Saturday, January 26, 2013

McGill, Eugenics and Suffrage and Old Aunt Edie


Well, I visited McGill and the main library there to take a look at this hardcover copy of  a book written in 1915 about the Montreal Council of Women.

I'm researching a documentary on the suffrage movement in Canada, Quebec point of view.

Why this 21st anniversary edition was created, I don't know. What's a 21st anniversary, anyway? And it doesn't contain much more than the Annual Reports of the years 1909-1915.

But those are important years as that's when the Montreal Suffrage Association was created, in 1912/13.

Carrie Derick from the book. Edith Nicholson of Threshold Girl stepped out with Miss Derick, I have it in a letter. Edith worked in the Registrar's Office at McGill (likely overseeing female applicants) and as Assistant Warden at Royal Victoria College.

Now, the only two books Canadian Women's Suffrage are the master's thesis by Catherine Cleverdon and another 1970's book.   Catherine Cleverdon, an American, had a chance to interview real people, like Edith Nicholson of Threshold Girl, but she didn't.

So the The Montreal Suffrage Association has gone down in history as a footnote - a footnote I am fleshing out. Oh, if I only could invoke Dear old Edie, my husband's great aunt.

Her favourite great niece says she never mentioned her feminist days, although she told her niece a woman could be anything she wanted to. This was in the fifties when women were being encouraged to go back into the home and wax their floors.

So, this little tome is all that is left for scholars to refer to and they do, often, I can tell.

Now, the Montreal Suffrage Association is often cited on the Net, (footnote) 1912, Montreal Suffrage Association founded. Carrie Derick first President.

What I can see from this book of annual reports is that Carrie Derick was much more interested in the problem of 'mental defectives' than in the suffrage movement per-se.

It is written here (and has been oft repeated) that Emmeline Pankhurst's 1911 visit to Montreal sparked the creation of the Montreal Suffrage Association, but I think that could be taken in two ways.

Perhaps some members of the Council were inspired but others likely were appalled and so the Association might have been created to keep the issue 'at arm's length.'

I suspect this and am looking for clues.

The clue might reside in information about the 1913 Suffrage Exhibit. Derick doesn't appear to have been a convener. And the Exhibit is not mentioned in this book.

In the 1915 Annual Report there are a few paragraphs about the association and its activities, most of the info I've already gleaned from Newspaper Reports.

Here it is.


It appears any outreach during that war years was done in the E.T. including in Derick's home town of Clarenceville.  They say 100,000, pamphlets were distributed during the year.

"Notwithstanding the absorption in the war, the progress made by the suffrage movement is marked. There is growing recognition of the devotion and self-sacrifice of women and a belief that they have, as perhaps never before, demonstrated their worth as citizens of a great empire and their right to equality with men in all the natural places."

In Threshold Girl I have Barbara Wylie speak at St. James Methodist. She spoke at the YMCA actually. Alas.

Anyway, Mrs. Hurlbatt, Warden of the Royal Victoria College, whom Edith would eventually work under as Assistant Warden, was active in the movement. Lots of other McGill Profs too, along with Derick. (The Montreal Herald created a special insert about the new organization when it was inaugurated in November 1912, but McGill has no Heralds for that era. That insert might not exist anywhere.)

One scholar I read, a French one, claims that the Montreal Suffrage Association was made up of mostly McGill Profs and their students. A Gazette article says the membership reached 800.  I will have to see if the other texts on Microfilm of the Council confirm that.


Outside the McGill Library yesterday, a campus that was once a hot bed of suffrage and eugenics. The Montreal Council stopped its work on mental defectives in 1950.