Sunday, January 27, 2013

Therese Casgrain, Carrie Derick and the Suffrage Movement In Quebec


Jules Crepeau, my grandfather, who got his start at Montreal City Hall in the Health Department.


In 1912 the social reformers of Montreal held a child welfare exhibit. It contained 'screens' sponsored by various interests including the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

 In 1913, shortly after the Montreal Council of Women spun off the Montreal Suffrage Association, and made Carrie Derick President, the same people held a suffrage exhibit.

These two exhibits were essentially one and the same.

Indeed, in a Montreal Gazette interview about the upcoming Suffrage Exhibit, a little on the glib side, a key organizer was asked what the main goal of the event was. "To stop the murder of children," said the woman. She wasn't talking about abortion.

In the era, Montreal had a sky-high infant mortality rate which was sometimes described as the highest in the western world, the highest outside of Calcutta.

The infant-mortality rate was highest among the French Canadians, and lowest among the Jews. High in the poor areas, low in the richer areas. Poor vaccination rates were a problem. City congestion too.

Bad water and bad milk contributed.

This infant mortality rate is where my two family stories of Montreal, Threshold Girl about my husband's Presbyterian Grandmother and family in 1910  and Milk and Water about my French Canadian grandfather in 1927, the era of US Prohibition, intersect, or more aptly collide full-force. (Both books are available on Amazon.com in Kindle version.)


In 1910, the Montreal Council of Women was active in the municipal elections, active for the Reform Candidate a Dr. Guerin. Dr. Geurin won. In 1912 they were also active, but 'the non-reform faction' as they put it, got in.

They minced no words in their annual reports. They were thrilled when their candidate got in and angry when their reformers lost two years later. It was not due to their lack of effort they added, perhaps alluding to corruption in the election.



No question, Montreal had health issues that needed addressing, but to the Protestants and especially the Evangelical Protestants, physical health and moral health and spiritual health were one and the same  and this posed a sticky problem.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, is a  concept that was epitomized in the era's Purity Movement. The Purity Movement was tied into the eugenics movement, which in Canada was centered at McGill University, where the Suffrage Movement was also headquartered, as Suffrage Association President, Carrie Derick, was a McGill Botanist (very interested in mental defectives) and Dr. McPhail of the Suffrage Association Executive was a prof at the medical school  (he was pro suffrage but anti-new woman) and Mrs. Hurblatt, a vocal militant suffragette sympathizer, was the Warden of Royal Victoria College, McGill's Women's College.

And this of course raised red flags among the French Canadians, who distrusted the hygiene movement.

Oddly, in 1911, the Montreal Council brought in British Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst to speak. (Actually, she was in Canada on a speaking tour.) Montreal Mayor Guerin attended her speech, as the Mayor of Toronto had done in 1909 when she had visited Canada but not spoken in Montreal.) As did Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Council of Women at the time and Dr. McPhail.

This kind of thing explains why he wasn't re-elected.


In November 1913, the Montreal Council of Women brought in a speaker from Pittsburg, who talked about how to clean up City Hall. In 1913, my grandfather, then assistant city clerk, was caught in a bribery sting conducted by crusading reporter Edward Beck and he got out of it, suing for slander and winning.

In the article about the stink in his new newspaper Beck's Weekly, Beck called Montreal a 'sink hole of corruption,' with deft use of metaphor as was his style.

All very ironic as my grandfather was related to the powerful Forgets, the tramway people, and Therese Casgrain, the French Canadian feminist who fought for the right of Quebec women to vote, was Therese Forget Casgrain.


Here is an excerpt from the Brochure of the Child Welfare Exhibit.


"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. 
Housing:
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