Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Long Way, Baby, McGill Women

The Redpath Library of McGill University, today.

In April 1913, gee, that would be almost exactly 100 years ago today, the inaugural meeting of the Montreal Suffrage Association was held in the Redpath Library.

I know, because I saw the minutes of the meeting, kept in the Montreal City Hall archives.

Carrie Derick, McGill Botany Professor and the President of the Association did not attend, 'for good reasons.'

You see, she was also VP of the Canadian Council of Women and they were holding their Annual General Meeting in May and Derick was in charge of the Suffrage Evening, where Mrs. Phillip (Ethel)Snowden was speaking.

I was at McGill today to consult other archival material, that of the Royal Victoria College. The Warden of RVC, Ethel Hurlbatt, was a prominent suffragist, and was a member of the Montreal Suffrage Association.

These RVC archives are contained in 5 boxes, with about 200 file folders. They are well-edited, in that  it is obvious someone took great care in culling the material.

I was actually looking for information about Edith Nicholson, who had been Assistant Warden in the 30's and 40's, but I found only one mention. Edith is my husband's great aunt and the subject of Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.

She will figure in my next book about the Montreal Suffragists and the Conscription Crisis.

There were quite a few files with Hurlbatt's letters and documents. She was the warden from 1909 (I think) to around 1930.  Edith worked under Mrs. Hurlbatt in the late 20's.

The files contained a speech she gave to the Women's Canadian Club in 1912, but no speech on suffrage.

She must have kept her suffrage advocacy separate from her McGill work.

A short document describing RVC's war efforts in 1914-1919 claim the students took Red Cross courses and eventually engaged in fundraising efforts, but no suffrage activities.

The cutest thing I saw was a letter from 1925, when women were first allowed to take part in the famous Red and White Theatrical Review.

Someone wrote a CONFIDENTIAL report and said she thought the women were not portrayed respectfully enough. They were mostly chorus girls and ballet dancers.

She thought the revue itself was very well put together, but was of a vaudeville tone.

Well, well.  Now we know why the Cambridge Footlights decided to keep women out, until that actress, what's her name, Emma Thompson started her own review in protest

Another letter was from Mrs. Hurlbatt to the President of McGill. He appeared to be worried that some of the women taking part in the revue would stay out too late at night.

Mrs. Hurlbatt said they were expected to be home a midnight, although they might stay out until 2 at the cabaret night, the cast party as it were.

Another letter from the same era was about smoking.  Mrs. Hurlbatt was writing a McGill Medical Man.

She said it was unrealistic to keep modern women from smoking, but she wondered about the younger students, some as young as 16.

The doctor wrote her back and said that he thought women under 19 should not smoke cigarettes. He said it wouldn't be so bad if smoking could be done in moderation, but it is almost always habit forming.

Well, they did consecrate a smoking room for the purpose in the 1920's. In the 1940's students could smoke in all the common rooms as well as in their own rooms.

And one other item was of interest to me. In 1927, four venues in the City were deemed appropriate for the students. The Ritz Carleton (Well, if it was good enough for the Prince of Wales), Morgan's (but of course, the department story at Phillip's Square); Mount Royal (the hotel I guess) and the Windsor Grill.

What was the Windsor Grill? Must check. Oh, it's the Windsor Hotel Grill Room.
Oh, the McCord Museum has a picture. Creative commons picture.