Sunday, August 1, 2010

Knuckling Under..

Edith Nicholson, with future brother in law Hugh. Edith was a militant suffragette sympathizer and she went on to be Commandant of the Red Cross in Quebec during WWII.

I've been reading more of the book on The Edwardians, about the youth of the time. Apparently, getting married rather late in life was common as 'adolescence was prolonged' - not to educate children and to keep them out of the workplace, as today, but to keep them unmarried and providing money to the family, for kids started to work and contribute money to the family in their early teens. The median age for getting married was at its highest in 1900. Even higher than it is today. (So the Nicholsons weren't an aberration.)
Still, the boys and girls managed to get together. Middle class kids in Edwardian England (like the Nicholsons) were forced to court at church and social occasions chaperoned by adults but working class men got dressed up and paraded about in a pre-ordained place in the town, and smiled and flirted with their unmarried women, until one consented to take his arm, kind of thing, and then they went to a movie, or motion picture as it was called. The girls didn't stay out late: 10 30 or such. Edwardian fathers of all ilks were very strict, with some notable exceptions, some farmers had more democratic-style families.
(This is due to the fact that poorer Edwardian families lived in cramped surroundings, so that the breadwinner, the father, had strict rules so that he could get some peace and quiet for a few hours. He too likely was abused at work. In the context of this is interesting. I suspect the Nicholson's had a more democratic style of family, but they also had a nice big house...and only four children... and they came from farmers.)
Anyway, the kids 'stayed apart' for there were not that many 'shotgun' marriages in that era, or at least half the number as the century before. Evangelical Puritanism had something to do with this.(Yes, about half the women who married in the 19th century were already pregnant.)The short of it is: Edwardians were sexually repressed, except for the wealthy marrieds, who had a lot of fun committing adultery. And the wealthier unmarried men, who must have fooled around with prostitutes (or higher class courtesan types) or married women. (Coco Chanel, beautiful and brilliant, but with no connections, was a 'consort' of a rich man. But this was France, not uptight England.)

Marion Nicholson left behind her diary from when she was nineteen. It's a dating diary, basically, and most action took place on the skating rink. At least in winter. She did not lack for beaus, not a bit.

These young Edwardian age working men had it very hard according to the Paul Thompson book. They got beaten by their superiors at work AND their Dads. Indeed, in some apprenticeship there was what amounts to 'hazing'. But still it was better than school, where the teachers apparently were always abusing their charges, until rears were red and knuckles bled. I guess that's where the term to knuckle under came from.

The Montreal School Board 1906 Code of Conduct for teachers says with respect to discipline: Discipline in the schools is founded on instruction in duty, and is maintained by appeals to reason and right moral feeling, aided by rewards to the diligent and obedient and reproofs to those neglectful or wilfully wrong and the expulsion of the incorrigible. Still, 'the strap' still existed in the 60's in Montreal Protestant Schools. Only boys got it in my school and even then I realized something was 'wrong' about it.

It's hard to imagine Edith being a sadistic teacher.
Indeed, we have testimony to the contrary in the blog Rebels on the Rampage.
Marion was probably much stricter (her own kids said you didn't defy her) but, again, not sadistic. But it is true that she lost out on teaching the seventh grade to a male teacher just out of Mcdonald teaching school and no doubt this had to do with discipline. That grade was made up mostly of boys and adolescent boys at that. Disillusioned, Marion quit teaching, then, to marry, only to return to the profession after the death of her husband Hugh in 1927.
I think I'll have some bits of the Code of Conduct read out in Flo in the City, my novel in progress about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era based on the letters of

When Marion starts her job in 1909.

Here's another bit from the Code that illustrates how hard life was for families:

Children suffering from loathsome or infectious disease, or living in houses or tenements where disease prevails, must be kept at home by their parents. Infection diseases are chicken pox, diptheria, croup, whooping cough, measles, German Measles, mumps, ring worm, scabies, pediculosis, scarlet fever, small pox, influenza, erysipelas, typhus, cholera and tuberculosis.

I got this code from Canadiana. org (when it was the CIHM collection with microfiches at McGill's library.)