same last name. Wife? Sister.

 If Penhallow wasn't married then it puts a little bit of a different tint on the relationship he would have had with Carrie Derick, doesn't it?  Or maybe he wasn't the marrying kind.

Let's see if I can find if Penhallow had a wife.

No.

His Wikipedia page doesn't mention a wife and it says he 'allegedly' had a mental breakdown in 1909, Yikes! That really changes my story, well, if the story were about David Pearce Penhallow, but it's about Carrie Mathilda Derick.

Derick took over for Penhallow when he had this breakdown, doing his job for three years, but then she didn't get the post in 1912 when the post was filled.

 The  new Chair of Botany, a Professor Lloyd,  made 3,000 salary.






In 1901, a Louise Derick lives with Carrie Derick, very likely her sister.

In my story, which takes place in 1911/12/13, Miss Carrie Derick has a housekeeper. In 1911 she lived on Bishop and was making 2,000 dollars a year.

I know, because her 'uptown' address is indicated on the minutes of the Montreal Local Council of Women and in many other places.

This Bishop address could have been a boarding house too, but I chose to make it a comfortable home. She's 49 in 1911, after all. And making 2,000 a year.

She didn't get on the 1911 census which, to me, suggests she lived on her own and just wasn't at home in June 1911 when the Census Man came around. At a boarding house, the landlady would have given her name most likely.


Carrie Derick


In 1901, university lecturer (and lab demonstrator) Carrie Derick, lodged with a few other 'teachers' and another university lecturer, it seems, a man, James Henderson. At least she was getting the same 1000 dollar salary!  In 1900 she gave a report under the auspices of the National Council of Women saying that teaching was a 'bleak' profession. She had plenty of friends in the biz.

She gives her religion as Anglican, or Church of England. The Derick's of the E.T were of Dutch and German background.  She likely spoke German because she attended the University of Bonn.


The 1922 bi-lingual Committee struck to win the vote for Quebec women.

All men are created equal, but some more equal than others.

It's Orwell from Animal Farm and the line is emblazoned on my brain, probably because we studied the book in the 9th grade when I was 14, a very impressionable age.

I wasn't alone, the line caused a buzz at school, almost as much buzz and the bare boobs in the BBC production of Casanova.

That line applies very much to my current project, Furies Cross the Mersey, an ebook that I've just published on Amazon about the British Invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13.

THAT I didn't learn about in school. No one did. Up until a few years ago, I didn't know when Canadian women got the vote.

The suffrage movement in Canada was basically censored in high schools back in the 60's.  Well, it still is.

Our Canadian history book, Canada Then and Now only had a few female characters: Marguerite Bourgeoys, Laura Secord, Jeanne Mance. There was a bit about Bodicea in the Canadian Reading Development Series we used.


By the 1960's there had only been one book written about Canadian Suffragists and is a 1940 Master's Thesis by an American, Catherine Cleverdon - and she used newspaper accounts.

She didn't interview any former suffragists alive at the time.

The Cleverdon book and one other from 1989 (by McGill student Carol Bacchi, who soon moved to Australia to teach) is still what most scholars refer to when they write about the Canadian Woman Suffrage Movement.

But, very lately, the Internet has changed all that.

Anyway, this famous Orwell line applies to my story because  in 1913 the elite ladies of Montreal started up a Montreal Suffrage Association, but any new members had to be approved  by two members of the Executive, most of whom were clergymen and McGill Profs.

I know for a fact that my husband's great Aunt Edith Nicholson didn't join, her name isn't in the membership book in the archives at Montreal City Hall. But, then, she was all for the militant suffragettes. She said so in a letter home. (Edith is a character in Furies Cross the Mersey.)

Ironic, no? Wanting women to have universal suffrage, but not allowing most of them to be part of the process of  winning it?

There are reasons for this, of course. This being one:


It's all in my story, every detail.

When the Montreal Council of Women decided in 1912, shortly after Mrs. Pankhurst came to speak in Montreal in December, 1911, that they'd spin off a Suffrage Association (against their by-laws, by the way) they resolved to hold a public meeting.

In December, 1912 they held that 'public' meeting, but it wasn't very public. If they were being honest they would have admitted "We are going to hold a public meeting for all our good friends."

Here's the notice. Does it sound that anyone can attend? No.. but that's the way they wanted it.


So, when this Beatrice Forbes Robertson spoke, on December 12, 1912, she spoke only to a group  of Protestant Leaders.

Odd, because in her speech she said that POOR WOMEN ESPECIALLY NEED THE VOTE.




Read Furies Cross the Mersey on Amazon.com.



If  I put out a little cash on Ancestry UK, I may get to see another image of Caroline Kenney, the semi-suffragette who I feature in my ebook Furies Cross the Mersey - about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13.

Here's a free pdf copy.

Caroline was a sister of Militant Suffragette Annie Kenney.

Apparently, the registry says she is coming to Canada in 1912 to 'visit' her sister.  I don't know if the registry is available online, but a portrait certainly is.

True enough. Older sister Sarah Nell Kenney Randolph Clarke lived in Montreal with her husband. They'd immigrated to Canada in 1908. He was a newspaperman.

But Caroline did more than visit, newspaper items reveal. She promoted woman suffrage, alone and with the Equal Suffrage League.

But she couldn't exactly write that on the form. Premier Borden had banned the suffragettes from coming to Canada a month before.


Beautiful and feisty Barbara Wylie.


The UK Ancestry site says they have a portrait relating to her 1912 passage on the Virginian (of the Allan Line) and her 1930 border crossing. The Virginian originated in Liverpool and went to Quebec City than Montreal.


I guess someone has added the portrait to her travel documents. It's likely the same portrait I have.
But I will see.

So, if Caroline came to Montreal any time before November, 1912,  (the Seaway closed on November 26) she likely crossed paths with Barbara Wylie, another suffragette who was in Canada. (For all I know, they both stayed at the Clarke's in Verdun (or St. Lambert).


Wylie arrived in Montreal in late September and stayed at least until early November, because on November 4 she gave a speech at the YMCA sponsored by the Montreal Council of Women.

I put this speech in Furies Cross the Mersey. It almost started a small riot.

Wylie had come on the Empress of Ireland. I can't find a record of her crossing on Ancestry UK. Too bad, I would like to see the reason she put for coming to Canada.

Her visit had been trumpeted loudly in Votes for Women, the magazine of the Women's Social and Political Union.

Her arrival in Montreal got a lot of press,too. Silly press, indeed.

But Miss Wylie was feted by the local society women, whereas Caroline Kenney was not.

Caroline is not mentioned once in that organization's minutes from the era, whereas Miss Wylie's visit is showcased in the minutes and the 1912 Annual Report.

The Equal Suffrage League in Montreal was a rogue suffrage association. All the leading lights in the Montreal movement belonged to the Montreal Suffrage Association, which was an offshoot of the Montreal Council of Women.



A strange strike out in the minutes of the Executive of the Montreal Suffrage Association, May 1913. Were they for or against the British militants? I've written a book about them, and I still am not sure and that's because they weren't sure themselves.

 I know from newspaper accounts that Caroline Kenney  gave speeches in Montreal in February and March 1913 on her own and then worked with the Equal Suffrage League from the summer to December 1913. Newspaper reports referred to her  as a 'resident' of Montreal.

Her first speech was too militant apparently and did not sit well with the citizens of Montreal. (I have no account of it, but this is mentioned in an account of her next, less explosive, speech to the Jewish Community.)


Here's the clipping about Wylie's visit kept by Edith Nicholson, my husband's great aunt, who also figures in Furies Cross the Mersey.

 I have but a remnant of the original clipping left. It has crumbled to bits in the 10 years since I found it in a trunk along with many other such clippings and about 300 family letters from the 1910 era in Canada.

 In the report, it claims that Montreal pressmen almost missed Miss Wylie, because they were expecting a battle-ax to de-train and instead were met with a beautiful young woman.



The pro-suffragette narrative pretty well always fell along those lines. What pretty women! Who would have guessed? The anti-suffragette narrative painted the women as demons and terrorists and most commonly as hysterical or very very silly.



The inscription under the statue of Edward VII in Phillip's Square, Montreal. Here's a video of the place.


Funny, we don't really look at statues or monuments. They are a kind of 3-D wallpaper. And we only read the inscriptions when we are tourists, or thinking of making a documentary.

I went to Phillip's Square a while back to 'scout' some images for my documentary on the Montreal Suffragists. 

"Phillip's Square is ground-zero of the Montreal Suffrage Movement," I said to my husband, who came along with the dog. He's the professional news editor, but he would have preferred to stay home on his day off and paint the moulding on our stairwell.

If he had been listening  he might have asked, "Does that mean there was a famous rally or riot there?"

And the answer would have been NO. An unequivocal NO.

Montreal suffragists in the 1910 era didn't rally or riot or march, they wrote letters, rented booths at events and had open houses at their various headquarters, always near Phillip's Square. UPTOWN it was called in those days. 

 (And theirs was not a populist movement, all members of the Montreal Suffrage Association (which had been spun off from the Montreal Council of Women) had to be nominated by a member of the Executive and approved by the Executive.)

As as I have written before on this blog, Phillip's Square was the women's square with its churches, department store, Birks jewelers and the Montreal Art Association Building.. (A new art gallery would be built on Sherbrooke in 1913, I believe.)

Now, were I doing a radio show for BBC Radio Four, where they care about history, I would approach this statue and inquire about the 4 different statues at the base.  Are these Amazon women suffragettes? No of course not. They are a group of women symbolizing our four founding nations, apparently.


Actually, this statue symbolizes prosperity. I figured with the cornucopia.

These women are our four founding nations..

A beautiful face, for sure. But has anyone really looked closely?

Anyway, on that topic. I recently bought the bio of Thérèse Casgrain, suffragist icon in Quebec, to see what she said about her early days in the movement. 

In the bio, written in 1972, she says that it was in 1917 after she had helped her husband win his Liberal seat in the infamous Conscription Election (the subject of my documentary) that she was approached by Julia Parker Drummond and Carrie Derick (who were both associated with the Montreal Suffrage Association). She said she soon was off to Ottawa to give a speech.

The book I bought second-hand happened to contain a 1974 Maclean's article about her where it says that it was only after the 1921 Election, where she helped her husband, that she was approached by a group of suffragists to join the battle. (So history gets 'rewritten' from the beginning... or is it just a mistake by Macleans?)

Hmm. Interesting. The 1974 article suggests or implies it was in 1921 that Casgrain got her start in advocacy, but it does not preclude that she got introduced earlier to the same suffragists. Words are like that, they can be slippery. 

It might seem a silly point, but frankly, I was surprised that she had anything to do with the Montreal Suffrage Association as that group of women had had an open argument in the press with Mayor Martin over the proposed Montreal Tramways Contract.. and she was a Forget who benefited from said 40 year contract. (And besides, these MSA women  were kinda racist  or should I say, very much into "social hygiene" a loaded concept. They had a number of Protestant churchmen on their board.)

As I wrote earlier, the membership book of the Montreal Suffrage Association does not include her name and she is never mentioned in the minutes..although, I believe her husband, Pierre, is mentioned as a potential speaker.


St. James Methodist, near Phillip's Square, where the National Council of Women held its AGM in May 1913 and where Mrs. Snowden, moderate suffragist, spoke (again) perhaps in front of Edith Nicholson, who was sorry she wasn't a militant. All this is in my ebook Furies Cross the Mersey.  Here's a free pdf copy. Funny, I just found a bit from a 1913 International Suffrage Bulletin, describing this event. It claims that St James Methodist is the biggest church in Montreal (maybe) and that Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, is the first woman Chair of a University Department. Not quite. She was turned down for the position of Chair of Botany at McGill in June, 1912 and given a courtesy appointment as full professor instead. It's all in Furies Cross the Mersey



Me and another statue, more famous. Location, location, location. 1992 fountain, a newbie.




The Montreal Herald Building. The Montreal Suffrage Association held one meeting in the place, in October 1913,  when they were friendly with Edward Beck, Editor, who allowed them to write up a special suffrage section in his newspaper in November 1913.

The MSA and Beck  soon fought over who was to pay for the section.

 In return for the favour, the Montreal Council of Women came out against the Montreal Tramways Deal with a formal resolution...a deal  BECK despised and condemned in a huge one page rant in the newspaper, where he claimed certain Montreal Newspaper factions were corrupt and in the grip of City Hall.

Inez Milholland, US suffragette. Montreal didn't have any young activists (by the design of the Montreal Council of Women, I believe)



"I do not like the women's vote
The reason why I cannot note.
But this I know and know by rote
I do not like the women's vote"


You have to like this little rhyme. Mrs. Philip (Ethel) Snowden, British Suffragist, used it in her speeches. She claimed it described the unintelligent mindset of the anti-suffragists in the US.

I have written Furies Cross the Mersey the follow up to Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, about the Montreal Suffragists and a British Invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal in the 1912/13 era.

In the last scene,  Edith Nicholson, (my husband's great aunt) goes to hear Mrs. Snowden speak, in May 1913 at St. Jame Methodist Church on Ste. Catherine West.

Edith is not impressed. Mrs. Snowden is not a militant suffragette. Indeed, in her speech Mrs. Snowden describes Mrs. Pankhurst's militants as 'cavemen.'

Mrs. Snowden was the wife of a M.P. at Westminster who was eloquent and beautiful to look at, so reporters liked to cover her speeches.

And if the didn't like what she had to say, they gushed over her other charms.

What I didn't know up until now is that this Mrs. Snowden was all of 27 years of age.


She still has roses in her cheeks, as one reporter described.

That would make her 3 years younger than Old Aunt Edie at the time.

In the US and Britain, many in the suffragette movement were youngish, in their early 30's.

 But in Canada, especially Montreal, the young were shut out of the movement. .

In fact, an unmarried working woman in her 20's was considered a helpless creature who needed the Montreal benevolent faction to find her a place to live, where she might partake of 'wholesome recreation' away from the ogling eyes of evil-minded men who might, you know.. (This irked the Nicholson women, independent action-oriented country-girls, especial boffo Marion,who didn't like anybody telling her what to do.)

Edith complained in 1910 letters of the horror of having to spend evenings alone in her room, because she couldn't find someone to go out with.

The Suffrage Movement in Montreal was taken over by well-connected matrons and their allies, the influential Men in Cloth.

Furies Cross the Mersey reveals why young people did in Montreal to try to get a piece of the action, even if they were enamoured of Mrs. Pankhust and her ilk.

I also noticed that in her speeches in the US, Mrs. Snowden, 'a moderate suffragist' was easy on the militant suffragettes. In some US newspapers she is incorrectly described as a suffragette, a militant.

The United States had a militant movement, you see. Canada did not.

Mrs. Snowden also spoke in Montreal in 1909. In some of her 1909 speeches, she praised Mrs. Pankhurst's genius, but described her militancy as 'a Frankenstein monster.'

In her 1913 speech, Snowden said the militants were doing a great deal to harm the woman suffrage movement.

In May 1913 the British militants were at the height of their civil disobedience, destroying government property to make a point.

Mrs. Pankhurst was in jail and the UK government had just passed a law to let Hunger Strikers out of jail to get better temporarily to recuperate, so that no martyrs would be created.

(The new movie Suffragette with Carrie Mulligan and Meryl Streep, very soon to be released, is apparently all about this "Cat and Mouse" period in the UK Woman Suffrage Movement.)


But then Emily Davison threw herself under the King's racehorse.




Donaldas with their hair down in their nighties, from the Old McGill Yearbook, 1900... from McGill website. This picture must have proven, ah, interesting, to the male students.


When the first women were accepted as students at McGill University in Montreal,  no one worried about them falling in love with their male counterparts, only the other way around. They worried that the young men might fall in love with the young women.

In Victorian times, I guess, it was considered improbable that a young woman would find a young man attractive: after all, women were looking for men to protect them. (Something like that.)

Middle class women, it seems to follow, were supposed to fall in love ONLY with men Mummy approved of, men who had established themselves in life and who could take care for a wife.

Seems funny, nowadays.

I imagine the males at McGill were a bit afraid of the Donaldas, who were boffo pioneers after all.

The two genders did mix, however.

Here's a bit from Old McGill 1900, about the Women's Lawn Tennis Club. McGill women had their own tennis club from 1889 onwards.


Thirty Donaldas played tennis on the 'very good courts.' I wish I knew where these courts were located. I had to make it up for my story Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British invasion of militant suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13 that has two characters who are Donaldas, one of whom loves tennis!


Furies Cross the Mersey: A Story of 1912 (School Marms and Suffragettes Book 6)

Two young women in crisp white duck middy blouses over long ankle length skirts, black kerchiefs at their necks, white laced sneakers on their feet and large wooden tennis racquets on their laps, sit on a bench and await their turn on the court.

“Warm up!” orders a lady coach from the back of the court.

“Yes, Miss Cartwright,” the girls answer in tandem.

They stand and begin stretching out their legs. 

One girl is tall and slim-boned, the other shorter, with a trim muscular build and broad coat hanger shoulders that make her waist, uninhibited by stays for the time being, seem smaller than it is.

The tall girl has medium dark brown hair with few highlights tied up in a bun and pale skin, because she is an indoor, studious type and the shorter girl has long strawberry-blond hair laced with golden threads and because she is an outdoor type her hair is tied back in a ponytail.  She also has applied a liberal amount of Hains Skin Balm to her face to protect her skin from the sun and wind.


The shorter girl has blue eyes, an upturned nose and a pink rosebud mouth; the tall girl has hazel eyes, on the greenish side, a broad face with prominent cheekbones, a long tapered nose and a wide mouth with thinnish lips and beautiful straight teeth as white as milk.

The tall, serious girl is Mathilda Jenkins; the shorter golden girl is Penelope Day.


They are strangers to each other. They have just been slapped together for the first time, in the very first P. E. class of the year, an absolutely random act that will have serious implications for the future.  I promise.


Two headlines in the Montreal Gazette, two weeks apart, 101 years ago.



Here's a free read-only copy of Furies Cross the Mersey,


 The first article was on August 29, the second on September 14, 1912.

101 years ago, today, Miss Caroline Kenney, sister of famed militant suffragette Annie Kenney, was spending her first day in the city, probably in Verdun, where her sister, Nell, lived with her husband, Frank Randal Clarke, city editor of the Montreal Witness newspaper and their two babies.

I wonder if it was snowing. I could easily find out.....


I'm the first person to figure this out, I think. The Kenney fonds  in the UK have no record of Caroline's visit to Canada.

Ancestry.ca has the record of her passage though, arriving November 15, in Montreal from Liverpool.

She said she was a teacher emigrating to Canada and hoping to find a job. She didn't find a job as a teacher, as far as I can tell, but she did get active in the local suffrage movement.

Being working class, she was not welcomed by the Montreal Council of Women who were in the process of starting a new suffrage organization, the Montreal Suffrage Association.



The Council did fete Miss Barbara Wylie, another British Suffragette, sent by Emmeline Pankhurst's WSPU.

Wylie gave a speech sponsored by them at the YMCA on November 6, 1912. . It's in Furies Cross the Mersey.

She almost started  a riot....between MEN not WOMEN.


This cartoon mocked the new law barring suffragettes from Canada. How could they stop ALL suffragettes, the accompanying article asked?

Well, they didn't stop Caroline, who said she was coming to live in Canada... and Barbara Wylie came as a tourist.

I have no idea if the two Britishers met in Montreal. Likely, I'd think. An entry in the Social Notes for mid January says that Miss Wylie is leaving for the Coast (Vancouver.) So their visits overlapped two months.

And it's taken me time, going through all the newspapers,  but I've figured out that the Equal Suffrage League had a meeting in January at the Baron de Hirsch Institute...and then that Caroline Kenney gave a talk on "the Evolution of Militancy" to the Hochelaga WCTU on March 6, and that in late March she gave a talk at the Baron de Hirsch Institute where it was recorded in the Canadian Jewish News that Kenney did not speak on militantism... because with that earlier speech she had got into trouble.

So that organization aligned itself with the Jewish Community in Montreal. Pretty interesting.

The WCTU speech notice is in the social notes but she is listed as Catherine Kenney from England.

In Furies Cross the Mersey, I have Caroline meet up with my two main characters in March...and she does discuss militantism and she even suggests something, that the girls, RVC students, organize a march on the Mount Royal Club.



Was it a class issue? Militant Barbara Wylie is embraced by the Montreal Council of Women but Caroline Kenney is not.

Wylie was an official WSPU visitor, though. Caroline seems to have arrived on her own, but who knows.

Emmeline Panhurst, who is played by Meryl Streep in an upcoming movie Suffragette, spoke in Montreal in Jan 1911.

Her speech figures large in Furies Cross the Mersey


The wedding of Sarah Nell Kenney and Frank Randall Clarke took place in Montreal in 1909!  The couple had four children. This document is on Ancestry.com.

1912 clipping from the Montreal Gazette.


Frances Fenwick Williams was a journalist and novelist who figures large in my book about the Montreal Suffragettes.

I am getting the impression she might have figured even larger.

She was a member of the Montreal Women's Club (not to be mixed up with the Montreal Coloured Women's Club est. 1902)  that was a member organization of the Montreal Council of Women and she later become Press Secretary of the Montreal Suffrage Association.


Read all about the book here on Amazon.ca or find a free pdf copy here.. Furies Cross the Mersey.

Furies Cross the Mersey: A Story of 1912 (School Marms and Suffragettes Book 6)

In a 1917 article in the Montreal Gazette, Fenwick Williams strongly supports the Borden Unionist Government and therefore Conscription.

She was young and estranged from her husband and had no children.

In the article  she mentions that five years before she had spent time in England working with the suffragettes.

I think I found her travel document on Ancestry.ca. She arrived back in Montreal on November 10, five days before militant suffragette Caroline Kenney arrived in Montreal to stir up trouble.

So it is very likely that Mrs. Fenwick Williams was part of the deputation that descended on Premier Borden in London England in August 1912, while he was there to discuss Naval issues with Asquith and Churchill.

(The report in Votes for Women doesn't include her name, though.)

I know for a fact, from that report, that  Miss Barbara Wylie was one of the suffragettes who tried to get Borden to promise to give Canadian women the vote.

What  a trouble-maker, this Fenwick Williams.

In my book I have her home in October, giving a talk at McGill's RVC and introducing Barbara Wylie to the students. (Creative license.)

Mrs. Weller, who gave a tea for Wylie in September was also part of the Montreal Women's Club, an organization now forgotten.

It is likely her colleague Mrs. Fenwick Williams helped make this happen. She participated in a debate on the last day of the exhibit, that is also in Furies Cross the Mersey.

I found a bit about the Montreal Women's Club upon their 21 anniversary. Their Civic's Committee was a Woman Suffrage Committee. This organization did not leave behind minutes like the Montreal Council of Women. Nor did their members include illustrious people like Julia Grace Parker Drummond, Carrie Derick or Octavia Grace Ritchie England.

But they were the driving force behind the February 1913 Montreal Suffrage Exhibit, although they fought for credit with the Montreal Council in the newspapers (once the exhibit was established as a great success).



I doubt Frances Fenwick Williams figures in the upcoming Meryl Streep Carrie Mulligan movie Suffragette, even if she was in England in 1912, messing around with suffragettes.. That was the summer a suffragette threw a hatchet at Prime Minister Asquith.


Ethel Hurlbatt, Warden of the Royal Victoria College of McGill, a suffrage activist with the Montreal Council of Women who preferred calling suffrage classes 'citizenship' classes. 

Unfortunately, only one person signed up for her classes. Maybe, she should have called them suffrage classes, after all, or even better suffragette classes.

I finally found my missing file containing the notes, taken in 2010, of the minutes of Montreal Council of Women for the 1910 era.

It was lost inside the hard drive belonging to my old laptop, the one that suddenly died with that infamous "black screen of death."

My husband bought a little black plastic envelope thingy and I plugged it into my latest laptop and typed in Minutes Montreal Council and, voila, the missing Word Doc popped up - because Minutes Montreal Council is the first line of my document.

When I entered Notes, the file name, nothing showed up.

But enough about modern day problems.

This happily retrieved document is all about 100 year old problems... not that any of these ugly problems, poverty, etc, have gone away, even with Canadian women winning the vote almost a century ago. (Funny, wouldn't you say? Considering that's why so many wanted the vote, to improve society and the lot of children. Ha!)

If you scan this Minutes document, with your own eyeballs,  it hits you like a tonne of bricks: The suffrage movement in Montreal was all tied up, like a sturdy polymer protein, to the Social Purity Movement.

I took these particular notes long before I decided to write Furies Cross the Mersey, my ebook about the  British Invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13 so I wasn't looking for anything in particular.

I took them long before I dug out No Fool She, the little bio about Carrie Derick by Margaret Gillette, that exists only in one library at McGill University.

I wanted to look over this lost document because I wanted to know if Carrie Derick, McGill prof and suffragist, really said that she wanted to start the Montreal Suffrage Association 'to keep the interest in suffrage alive' after Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst's Montreal speech in December 1911.

You see, I have put that in  Furies Cross the Mersey.

Well, the answer is No, but it makes no difference,  really. I'll consider this divergence from the absolute truth poetic licence. I'm not a chemist after all. I needn't be all that precise.

In fact, according to the Minutes, it is Mrs. Weller of the Montreal Women's Club who says that line, a little later on, after the success  of the Montreal Suffrage Exhibit in February, 1913.

Carrie Derick did propose the motion to bring Mrs. Pankhurst into speak in Montreal, at a meeting in October 1911 'to hear another side of the question.' Mrs. Snowden, a moderate suffragist, had been in Montreal to speak in 1909.

Reading over the typed notes, I can see I got the gist of it right in Furies Cross the Mersey. If anything, I white-washed the reality just a bit...by leaving out the disturbing details of  the extensive Social Purity discussion, in the 1910 era in Montreal...and how that discussion was tied into the Woman Suffrage Movement.

(Well, I put a couple of illuminating newspaper reports in at the end of Furies Cross the Mersey, but only after my historical narrative ends.)


Carrie Derick.
I notice that it is mentioned in the 1909 minutes that McGill students acted as ushers at Mrs. Snowden's event. I guess I should have put that fact into my story. These were obviously women students and Donaldas, women McGill students, figure large in my book.

And one line in the document just glares at me. In and around June 1913, the Montreal Suffrage Association applies for membership in the Montreal Council of Women, an umbrella group of about 40 social advocacy groups.

Pretty silly.. the Montreal Suffrage Association was spun off from the Council (at one point it is described as 'a daughter of the council.')

This was totally against their own by-laws...which clearly state that the MCW is an association of organizations that have sprung up from the grass roots.



So I guess this formal gesture, applying for membership, made this political sleight of hand seem more legitimate. I bet Carrie Derick suggested it be done. She was a very cagey politician.

Read Furies Cross the Mersey, here or on Amazon Kindle. to see what I mean.