Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's Going on with Women and the Vote 1917?

It seems in early August 1917 there was a huge Win the War meeting in Toronto which many interested Women's Groups attended.

During his meeting, it is claimed in the minutes of the Montreal Council of Women for that month, 'the question of granting the Federal franchise at this moment was discussed, and an informal conference of leaders of these women's groups was called by the President of the National Equal Franchise League and then  telegrams out far and wide to 'understanding women' to ascertain the feelings with regard to this important matter' and a large number of telegrams came back  and from the looks of things "granting the franchise to women would imperil conscription, when that issue would be before the country at a general election."

So the women sent Premier Borden a letter saying that it would be better to grant limited franchise to women who had men fighting at the front (or already had the Provincial Vote.)

Again, according to the Minutes, a few days later, when a group of Win the War participants visited Borden in Ottawa, he took the women's reps aside and asked more questions about limited franchise.

Many telegrams from women's groups around the country then arrived demanding FULL Franchise.

But the executive of the National Council thought it in the best interest to keep this info private.

That's the version I see in the minutes... but the Historical Record says that this Limited Franchise gambit was Premier Borden's idea.

So either the minutes are wrong, or the National Council Executive lied to the Montreal Council Executive about who came up with the idea of limited suffrage to preserve their dignity or non-partisan aura,

OR Borden's reps at the Win the War Meeting somehow got the Women's Groups to think they came up with  the idea of limited suffrage when they just planted the idea with one of the ladies (that sounds right) or the idea of limited suffrage did originate with the suffragists  as in Eureka, I have an idea!

Or is was the Women's Equal Franchise League ONLY who came up with idea and sent the telegrams out to their membership, but I doubt it.

Maybe Carrie Derick herself came up with it and then, speaking for the Montreal Local Council of Women, denounced the measure. (After all, Derick was President or V.P of the Montreal Suffrage Association and there was no Equal Suffrage Society in Quebec and this limited suffrage move was all about getting around Quebec.)

"That the Montreal Local Council of Women ask the National Council of Women to make an official statement to the public that they never expressed approval of a limited franchise."

Well, there's a paper written about the process, in a journal I've ordered, a paper from 1976.

I dunno. I kind of think it's important... If Borden thought this cynical strategy up,then he deserves the       future criticism he gets for this move.

If he didn't, then the National Council of Women Executive was not representing their membership back then, merely carrying out what they believed to be right with respect to the war and getting ALL women a step closer to the vote in the process which they felt a bonus.

There are letters to Borden in the Archives of the National Council of Women. It should be all there. And if the author of the journal article consulted these letters, in 1917, then it's true, that Borden devised the limited franchise plan and that the Executive of the Canadian Council of Women kept this truth from the Executive of the Montreal Council of women, although Carrie Derick was on both executives.


NO HE DIDN'T.  I just found a great account in a book called Reconstruct the World: a Feminist Biography of Gertrude Richardson, whose author, Barbara Roberts clearly read the same Minutes I did because she paraphrases them...



A couple of opposition M.P.s were asking for the woman's vote, and on May 17 1917 Borden promised women the vote, and not only Provincial Voters, so including French Canadians.  He did not mention what would be the requisites.

There were already pro-selective franchise and an anti-selective franchise factions out among suffragists and women's groups, west and east. Women felt voters should be 'patriotic'.

According to Roberts, Westerner Nellie McClung met Borden in Winnipeg and urged him to give women the vote - but said only to Canadian Born and British Born.

She changed her mind later on..

The idea of doing an end run around many French Canadians by giving only woman with men at the front vote, well, I still don't know where that idea originated.

This means the Nicholsons didn't vote until 1921, when all Canadian women had the vote and I'm researching all this to figure out how they might have felt about it, embarrassed? Mad? They were such suffragists. Brother Herb Nicholson did not go to war. Nor did Hugh Blair, Marion`s husband who was 35 and had kids.
Norman Nicholson registered however, and he was near 70.

She wrote a letter to her daughters, saying how proud she was of the Country and how `the act of voting, didn`t make her ashamed... So I guess they told women to be ashamed of voting...

Not everyone on her street voted. And they gave the same old excuses... Didn`t get back in time, my vote won`t change anything.. LOL

Some people in the Press blamed Solicitor General Arthur Meighen for the Wartime Election Act.

He introduced the bill in Parliament, saying Borden was indisposed.

The reason for not giving ALL women the vote: because some women had become British Citizens by constructive naturalization, whatever that is.. by having a Canadian relation, I guess. Or maybe by Marrying a Canadian. The reason for giving women with relations in the war as vote: because these soldiers can't all get out to vote, so they would represent them..

The Regina Newspaper despised the act, but not because it slighted French Canadians I imagine. Because some of the Eastern European Canadians who couldn't vote could be conscripted...

Meighen only talked about disenfranchizing citizens who could not be conscripted, as their brothers would be fighting for the other side.

Politics! (Carole Bacchi in Liberation Deferred says that it was Meighen who thought up the idea when he heard reports that some constituencies in Manitoba were had mostly French and non-Britishers registered to vote. She cites Borden correspondence.  So he likely pitched the idea to the women at the Win the War meeting in early August.)