Monday, May 28, 2012

Barbara Wylie, the Canadian Suffrage Leader who wasn`t

Barbara Wylie, From WSPU. She was on her way in September 1912 to convert Canadians to the cause, taking the Empress of Ireland (which would soon sink, I think).

Well, earlier I referred to Barbara Wylie as a rogue suffragette for the brazen way she promoted militant values in the speeches, when all the other visiting suffragists were much more careful to tone down  their rhetoric.

But she wasn't rogue. She was sent by the WSPU as their representative.  They mentioned it in their magazine. Of course, one wonders why they sent her away to the colonies at all.

A short biographical paragraph about her I found on the Net from a book on the Suffragettes says she stayed in Canada from 1912-14, but not true, as I saw another article where she entertained a US journalist in her London home in August 1913. And she becomes spokesperson for the WSPU for a short while in 1914, with the Pankhursts in Jail again.

She had been the head of the Glasgow  branch of WSPU (some say Edinburgh) and then she came to London. She was one of the suffragettes put in jail for civil disobedience, window smashing in 1912,  but apparently she was allowed out due to her mother's ill health (ie. her parents had pull.)

She came to Canada as a brother was a MLS in Sask (some accounts say BC). (Perhaps she had dreams of becoming THE Suffrage Leader in Canada, as there was a vacuum, but that didn`t pan out.)

Anyway, Wylie figures in my story Threshold Girl. I fidget with dates, tho, bringing her to Montreal in May of 1912.  Flora Nicholson and Edith Nicholson go to see her speak in a church but miss the actual speech. I use dialogue from the Montreal Daily Star account in the book, the account I have on a news clipping belonging to Edith.  Yes, Wylie was militant, as in unapologetic about the more violent acts of the suffragettes, including attacks on the Prime Minister.

And the WSPU magazine, Votes for Women, figures in the follow up Diary of a Confirmed Spinster. Edith reads the article about women being tortured in jail and gets inspired to act out on an injustice in her own life, a perceived injustice.

Canada's official women suffrage history centers on the Famous Five out west, Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung and those others :)  And like Carrie Derick in Montreal, who founded the Montreal Suffrage Association in 1912 maybe after meeting Wylie, their women's rights activism is all tied in with murkier things, like eugenics and temperance and moral and social reform.

Emily Murphy also got into the 'war on drugs' business, in the 20's, a decade later than the Americans, but with the same racist slant.

That's probably why they didn't teach about suffrage movement  in City schools in my day.

As I've written, the Nicholsons of Richmond were tea-totalling Presbyterians, but only father Norman ever wrote about the dangers of drink. The women seemed more intent on getting all they  could out of life for themselves, love, nice clothes, great jobs, lots of travel, the right to earn a proper living, suffragettes in the truest form, wanting the same rights as the men.

Biology and Ambition, the epistolary novel about Marion Nicholson's early life reveals that this future union leader just wanted an even playing field. She was willing to work for the rest. (Boy, would she have made a great suffragette!)

Anyway, the press covered Miss Wylie (that was the point and she was so PRETTY! sic) in Toronto her speech is reported on and in Calgary I found an article that makes fun of her militancy, light of it.

Actually, a 'snippet' tour I just took of Google Books shows that Miss Wylie has left a legacy as a suffragette, in the scholarship, mentioned in Dame Pankhurst's 1930's autobiography.
And her Canadian tour aroused interest, at least converting women journalists to the cause. One account said she received a cold shoulder in the East but a nicer reception out West. After the Calgary talk, a suffrage association was started up, so even with the mocking, it worked. And she was active in BC. Her brother, the MLA, pushed for women suffrage in Saskatchewan.