Thursday, October 14, 2010

Women's Places, Men's Places

Some Edmonton Society Women 1910 era from Western Canada Magazine off Would they dare enter a saloon to cast a vote? I think not!

You know, I have posted a very important clip from a letter from a 1921 Nicholson family letter on (my social studies website). Mother Margaret is describing her first trip ever to the polls, to her daughter Marion, who is married with four kids, living in Notre Dame de Grace in Montreal.

Margaret writes: "Mr. Fraser and I went down to vote at about 11:30. I told Father I did not want anyone coming and driving me to the poll. I wanted to go independently. Mr. Duboyce called at about asking me if I had voted. I said, 'Do you supposed I would wait until this hour to vote?' 'Oh,' he said,'I was going to take you down in the car.' However, he then came up and asked if my neighbour (meaning Ethel) was going to vote. I said, 'Go and ask her.' Well, she would not go vote.

It did not feel degrading in any way. Mrs. Tanner was at Ethel's and I was invited over. She said Tobin did not need her vote, but if she were going to vote, she'd vote for him. Mrs. Farquarson did vote, but seemed ashamed of it. I have not seen her since. Mrs. Montgomery came last night,too late to vote. Oh, I am just delighted with this whole country!"

It's a great letter, one of my favourites of the Nicholson stash - and I have in my possession1,000 letters over 5 decades.

I was perplexed, however, by the words Margaret used, "ashamed" and "degraded."

Lately, I discovered a Magazine called the Secularist (self-explanatory title) on

A 1910 issue of course contains an article on woman suffrage. The article lists factions who are against giving women the vote.

The "special interests which pander to man's private comfort": ie the tobacco and liquor industries are against woman suffrage. (Well, that I already know, but I like the way they word it.) But also the manufacturers of silks, of gloves and stockings 'because they fear women will vote to cut down on duties'. (NOW, that's a definite Tighsolas tie in. But I suspect what these manufacturers really feared is having to treat their female employees better and pay them more. )

And.. says the article "At the same time, the political bosses have not universally provided the voters with polling stations fit for ladies to enter." HMM. (I just posted this same argument in a recent blog, expressed by an actor, that polling stations are too rough for women.)

Well, well, well. I don't think this was a problem in turn of the last century Richmond, Quebec. I know becuse I actually have an electoral chart for Richmond-Wolfe from around 1900 with results for each poll penned in red ink. Norman likely invigilated and kept it as a memento. This chart describes the different polling stations. People (ah, men) voted in halls, schools, stores and even private homes. Poll 13, Windsor Mills, is in the storehouse of Mr. Dearden behind the River View Hotel. None of these places appear to be degrading for women to enter.

The author of this Secularist article says churches should be used as polling stations, since voting is a kind of sacred act, anyway.

(There it is again: the ONLY places deemed suitable for women to enter (in the 1910 era) in the big cities were churches and, of course, the new department stores. They could work their fingers to the bone in filthy factories, but that's an entirely different thing.I just listened to a story by Emile Zola (Classic Serial BBC Radio Four)about life in one of Paris' first department stores and this is stated outright by the owner. He says Department stores are for women to shop and walk in safety.)

All very interesting and very useful for my novel in progress, Flo in the City, a story about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era in Richmond Quebec and the big bad city of Montreal, based on the letters of

PS. I did it. I am going to New York City for a day with my son's girlfriend to see Mrs. Warren's Profession with an actress called Cherry Jones at the American Airlines Theatre. A Saturday Performance. A Roundabout Theatre Production. They are not for profit. I've written a lot about that play in this blog as it debuted in 1905 to great controversy.

We're spending 24 hours in the city, just enough to shop, eat, take in the play and sleep. The hotel I booked is a fancy art deco appointed place right near the theatre. The Chatwal. I chose it because I do not know New York very well. I have only been in that city twice. (You see, even I worry about safety in the city, although I had no qualms walking around London's theatre district late at night.). And even I prefer a fancy place to a tawdry place. (Description of Room on the website: art deco design, suede walls, leather lined closets, mirrored bathroom. (Oy!) personalized backgammon and cards.) And we'll be in the room awake for about 10 minutes..( Not that much has changed in 100 years for women.) My son's girlfriend (who studies criminal law and has an interest in the politics of prostitution) is always beautifully turned out, so I guess I have to get my hair done not to look out of place, or embarrass her. (See, I also can be class-conscious. In 1910 hats were the measure of a woman. Today it is 'hair'. )

You know,