Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Morality Ladies

Queen Victoria in her carriage.

Blame it on the movies. Most people's idea of these Canadian Council of Women Reformer types at the turn of the century, is of some ridiculous looking old woman (in a HUGE hat) going from book store to book store trying to get some fabulous work of literature banned. (I just saw this in the Life of Emile Zola, with respect to his Nana.)

But as I show on this blog and in my book Flo in the City, these Women's Groups were responsible for improving the lives of many a disenfranchized city dweller - and for getting women the vote.

Not that some of them didn't waste their time going from book store to book store trying to see if the establishments carried 'immoral' material -although they would have been better served just checking out their husband's secretaries, I imagine. (The desk, I mean.)

It seems in 1912, postcards were wicked, (we can all imagine the type, probably available for purchase on eBay today, for a big price).

And there was a list of censored books. The Canadian Council of Women had to get special dispensation from Canada Post to be able to get these immoral books in the mail so these ladies could judge for themselves.

Yes, this is reform at its silliest. (Sort of like protesting over Katy Perry's Sesame Street cleavage. I mean, when I was four I was given this Rosemary Clooney children's album. Now, that was world class cleavage- and singing talent for that matter.)

In 1912, just like today, many people blamed the 'bad behavior' of adolescents on the motion pictures. The Montreal Council report quoted an expert who claimed to know of such incidents, where kids imitated the robbers in movies.

To be fair, I visited the Bibliotheque Nationale a few years ago to check on what they had in their fonds about the Montreal Council of Women. They have very little, but one item was of special interest. The Social and Moral Reform League of Canada, or some such organization, was lobbying to make it a criminal offence for unmarried people to co-habitate, but Julia Parker Drummond, after consulting experts, replied that 'you can't make people moral by law.' She saw this initiative as unfairly targeting the poor, for it was the poor and new immigrants who lived together outside of wedlock. In those days, it wasn't youths who lived together, it was older people with families and such who moved in common law. (The Canada yearbook shows only a few divorces in Canada for these years, but in those days, people 'just broke up housekeeping' and moved somewhere else.) In order to get a divorce you had to apply to Parliament. (I assume some rich people just walked away from their marriages. My husband's grandmother did. Twice.)

Here's a snippet from the Montreal Council of Women's Committee Report on Immoral Material.

"Your convenor reports an average increase in the number of moving picture shows, there being 69, more than in all Canada 5 years ago. Many of these have been visited more than once by members of the Committee. The Chief of Police has been most courteous in interviews regarding important matters. The Pictures are somewhat improved, but the vaudeville is still of a very ordinary tone (sic.)Some managers interviewed would like to exclude vaudeville, as it is expensive, but the public demands it.

Objections are expressed resulting from darkened halls where the pictures are shown. There is a menace to morals in this and it should be prohibited.

Posters and postcards are undersupervision but the latter are found, especially in smaller shops."