Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Toronto Suffragists, Montreal Suffragists and 1917


I managed to track down a copy of Atlantis, a women's study journal, an issue from 1976 (when I was at school!) about the Wartimes Elections Act (I think it is wartime elections act) and the Canadian Women's Movement.

McGill Library didn't have it so I bought it online from Hants England, where my Aunt lives. (Maybe I'll donate it to McGill.)

I am researching background for my book about the Conscription Crisis (based on real letters) the follow up to Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.

I'm trying to get to the bottom of something: Who originally thought of giving limited franchise to women in the 1917 Canadian federal election?

PM Borden is blamed nowadays, but this article says that in the day pacifist suffragists blamed Nellie McClung for giving him the idea in April 1917.

The newspapers of the era blamed Arthur Meighen, his Solicitor General.

Well I may never know. But it probably wasn't Carrie Derick.

This paper by Gloria Geller was written from a Toronto-centric point of view and doesn't mention the Montreal Suffrage Association or its President Carrie Derick who was also a VP of the Canadian Council of Women.

But the paper does not say that  the President of the Canadian Council of Women a Mrs. Torrington, endorsed limited suffrage, but does not mention Derick as also endorsing it. (The Montreal Local Council of Women censured Mrs. Torrington at a meeting.)

So, maybe I should give Derick credit for really and truly being against the wartime elections act, and not just saying it 'for show' at the Board meeting of the Montreal Suffrage Association, despite the fact she for conscription (well, that's a whole other thing, the Local Council heartily endorsed getting more men to the front, but claimed they did not take sides on the Conscription Issue.)

Only Mrs. Scott and Mrs. McNaughton supported Borden's Wartime elections act..implemented, he told these suffragists, to 'honor' women who had relatives at the front and also because of 'urgent news from the West" ...all others on the Executive made a motion opposing it.

Still, as VP of the Canadian Council of Women, she must have known these women endorsed limited suffrage at the Win the War meeting in Toronto in early August 1917, as an emergency measure to get Conscription passed and as a foot-in-the-door for universal women's suffrage, which is what it ended up being.)

Most of what Geller writes, I've already figured out from reading the minutes of the Montreal Council of Women.

Anyway, just goes to show you how little has been written on this particular subject. This article is almost 40 years old and scholars in the field still refer to it!

The opening paragraph is extremely interesting. Geller says that although people know about the Conscription Crisis, few realize it was a ploy by Borden to get re-elected. So in 1976, when I was at McGill, no one realized this very obvious fact!

Amazing! Especially considering  Marion Nicholson, my husband's grandmother, says as much in a letter to her father in 1917...a letter I am going to use in my new book.

Geller sums up the whole affair, saying what I also have come to believe. The women were used by Borden. Their inherent xenophobia was taken advantage of. They were forced to play the man's game and get immersed in party politics.

Well, Geller's description of the Toronto suffrage movement which was fragmented and diverse explains to me why the Montreal Suffrage Association was so elitest and why they so carefully controlled their membership. They were afraid of becoming like the Toronto Suffragists!!


Ooops. Another book from Abebooks just arrived for me, by courrier. Margaret Gillett's We Walked Very Warily about women at McGill. I read this book in the McGill Library 6 years ago when I started researching my Nicholson letters.