Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dress for Success and Not Ridicule

A Dressmaking Lesson from the magazine the Pictorial Review, 1910. Top blouse cotton India Print blue and white, second in tucked marquisette in a rich shade of Navy blue.

Yes, women in those days often made their own blouses, or shirtwaists as they called the more tailored ones, or simply 'waists' as the Nicholson women of Richmond, Quebec, called them. (A waist technically was a kind of trainer corset for a girl.

Even suffragettes, as in militant suffragettes, made their own 'waists' no doubt, at least the ones from the lower and middle class.

The suffragettes made a great effort to look good. They knew it was especially easy to 'knock' a woman for the way she dressed and they knew that many adversaries were expecting the suffragettes (women who wanted to upset the social order) to be rebels in dress as well, even to go so far as to dress like men.  So, they left the scandalous harem skirts (or harem pants, depending on which way you looked at them) for other young women like the fetching American blond below.

Then the WSPU turned the tables on these expectations and went the other way and dressed beautifully and even made a pact with the new department stores Selfridges and filled their magazine Votes for Women with ads for pretty outfits. (And it was left for Marlene Deitrich later on to confuse everybody by dressing as a man.)

My stories Threshold GirlDiary of a Confirmed Spinster, and Biology and Ambition about Flora, Edith and Marion Nicholson of Richmond, Quebec (and Montreal) in the 1910 era, contain a great deal about the suffragettes and about fashion. These modern young women were interested in both things, equally. They were 'new' women who wanted to have it all - at least compared to their Grandmother.

(The CBC this morning had a bit about a time capsule found in the legislature of Saskatchewan from 102 years ago. Well, I found a time capsule from 100 years ago in 2005, in my father in law's basement, containing letters and memorabilia from the Laurier Era, 1000 letters. I turned 300 of them into these books- and posted the letters online on my Tighsolas website. The CBC has yet to call, although I've been in the West Island Gazette, the Cornwall Standard Freeholder and lately in the Sherbrooke Record.

The time capsule also contained newspaper clippings, many about the suffragettes. (I use one of them for a scene in Threshold Girl. Here's another little  clipping I just ferreted out from a future era, about the Vote in Quebec. It is signed Isabella Scott, who I am guessing was a young cousin of the Nicholsons.

Get the headline: Heil Houde!

Sir- Mr Calder is such an inveterate joker that probably his tongue was in his cheek when he announced from Mr. Houde's platform that women in Quebec do not get the vote because they do not want it; that is to say, anything they wanted they would get.

But first we must ask him to explain why women turn out in such large numbers to vote in the Federal election, if the do not want the vote...

If we are unfortunate enough to get a man for Mayor who adopts the slogan "Go Home, young women," and therefore of their legitimate right to work for a living we will certainly be getting something that we decidedly do not want...

I wonder when this was. Houde, was Camillien Houde who first got into power as Mayor of Montreal in 1928 as my other story Milk and Water reveals. (Milk and Water is about Prohibition Era Montreal and features my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services.)

The Heil Houde thing sounds like it might be during the War. Quebec women only got the vote in the early 40's thanks to Therese Forget Casgrain, who is related to my grandfather, so it all comes together. Houde was interned during the war for fighting conscription and he made the cover of Time.

Anyway, in Canada, in the Federal Elections, women got the vote in 1917 and later, gradually. I have a letter from 1921 where Margaret Nicholson, the Mom of Flora, Marion, and Edith votes for the first time, "I did not feel ashamed to vote," she writes. "How I love this country." Most of her woman neighbours do not vote and they have all the usual excuses.

I also have a letter she writes to her girls about a Town Meeting in Richmond for this election. Apparently the politicians are all gloating and congratulating themselves for getting women the vote and one pesky woman (Mrs. Montgomery, Margaret's kind but often tactless neighbour) messes up the proceedings and embarrasses everyone by asking about the Vote in Quebec.

Margaret Describes the Liberal Meeting

Wednesday, November 23, 1921

Dear Edith and Flora and Marion,

I thought I must jot a few things down while they are fresh in my mind. We had the Tobin meeting last night and Tobin was first speaker. . He made a very fine speech and said he wanted to thank his friend Mr. Crombie who opposed him in 1917 that he did it convincingly and after the war returned to his party. "The Applause hearty and long." Then the Honorable Mitchell. His speech was grand. He was speaking about the conservatives claiming they gave women the franchise. He said how Dougherty in the House argued that women were not persons. Said he had always been in favour of it. Just then Mrs. Montgomery who was in the center of the hall said the Quebec government thought they were not persons. Mitchell stopped and asked her what she meant. As she repeated he said, I will explain that Madam. Mr Ginn and myself were in favour of it but we did not want a minority to force anything in a majority that did not want it. Said Roman Catholic church did not want it. We were all disgusted at hearing her voice; I'm sure he did not like it. It was the only interruption at the meetings. I asked Mrs. Fraser to go. We were on the elevated. Father went with Mr. Ginn. I do hope the Liberals will win out. Mrs. Farquharson takes no interest, but I will make sure she gets to the polls and votes for Tobin. Take care of the little ones. I am anxious to see them but must stay here until after the election. I may be so sorry I will need a change.


This paper was tucked in the same letter: