Sunday, October 17, 2010

Canada's Backward Suffrage Movement

With All Her Might: A book about Canadian Suffragette Gertrude Harding by Gretchen Wilson. Harding was born in New Brunswick but fought for suffrage in England.

I found an odd article about the Canadian Suffrage Movement (or the lack of same) in the Canadian Magazine 1913. The same year Edith Nicholson went to see Mrs. Ethel Snowden speak at the meeting of the National Council of Women in Montreal.

This article, by an Isabel Skelton, summarizes the movement in the US, Britain and world, while claiming that Canada is 'backword' in this regard.

In the US, claims Skelton, they have a history of equal rights movements and that is the reason for their active suffrage movement. In Britain, there are only 88 men for every hundred women, so they have many more working women than in Canada, and that is the reason for the active movement there.

In Canada, well, we are single minded homesteaders, she says, 'intensely on the make" so 'political and civic responsiblity does not loom large' in our minds. And Canadian Women already have many rights... For instance, female property owners can vote at the municiple level and at the school board level and that's what women care about, their immediate community and education... Our marriage and divorce laws do not discriminate in favour of men, she says. (Not exactly true.) For all these reasons, the suffrage movement is stalled here. Is comparatively inert. (That's how she put it.) It also doesn't help that were a huge diverse country, so it is hard to start a movement here.

On top of that, to plead for women's suffrage just hasn't been fashionable in Canada. Quite the opposite. The earliest proponents of woman suffrage in Canada turned off the leisure classes, with their 'freakish dress and mannish manners'.

Theoretically Canadian women believe they must 'be alive to problems pressing on us from without' and vaguely desire the suffrage to remedy things, but their practical needs are somehow not crying enough to make their demands imperative...

An interesting point of view: but tell that to Margaret Nicholson and her daughters, Marion, Edith and Flora (of my novel Flo in the City), who cut out pro suffrage articles from the Montreal Witness, a pro-suffrage newspaper.


It would make more sense if Ms. Skelton were explaining why there is 'no militant' movement in Canada, for that seems to be the case, but there is, without a doubt, a suffrage movement, of sorts, even if there are no marches and parades. (Oddly, in the US, the anti-suffragists are using the 'no one cares' argument in their editorials, but this woman appears to be pro-suffrage, or on the fence. She says in the future, when women enter the workplace in larger numbers and face the inevitable problems, the movement might get going in Canada.)

But I've found a lot of articles about the Restless Woman Issue in the Montreal Gazette of the 1910 era, many reports of men and women giving talks about suffrage, pro and con. (In Pierre Berton's Book, Marching as to War, he claims the Canadians Suffrage movement peaked in 1910.)

So, I dunno. I find it odd that, in this article, Canadians are described as the self-sufficient pioneers and Americans the socially-conscious, since the stereotype is quite the opposite today.

I have to wonder if all the 'cowboy' movies over the century have created this perception of the rugged American individualist..

(Or does it have to do with the greater power that the individual states enjoy compared to our provinces.)