Friday, February 1, 2013

The Truth about Women's Suffrage: 1910 Montreal


Emmeline Pankhurst claims the raison d'etre of her Canadian visits was for political cohesion. But she also needed to raise money.

Read Threshold Girl, about a Canadian Girl in 1910.

Being a boomer Canadian, I didn't learn about the Canadian women's suffrage movement in school.  (I'm not sure if I learned anything about the UK movement either, although students in the Montreal Protestant Board took two years of British History in high school.)

My interest in the field was born the day I found the Nicholson family letters from the 1908-1913 era and all of Edith Nicholson's news clippings, many of which were on suffrage issues. And then over the years I did more research and learned about the short-lived Montreal Suffrage Association.

The Montreal Suffrage Association has gone down in history as a mere  Women's Studies footnote, so there isn't much info out there. It's taken about 7 years, but the other day I took a look at the Minutes of the Montreal Council of Women, the umbrella organization that launched the Association from their Organization in 1912.

And the 1912 Annual Report of the Montreal Council of Women claims the new organization was founded because of interest generated by Mrs. Pankhurst's December 1911 visit and speech.

(Kind of a backwards thing to do. An "umbrella" organization creating an organization under it. Think about it.)

The Minutes back this up, more or less.

From what I know, the minutes of meetings of public organizations aren't about recording history for future generations, but about reporting history for the future governance of the organization.

Fun bits, nasty bits, controversial bits are left out. (I know, I've taken minutes for similar organizations.)

The minutes of the Montreal Council of Women from 1908-1913 are pretty informal, but no doubt lots of good stuff was left out.

Still, I think I've figured out a few things from them.

 For instance, why, in 1913, did the Local Council of Women hold a Suffrage Exhibit right on the heels of a Child Welfare Exhibit, when the goals of woman suffrage was essentially child welfare, in the minds of most Montreal advocates?

They did so because Dr. Adami, the President of the Child Welfare Exhibit visited them for an Executive Meeting and stated outright he didn't want the Local Council to run the Child Welfare Exhibit because they always stick the women suffrage thing in and this would turn off the French organizations. (My words.)

Dr. Adami was, I think, head of the Civic Improvement League. (I actually found a pamphlet written by him in the same trunk I found the Nicholson letters.) When he left Mr. Adami was roundly criticized at the meeting, according to the notes.

By this time, 1912,  the Montreal Council had already come out in favour of Women Suffrage two years before in May, 1910. "It was found that the Montreal Local Council of Women was in favour of the enfranchisement of women and the Montreal Representatives are empowered to vote at the National Meeting...Hmm. Could it be that this resolution came about because of 'the high' after the Montreal municipal elections, where over 100 Council volunteers pushed spinsters to vote to get the Reform Ticket elected? (See my last post.) They referred to it in the minutes as 'a great national work.' National??

The Council's by-laws go something like this: the aim of the Local Council is to bring the various associations of women in Montreal together in an organized union.

Each society entering the Local Council shall retain their independent aim and methods and shall not be committed to any principal or method by any other society. But in matters of common interest public action can be taken and legislation obtained by the Local Council which have been authorized by the Council.

From Adami's 1913 statement, suffrage was a contentious issue for many members of the Council, despite the Council's 1910 endorsement in an Executive Resolution. (As if I didn't already know that.) The Council created a Suffrage Petition, for the use of the their member organizations, and got 'several requests'. Several out of 40 or so organizations.

By the time of the Child Welfare Exhibit, the Council had already spun off the Montreal Suffrage Association (which really makes no sense as per the by-laws) but they were having trouble getting that new organization off the ground - and finding a President for it.

That in itself says something.

If Mrs. Pankhurst's December 1911 speech inspired  the Local Council of Women to found the Montreal Suffrage Association, it is not only because some women 'wanted to keep the interest in suffrage alive' as the Minutes state, but because some other members of the L.C. (as they sometimes write) didn't want anything to do with it. (So I believe.)

From the Local Council's Minutes it can be construed that  the "interest in suffrage" in Montreal in 1910 was not really that great.

Mrs. Phillip Snowden had visited in 1909 and that speech had been put on at a deficit.

When Mrs. Pankhurst spoke in Montreal (she was brought in I think by Flora Macdonald Denison of Toronto)at Windsor Hall it wasn't a financial success.

It was Council President Carrie Derick who, in October 1911, proposed bringing Pankhurst in, saying that the population of Montreal has already had a chance to hear a moderate speaker, with Mrs. Snowden, and they should be given a chance to hear "the other side of the question." (A funny way to put it.) Dr. Richie England would take over as Council president in November and preside over the event itself.

The L.C. thought the speech would be so popular that there might be a chance of scalpers taking advantage. But no, as it turned out, the Council had to give out lots of free tickets and not just for the head table guests. (Mayor Geurin, the 'anglophone' reform Candidate the Council put there, attended the talk and lost his job a month later.)

The expenses for the talk were high, originally projected to be 350. to 650 and at the end of the day they only made one dollar thirty cents. "It had been necessary to give away 200 complimentary tickets to people who were anxious to hear her speak, but otherwise would not have come." R.V.C students??

Mrs. Pankhurst charged a lot for her speaking engagements. She was fund-raising, after all.

Here's an external pic of Windsor Hall where she spoke.

The press coverage was what really counted, not the money. And that was O.K.

Here's what the Montreal Herald wrote about the event. (Reprinted in Pankhurst's Votes for Women. The WSPU was all about Publicity too.)

"The frail, staunch fighting Englishwoman undeniably created a sentiment of sympathy for the cause to which she has devoted her life. Her eloquent address was frequently interrupted by applause.
It must be admitted that if a man were to go about work of advocating a political cause in the way Mrs. Pankhurst goes about her work we would think pretty well of him. The men who leave the impression of their personality upon the minds of the people do go about it just her way. It is the way of Cobden, of Bright, of O'Connell, of Parnell, or Wendell Phillips of Henry Ward Beecher. It is the hard way, not the easy way. It is the way of forcing opinion not of waiting for the current. THere are risks about it, discomforts about it, even dangers attendant upon it. It takes a lot of heart to carry on such a campaign. Braving occasional rowdyism is bad enough, but it takes  a pretty high order of courage to face the tedium involved in ceaseless railway journeys, in meeting not always to intelligent sympathizers, in putting up with the squeamishness of faint-hearted friends. This is desperate work for  a man. How a woman manages to do it is beyond the imagination."

Here's what the Gazette wrote, proving that giving away free tickets is still a good idea, if you can afford it.


Anyway, back to the 1913 Suffrage Exhibit.  That  actually made a lot of money by selling pamphlets! $300.00.And the Local Council sponsored this Exhibit even though they had already announced the formation of the Montreal Suffrage Association months and months before.

It  was decided that this profit for the Suffrage Exhibit would go towards founding a Permanent Suffrage Bureau, still under the auspices of the Montreal Council, since the Suffrage Association was was 'still in formation' having trouble finding the right officers.

Confusing!

A funny note. In 1910, shortly after the L.C. officially came out in favour of women's suffrage, Mrs. Hurlbatt of Royal Victoria Women's College said she'd like to give a course on the subject. The course was approved the the Exec and they called it a Suffrage course.



Edith Nicholson clipped out this about the Exhibit. Did she go? Very likely.

Hurlblatt insisted the course be called a Course in Citizenship and not a course in Suffrage. Carrie Derick officially apologized. (Was Hurlblatt a sensitive soul?)

Anyway, soon after Hurlblatt resigned from the activity, citing work conflicts.

But, in later minutes it is revealed that only one person had signed up for the course.

This indicates that the interest in suffrage wasn't out there in 1910, generally speaking, although perhaps women like Edith Nicholson would have signed up if the title of the course had been "How to break windows, Suffragette style!"  Edith already felt herself a good citizen. It was the militant suffragettes she was interested in.

(Actually, Edith had just lost her great over 1910. I write about it in Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.

Well,  now, going back over my post here, I think I might re-title it:  How Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Council of Women, used Emmeline Pankhurst and the Press to (try and?) generate an interest in women's suffrage in Montreal outside of the Presbyterian bubble.  I know that somewhere else, she described the suffragists as "moderate" and "progressive."

And later on it seems, during the war, her interests went elsewhere. I think she was a Pacifist (in a speech before WWI  she claimed wars hurt women most, citing the Boer War) so didn't want to get involved with the ethically problematic war/woman suffrage paradigm. (Later:  Nope: She supported the war effort from the beginning. See future posts.)

Of course, it is the Council's next President, Richie England, who got skewered for her wartime beliefs (which were in line with many other Quebeckers.)  She had to endure impeachment hearings.