Monday, March 22, 2010

Are Suffragettes Diseased?

A suffragette being whisked to safety, London 1913. A still off a Youtube video, the Trafalgar Square Riot, one of a number of videos owned by the British Film Institute. They possess the best films of the era, now digitally restored and viewable on YouTube and also available for sale on their site. I bought the DVD. In the 60's, any footage of the era was jerky, (due to technical difficulties), so that era looked silly to us. Suffragettes, angry women in funny chicken-style clothes, looked sillier. That is all changed now with these videos and the era takes on a Seurat feel, elegant and slow in the country, and very busy and bustling in the cities.

Now, I have a number of Pro-Suffrage articles from the 1910 era, yellowed clippings left behind by Margaret Nicholson or possibly Edith.

They are likely from the Montreal Witness, a long defunct 'evangelical' publication. And they are posted at

The Montreal Gazette, which is still around, was not for woman's suffrage. That publication has recently been archived online, so I searched for a few suffrage articles from the era.

I found some. I can't reprint them, as they are likely proprietary, but I'll discuss a couple of them. Aspects of these anti-suffrage letters to the editor and articles are very funny (did you know there was a law against women's hat pins of a certain length, in Australia anyway?) and others are disturbing.

I'm not surprised that the anti-suffragists characterized suffragists and suffragettes as man-haters, in this case idle and lazy manhaters. And I'm not surprised that anti-suffrage articles liked to look at communities where women had the vote, Finland and Colorado, for instance to show women were just as corrupt as men when it came to the vote. And I am not surprised that militant suffragists were seen as the worse kind of citizen and a real menace, deserving of imprisonment and degradation. (Remember, pious, demure, in and out love Edith Nicholson was all for the militant suffragettes.)

I was a little surprised - and quite disturbed at the lengths some commentators went to disparage the suffrage movement.

One article I read, from 1913, asks doctors if militancy is a disease. Not surprisingly, the doctors they dug up all agreed that militancy is a nerve disorder, a kind of female hysteria.

One doctor says that once a suffragette is full fledged, she is incurable. One has to get them young, at 16 or 17, to save them. He claims that at this age, women are very susceptible to the suffrage message, especially if their nerves are on edge, from, say, over-studying. Another doctor, however, says he can cure any suffragette, with a kind of 'intervention' (my word) by putting her in a nursing home and not letting her discuss any aspect of suffragism and feeding her properly. In this case, suffragism is seen as a cult.

Another doctor says that militancy is caused by the stress of modern life. Men are not susceptible, because they have important work to do to keep them occupied. (Hmm, sounds like he contradicts himself, a bit.)

All this goes to prove that suffragists scared some people silly. One has to ask why? I guess the average man feared that women would abandon the home or abandon them, by meeting other men, if they got interested in the outside world.

All this will be useful when I get down to writing the next part of Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the letters of because the suffragists in this story, the Nicholson women, were ordinary middle class women, hardly different from the young women of today.