Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Montreal Council of Women and the Suffragettes

A 1912 fundraising card for the Old Brewery Mission. A recent CTV Montreal feature claimed the Mission still takes in homeless women today, 100 years later! How sad.

In my ebooks Threshold Girl andDiary of a Confirmed Spinster and Biology and Ambition I include a great deal about the 1912 Child Welfare Movement in Montreal and the Montreal Council of Women.

The child welfare movement, along with the temperance movement were tied in with the suffrage movement.

The heroines of my stories, Flora, Edith and Marion Nicholson (real people) were not into child welfare. They were young, they wanted it all, they were impressed by the suffragettes. Besides they were also on the front line of child welfare, as teachers. Marion Nicholson had 50 children in her class, mostly children of the working poor in Little Burgundy.

These women were all for the militant suffragettes.

The Society Ladies of the Montreal Council of Women were likely not for the militants, if they were at all for woman suffrage.  But some militant-suffragette sympathizers had enough pull to bring in Emmeline Pankhurst of the Militant WSPU in 1911 and loose cannon Barbara Wiley in 1912 to speak.

Then, in 1913, the Montreal Council of Women spun off  the Montreal Suffrage Association and made Carrie Derick President.

This put the suffrage issue at arm's length from the Council. Indeed, a scholar I read claims the organization was made up mostly of McGill Professors and students.

 (When the Organization was founded in 1913, Julia Parker Drummond made it clear to the press that the new organization was a 'reasonable' organization ie,non militant. One of the new Board Members, a male, even said in a speech at the inaugural session that it would be better is the suffragettes starved to death. (He was booed.)

And then during the war years things got murky, it's hard to tell from remaining records what is going on with them. Mostly war work, it seems.

 In 1919 the organization went out with a whimper, not a bang, claiming their work was done because Canadian women had the vote.)

Derick figures in both Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.

Here are excerpts from the brochure of the 1912 Montreal Child Welfare Exhibit., from CIHM's (Canadianan.org)brilliant collection. Ironically, the brochure emphasized how important it was for mothers to nurse their babies, but also included an ad for Nestle's formula claiming: "Every mother knows there are times when her own milk disagrees with baby."

"Surely it is our hope that this Canada of ours shall lead the world, that this land of promise shall become the land of fulfillment, that this youngest of nations, unfettered by the bonds of evil tradition which bind the old people, and profiting from their experience, shall choose out what is best, and press forward towards a greatness which other and older communities cannot hope to attain.
But it is the man that makes the nation.
It is the child that makes the man.

If, therefore, we are to become a great nation the well-being of our children must be our first care: we must rear them so that healthy and sound in body and in mind, they develop into strong and capable men and women. This is a matter that cannot be left to nature and to chance. Already with the rapid growth of our cities - Montreal is adding yearly forty thousand to its population - the child is exposed to influences every whit as harmless as those affecting the old world. Overcrowding and slumdom, lack of sunshine and fresh air, poor food, undue excitement, undue exposure to communicable diseases: these and many other bad influences tell upon the city child to its detriment.

The object of the Child Welfare Exhibition is to demonstrate these dangers and how they can be guarded against; what agencies exist in our midst for the protection and betterment of child life; what is lacking and what has to be provided for the immediate future. J. G. Adami, T. Gauthier. Presidents. October 1912.
Health: The premature death of so many persons and the loss of earning capacity through various 'preventable and curable' diseases represent a tremendous economic loss to the community. Not only the community as a whole, but also the individual family units will find that they will be repaid if they will adopt the habit of early and frequent request for medical advice.Baby-saving: The high rate of infant mortality in Montreal, is a cause of the deepest concern. In a general way, the chief cause of mortality among babies is due to ignorance and even thoughtlessness of the part of mothers of the proper care, nourishing feeding of infants. Improper methods of feeding are the chief causes of death among young children. The most essential feature of baby feeding is that the mother should nurse her own child. Thus not only does the baby procure food for its proper growth, but it is protected from the introduction by means of artificial food of such bacteria as cause diarrhea, typhoid and scarlet fever, etc. There are also present in mother's milk, certain substances which are able to destroy many forms of bacteria so that the nursing baby gains this very important protection.
The exhibit on housing shows photographs of some of the bad spots in Montreal. As one of the pictures was being taken, the woman who lived in the house, remarked "every spring when the thaw begins our rooms are flooded with several inches of water. How are people, who are forced through poverty to live in places of this sort, bring up healthy children?" One of the worst features of Montreal housing is the inner court and the rear tenement. One lot is often occupied by two houses, the one at the rear being approached through a dark alley. There is little light and less air in those places. They are breeding spots for tuberculosis. Places like this sort also furnish a large proportion of juvenile delinquents. Poverty, lack of privacy in the home, lack of a place for children to play, these are all causes for misery and delinquency..

Mothers and their babies at Camp Chapleau a charity summer camp in the Laurentians.. 1910 circa.

In 1909, The Montreal Council of Women was made up of 36 societies, representing many thousands of women. I got a hold of some archival material, preserved in the gorgeous Bibliotheque Nationale archives on Viger across from the old Viger Station. Four boxes and about 20 file folders didn't hold much about the 1910 era, but what they did hold was very interesting. 

The Montreal Council of Women wanted to protect women from falling into prostitution, by raising the age of consent to 18 (couldn't be done) and by increasing penalties and not letting pimps get off with mere fines. (They called Prostitution 'the Social Evil' back then and not 'human trafficking'.)

They wanted procurers whipped, actually. They wanted compulsory education for girls up to age 14: "The question arises, what are girls who leave school at 9 or 10 doing, as they are not permitted in factories. Are they serving as inefficient nursemaids or little domestic drudges. Are they at home, helping overworked mother, or are they acting like little mothers themselves, taking care of children as their mother is out working to help earn the daily bread?