Monday, April 23, 2012

Warehousing Working Women 1910 Montreal




As I write Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, the follow up to Threshold Girl the free ebook about a college girl, Flora Nicholson in 1911/12, I have decided to have Edith Nicholson, her older sister attend a meeting of social activists as her first sojourn into advocacy work. She will go because her sister Marion is interested. There she will meet Carrie Derick and learn about the Montreal Council of Women.

According to a report in the Montreal Gazette, in November 1910, a handful of people, a few clergyman and some social activist women including Carrie Derick, and, I quote "one or two men" (which one was it?) gathered to discuss the need for a women's hotel, a safe haven for women visitors to stay a day or two and for women workers to live, RESPECTABLY, that would provide a place for the women to socialize on the premises so "they wouldn't have to go out at night."

Someone listed the prominent Montrealers who supported such a hotel, Birks, Reford, the usual suspects.

Dr. Herbert Symonds, an educator, I believe (Marion would eventually teach at a school with that name in NDG and her children would attend it as well)said "The idea is to get a building that is to be a suitable home for at least some of the enormous number of women *probably 50,000,working in the city.

Dr. Paterson Smith added some colourful pulpit style language to the proceedings: "I have spoken to a variety of managers of our employing institutions and they admitted they do not like to say in public what they told me. What some of these girls have to do, and the places they have to live and the sort of future they have to look forward to. It is time that these working women had a place they could live in comfort and peace, earning their living and holding their heads up as decent citizens paying their way."

You see, these men wanted a for profit hotel, so that the girls didn't feel they were relying on charity.

A Mr. Hannah said, "We do not want a hotel with its barroom associations, but a wholesome place where a woman can live with reasonable accomodation and provision for recreation, reading, etc, where working women can live and keep their self respect.

Hmm. They wanted to women be self sufficient, financially, but they didn't want women to be able to choose how they lived their lives.

I think Marion Nicholson would have winced to read this article, despite her aching feet. At 25 she felt it her right to do what she wanted.
(Maybe in my story, Flo in the City, based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/ I'll have Marion say:"I wouldn't mind being invited to one of these meetings, but Heaven forbid they actually ask a working woman for her input."  Or maybe I'll have her and Edith attend because Marion wants to ask the panel if this new hotel is going to be just a 'high priced YWCA, but with the same stupid rules. Marion had lived at the Y while attending Normal School and she had detested the rules.)

Yes, Marion wanted a safe place to live where she could relax and be herself and that included going to motion pictures and plays and Vaudeville houses and Dominion Park. That's why in 1913 she started looking for a flat where she could live with Flora, Mae Watters and another friend, a daughter of an MNA) while they all worked as teachers. She landed on one on Hutchison, but it was an ill-fated experiment. At least she tried. (And then she just got married.)

And gee, I just found out why landords wouldn't rent to a group of women. They were held accountable for what went on in their places, and that's why Marion in 1912 had sooooo much trouble getting a flat for herself to share with her sister and friends. That's why she had to promise that her mother was coming to live with them.

Oh, this article has a funny aside: apparently an English woman called Lady Briggs insisted on reading a long paper out to the group. Dr. Symonds tried to silence her, with little success. Then the group attacked her, with only Miss. Derick saying "let the woman speak." She was a stranger to the group, but I looked her up and she was, indeed, an odd fish. The widow of a British Admiral, who had written a book on the Boer War she came to Canada in 1910 to make sure young women were treated right. (British immigrants?) But after this embarrassment she went to NY where she had some success getting into the society pages as a Daughter of the British Empire. Anyway, she'll make a fine comic character in the story Flo in the City, or someone like her.