Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Quebec Vote and the W.C.T.U.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of Montreal City Services, with his family in Atlantic City in  1927. Hmmmm.


In April 1927, Mrs. John Scott of Montreal was feted by the Women's Christian Temperance Union for her long years of  service on their behalf.

Like Thérèse Casgrain (the Quebec feminist icon) she was working to get Quebec women the voteat the provincial level... This would only happen in 1940.

She had been doing so for longer than Casgrain, too, as a member of the Executive of the Montreal Council of Women and on the Board of the short-lived Montreal Suffrage Association and with Casgrain's Suffrage Committee launched in 1922.

Mrs. John Scott (or Isabel) has not gone down in Quebec or Canadian history. Why?

This Gazette headline gives a clue: Suffrage Concerns W.C.T.U.

The effects of the W.C.T.U members in this work were bespoken by Mrs. Scott, who declared that women's suffrage has a direct bearing on temperance in this province.

(Isn't it funny how temperance came to mean abstinence, as chastity came to mean celibacy.)

I didn't much know about the influence of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in politics here in Quebec. It isn't talked about much. So I always thought it was a US thing or an Out West thing.

But, you know, it was a Montreal thing and a Quebec thing, too. And not only among Protestant Reformers: I found a little French note in the Montreal Council of Women archives that reveals that the Fédération Nationale, a French woman's advocacy group begun in 1907, is for Temperance, the restriction of alcohol in hotels etc., at least during the WWI.

There were two members of the W.C.T.U on the Montreal Council of Women during the war years, Mrs. John Scott and Mrs. David Scott, who were close friends, perhaps married to brothers.(In those days, even feminists didn't use their own first names.)

They were very keen to make sure soldiers in barracks at home didn't get anything to drink (or any sex either).

And the WCTU's  efforts, along with other grass-roots work conducted by  Montreal Council of Women and some of the the Fédération Nationale membership (getting out the Spinster vote in the French and English wards) was key in 1910 to toppling the old municipale regime and putting in their Reform candidates, including a Mayor, a Dr. Geurin, the last English Mayor of Montreal until just lately, as it so happens.(During WWI La Fédération bowed out of helping the LCW with the Municipal Elections, however.)

Guerin lasted just two years. He was deposed - and just a month after he dared attend a meeting in at Windsor Hall where Militant British Suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst gave a speech.

Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Council of women in 1910 wrote an article for the White Ribbon, the magazine of the Canadian W.C.T.U. gloating over what they saw as a landmark win in no uncertain terms.

She set the scene of the victory in the opening paragraph:

Self-seeking and dishonor, which would have been scorned in private life, long characterized the Municipal Government of Montreal. The citizens appeared to be indifferent or helpless, allowing corrupt officials to display open disregard of the right principles. Occasionally, the social conscience stirred and led to efforts to secure civic reform. Associations and leagues to purify the administration of Municipal affairs sprang into being and died...


Well, as my Amazon. ebook Milk and Water shows, Montreal in 1927, was not as Carrie Derick had dreamed of back in 1910 after the Reformers' big (and one-off) win.

And the Canadian W.C.T.U. probably was peeved: Quebec was the only province never to have gone dry. They installed a Liquor Control Board instead.

But as this article shows, they were going to play the woman's suffrage card to force through Prohibition, or at least strong liquor laws, just as many Americans were deciding it wasn't working.

That's how Prohibition got started in the US after all, as well as on a wave of anti-German sentiment. Anti-immigrant sentiment played a part in Montreal's reform politics, as well.

I didn't put anything about the W.C.T.U or women's suffrage into Milk and Water. I just mentioned the Presbyterian ladies and the Purity Movement.


Tom: Sure, but our well has the purest water, it’s a proven fact. The scientists at Macdonald College tested back it in 1909, the year of the last typhoid epidemic.
Jules:  Pure, Purer, Purest. Mere words, once again.  What does the word “pure” really mean, exactly?
Tom: Now, what’s wrong with the word Pure?  It’s a great word. A beautiful word. Everyone likes it. Everyone uses it.
Jules: That’s precisely what’s wrong with it. (Pause) A word that everyone uses can’t be a good thing. A word like that means too many different things to different people. And if something is pure, then something has to be impure.