Friday, February 22, 2013

Montreal's New City Hall 1921 and the Suffragists


My little promo for Milk and Water, my ebook about Montreal in 1927.
I've also written Furies Cross the Mersey and Service and Disservice about Canada's Suffrage Movement.

They raided Montreal City Hall the other day; I'm glad I wasn't there. I visited their archives on Friday to look up info on the Montreal Suffrage Association.

Apparently, these City archives also contains the fonds of La Ligue des droits de la femme, the Quebec Province Suffrage Group established in 1922 (under the name Provincial Suffrage Committee). Carrie Derick claimed in a 1933 news report that she was turning all her info on the early suffrage movement in Quebec over to La Ligue.

But yesterday I visited the Banq archives to look up the Fonds Feminin Suffrage, and the Fonds of Marie Gerin-Lajoie, the Quebec Feminist Pioneer and the Fonds of the Fédération National St-Jean Baptiste, the Woman's Advocacy Group - and discovered that many documents regarding the early suffrage movement in Quebec were in these files.

So I am confused. But these files were interesting. Very interesting and for so many reasons.

First, the files  contained some info on a citizen's committee organized in 1921, when New City Charter was being designed. These prominent people were asked to give their input.

From the look so of things,  this new charter was being drawn up to appease those people who thought City Hall Politics was corrupt.

The Committee was large about 30 people: I recognized Mr. Birks and Mr. McConnell and yes, the only two ladies on the Committee, Mrs. Walter Lyman (Anna Scrimger Lyman) and Mme Gerin-Lajoie.


My grandmother Maria Roy Crepeau, as a girl. She was born about the same time as Gerin-Lajoie, yet  she didn't do advocacy. Grade 4 education. But as the daughter of a Master Butcher her considerable dowry bought her a successful husband... Her form of social activism was grass roots. She fed tramps at the door, her best food too.  She attended shut ins. She doctored the poor using folk medicine, mustard plasters and some blue stuff put on sore throats. (She was an intuitive doctor.) And she gave away most of the 'gifts' my grandfather, Director of City Services, got at Christmas, a roomful apparently. 

Point four of the new charter said that the City would be divided up into Departments and that one person would be appointed representative of the City Employees.

I guess that was my Grandfather's post, Director of City Services.  Except that his post ended up being a Liaison post between the Executive and the Departments and the Press.

And then, in 1919, these same Protestant Reformers conducted a study on Vice in the City, sparked by wartime prostitution, which brought about the 1924-25 Coderre Inquiry into Police Malfeasance and Misconduct, where my grandfather was HIGHLY criticized for wielding too much power!!

My poor grandfather.  At least it is clear he wasn't guilty of 'designing the charter' himself as some critics later  accused him of.. Hmm. McConnell. I think my grandfather, a Forget, was aligned with McConnell's interests.

Anyway, my purpose in doing all this was to learn more about the Quebec Suffrage Movement for a book or a play.

 Thérèse Casgrain has gone down in history as the woman suffrage icon in Quebec. (Her fonds are restricted.) But Gerin-Lajoie was the pioneer, starting her career with the Montreal Local Council of women, spinning off the French Fédération National  St. Jean Baptiste in 1907 and only giving up in 1926 because of pressure from the Catholic Church.

Her fonds contain her handwritten speeches. She was a beautiful writer, using all the stylistic tricks. There is even a speech she wrote in English, and although her English is not perfect, her writing in English is still lovely.

And the Federation was active in municipal politics, like the Montreal Council of Women, and it was active for the same reasons 'to save the children.'

But, still, these French Canadians didn't go at it in the same way as the Protestants, promoting Purity or Social Hygiene which were loaded terms. (If I was a scholar, starting out,  I would investigate the differences in approach between the French and English Social Activists, but it's a big job.)

Certainly, I can see one BIG difference between the Fédération and the Council. The Federation is made up of worker associations, the shopgirls' associations; the factory workers' association; the domestics associations. More socialist and grassroots. The Montreal Local Council of Women was an umbrella group of benevolent associations, mostly. There were exceptions.  These society women didn't listen much to those people they set out to help. (Why would they? Prostitutes were mental defectives,they believed.) I write about this in my Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.

Everyone, women's groups, businessmen, etc, know there is a dire need for accommodations for working women in the city in the 1910 era,but no one bothers to ask these working women what they might like.


The Gerin-Lajoie fonds contained 'inspirational' letters from spinsters who had voted and also contained a list of Fédération office workers and their lunch hours, using first names like Alice and not Miss Whatever as was the English way. And lots of letters from religious leaders.


Oh, and I found something really interesting, a letter from Borden (a rather short-tempered one) addressing the Federation's objections to the Wartime Elections Act.

I'll write about that later.

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