Monday, February 25, 2013

Of Prostitutes and Suffragettes

I found this very odd pre-war piece, written by Christabel Pankhurst, on Plain Facts about a Great Evil,1913. She claims that giving women the vote will eliminate prostitution. Hmm. A 2005 survey in the UK claimed that the use of prostitutes had actually doubled in the previous decade. Go Figure.

Then just lately, as I read over the original minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association, I saw a mention of this very same book. Apparently, Pankurst's book was a big seller in Montreal, at least among those who followed the suffragists. How interesting!

"This book deals with what is commonly described as the Hidden Scourge, and is written with the intention that this scourge shall be hidden no longer, for if it were to remain hidden, then there would be no hope of abolishing it.

Men writers for the most part refuse to tell what the Hidden Scourge is, and so it becomes the duty of women to do it.

The Hidden Scourge is sexual disease,which takes two chief forms — syphilis and
gonorrhoea. These diseases are due to prostitution —they are due, that is to say, to sexual immorality. But they are not confined to those who are immoral. Being contagious, they are communicated to the innocent, and especially to wives. The infection of innocent wives in marriage is justly declared by a man doctor to be "The crowning infamy of our social life."

The sexual diseases are the great cause of physical, mental, and moral degeneracy, and of race suicide. As they are very widespread (from 75 to 80 per cent, of men becoming infected by gonorrhoea, and a considerable percentage, difficult to ascertain precisely, becoming infected with syphilis), the problem is one of appalling magnitude.

To discuss an evil, and then to run away from it without suggesting how it may be
cured, is not the way of Suffragettes, and in the following pages will be found a proposed cure for the great evil in question. That cure, briefly stated, is Votes for Women and Chastity for Men."

The minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association reveal that they were bringing in a speaker to discuss Women and Social Purity...

I read somewhere that the Pankhurst's got into social activism in Manchester because they saw that so many young girls were coming into social agencies (or the equivalent) pregnant by their own fathers. Oh, I heard that on BBC Radio 4. In Our Time, I think.

Anyway, in Montreal the Suffrage Association 1913-1919 (whose mandate was merely "to promote Suffrage") got involved with the prostitute problem around soldiers' barracks in WWI. 

Before they were sent to Valcartier recruits were stationed in the City, apparently attracting prostitutes. 

This problem led to a huge study conducted on Montreal's Commercialized Vice in 1919 and 20, by a Committee of Sixteen different groups led by Dr. Herbert Symonds of Christ Church Cathedral who was the President.  Dr. Herbert Symonds of Christ Church Cathedral was also an honourary V.P. of the Montreal Suffrage Association, so that explains a lot.

This report and a sensational speech given by a Montreal General doctor in front of the Canadian club in early 1923, led to the 1924-25 Coderre Commission into Police Malfeasance and Misconduct, an exhaustive inquiry into all aspects of commercialized vice, as they said, including motion picture houses that were letting in children unattended by an adult.

A Constable Trudeau, who testified, was very much against the motion pictures in general. He thought boys picked up bad habits from the flicks.

He further said that he Director of City Services, Jules Crepeau was guilty of controlling the police and forcing them to look the other way when movie houses broke the by-laws and let in these children, mostly boys.

Trudeau warned that the places were crowded and that 'one day there is going to be a catastrophe."

Shortly after, while the inquiry was still on-going, the City Executive fired Trudeau for a bribery incident.  Juge Coderre brought it up in his final report, saying it was Crepeau who fired Trudeau. (Who was this civil servant who told the Chief of Police what to do? Coderre asked.)

And sure enough, coincidentally? there was a catastrophe in a Montreal movie house, in January 1927. 70 children died in the fire, crushed in a rush to the exit.

Jules Crepeau was the first person to testify at the hearing into the Laurier Palace Theatre Fire, for he was the one who knew all there was to know about the City by-laws.

The Laurier Palace had had a suspended licence at the time of the fire, or more precisely, its license status was in a kind of limbo.

Trudeau's testimony from the recent Coderre Commission, as far as I can see, was never brought up. Ever. 

But Crepeau, my grandfather, was eventually forced to resign in 1930 by Camillien Houde over an entirely different issue, the Montreal Water and Power Purchase.  At the City Hall debate among alderman over Crepeau's resignation, Houde brought up the Laurier Fire, but only incidentally, but not coincidentally, I am fairly certain.

Read Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927.