Monday, April 29, 2013

McGill and the Suffragettes!

Royal Victoria College in the era

Here is Edith Nicholson's letter of May 2, 1913, with the line I used to kick-start a research project and a book, to be called Sister Salvation, the follow up to Threshold Girl the Amazon e-book.  The line is in bold below.

Dear Mother,

You have had Flora's letter by now so know that we arrived safely with our trunk and are now settled in our little flat.  Marion W came up this morning - had a splendid trip and looking fine. Henry gave her a new suit and hat. Ethel was in this afternoon so she can tell you all about our place of abode.  I only saw her for about two hours and then we went shopping. 

She is looking so well and had a pretty new grey suit and a becoming hat.  My throat is better, but I did suffer from it for a few days.  Marion and Marion W went up to the Shaw's last night. 

They were quite nice and took over the telephone so we have that off our hands.  

Tell Mr. And Mrs. McMillan to call and see us. We are in most days after four. Some of us anyway. Tell him  I was sorry to miss those Methodist jokes. And if he hears any others to keep them stored for me. 

What a house we left behind us. I suppose you are working all the time trying to get things staightened out. We are going to try and hear Mrs. Snowden, but she is not a militant for which I am sorry. 


Saturday morning Marion and I went down to the St. Antoine market and I had my first real marketing experience. We got along nicely. Got strawberries, potatoes, roast of beef, grapefruit. Pineapples. Fruit is selling quite reasonable.


Mrs. Snowden spoke at St. James Methodist on May 5, 1913 on the occasion of the Canadian Council of Women's AGM. (National Council of Women.)


In the May 2 1913 edition of the Montreal Witness, it is claimed that a grand soiree was held for the Council at Royal Victoria College, a concert with nibblies.

Some Donaldas (McGill Co-eds) helped served.

Mrs. Hurlbatt, the Warden of RVC said

Poor Edith. How she loved a good concert! But not to worry, in 1920 she would take a post with McGill (working both in the Registrar's Office and at RVC, becoming Assistant Warden under Hurlbatt) and she would attend many concerts and do's. Indeed, in 28, she would step out with Miss Carrie Derick to a McGill Concert.

But on May 2, 1913 she was an unemployed teacher, helping her sisters move out of their   apartment on Hutchison to one on Guy Street.

Now, the guest list of the evening is most interesting: the usual suspects, women prominent on the Montreal Local Council like Mrs. Walter Lyman and Mrs. Scott, and a Mrs. A.C. Leggatt!

Mrs. A.C. Leggatt, I just discovered, was the woman who went around in 1913 giving lectures on suffrage for the Equal Suffrage League, with Miss Caroline Kenney, the suffragette sister of the more militant British suffragette Annie Kenney

So militants had infiltrated the bastion of Montreal's Social Elite, the same people who, in April 1913, one hundred years ago, launched the Montreal Suffrage Association, more of a  private club than a democratic organization - and an organization that was decidedly non militant. 

(I sort of guessed. In a 1930 New York Times Obit, a social activist RLP Wallace is said to have been a former aide of Mrs. Pankhurst and also a former President of Montreal's Suffrage League.)

At the Montreal Suffrage Association's  inaugural meeting on April 25, 1913, a principal speaker suggested the militant suffragettes would be better off if they starved to death in prison.

The MSA wanted to be the only show in town and they almost were, but I've recently discovered that the militants in Montreal were trying to make their mark with this Equal Suffrage League.

Who was this Mrs. A.C. Leggatt, I don't know.  There was a Mrs. Leggatt from Hamilton who was Past-President of the National Council. I assume this woman was somehow related, perhaps a daughter in law, which would account for why she was there at RVC that evening.

And as for Mrs. Hurlbatt. Her file at McGill contains no hint of her suffrage activities, but I suspect this former Londoner had affection for the militants. Her speeches about suffrage hinted at such and she was inspired by Mrs. Pankhurst to raise money for the Serbs during the war. And in 1913 she seemed to join and then leave the Montreal Suffrage Association, claiming her responsibilities at the College were too time-consuming.

There were only two students from RVC listed in the membership book of the Montreal Suffrage Association and one name was crossed out.

Carrie Derick, in her speeches about the History of the Suffrage Movement in Canada and Montreal, claimed that it was the Montreal Council that persuaded the Canadian Council to support woman suffrage, suggesting that the Montrealers were on the forefront.

But they were really quite conservative (wanting woman suffrage in order to clean up Montreal's French City Hall.)

A Mrs. Dennison was on the guest list here. Perhaps it was Flora Macdonal Dennison..(Likely). Now she was a loose cannon and a militant suffragette sympathizer.

She would have gotten along famously with the Kenneys, for she too had a working class background in the textile industry.