Saturday, December 5, 2009

I Missed Something the First Time


Flo and Marion in big hats. 1909

I am re-reading the early letters of Tighsolas (for my book Flo in the City based on http://www.tighsolas.ca/ ) and I recall most of them, if not all the details.

But one letter I must have missed the first time around -and it is most significant. In 1911, a Chicago cousin supplied a long list of addresses of his relatives, who live in the US, in a letter that ended up in Margaret's hands.

He writes how an aunt, Flora (these Scots only rotated a few names, Margaret, Sophia, Flora, Marion for women, Malcolm, Murdo and Norman for men) lives in the poorhouse in Sarnia, Ontario, as her husband is ill and cannot work. The couple pays 1.50 a week to live in this charitable establishment.

Then, on the other hand, he mentions that one of daughters in Chicago is a high school teacher earning 180 a month. That is three times what Marion is making! A huge salary for a man, let along a woman.

According to historian Terry Copp, a salary of 1,500 a year was needed to raise a family over the poverty line in 1910. The vast majority of Montreal families were not making this, even with both parents working. Marion in 1908-09, and later Flo, were teaching children from these impoverished families.

My own grandfather, French Canadian Jules Crepeau was making 5,000 a year at that time, at Montreal's City Hall, in the Clerk's Department. In 1921 he would become the First Director of Services and earn 10,000. My mother, born in 1922 did not think they were 'all that rich'...

(This is a good example of the class divide in the era, which I will do my best to bring to light in my book. The Nicholsons were 'middle class' but considered themselves 'working class'.)

Anyway, I am keeping a list of the more interesting comments: One is especially amusing. A woman, another Flora, says she has been very sick but the Doctor 'has taken a special interest' in her. She expects a huge bill (doctors cost a lot back then). She says she hopes to visit Richmond as long as her medicines don't continue to cost a lot. And guess what she's taking. Wine and port. Some medicine!

Her doctor is treating her with booze.

In 1907, Herb Nicholson is in Montreal and he writes about the latest fad in medicine, which is the fresh air cure. Someone at his work has been off with pleurisy. When he returns to work, he is not told to take it easy. The doctor recommends he go skating and on snow shoe hikes. Yikes.

The letters are filled with talk of illness, and general complaints about health. (Well, people do like to complain in letters.)

Norman Nicholson was a bill collector for a Dr. Stuart in Richmond. Doctors charged a lot, and also did some 'free work' for the poor.

One of the letters I have, from 1884, suggests that Maggie had a hard time at Edith's birth. The correspondent says she had been afraid to write before. The account books of the time, seem to corroborate this. They show a relatively huge payment to a doctor in 1884, $75 dollars.