Monday, April 15, 2013

Mrs. Thatcher, feminism and the Suffragists, Suffragettes of Montreal



I see that someone came to this blog  looking up information on Mrs. Philip Snowden's May 6, 1913 speech in Montreal. Lucky for them, I've done all the research!

I imagine it is a scholar, probably from the UK,  but part of me hopes it is a  Canadian TV News Journalist.

Journalists are always looking for unusual 100th anniversary stories, aren't they?

Yet, it seems to me,  I am the only person interested in the story of the Montreal Suffragists of the 1910 era.

That's why I am writing a book, Sister Salvation about these well-bred, well-educated ladies (and men) and their iffy connection with the conscription crisis of 1917.

Anyway, how might a story like this come down? (I should ask my husband, he works in TV NEWS.)

You could tie it into Mrs. Thatcher's death or funeral, maybe.

Mrs. Ethel Snowden (women used their husband's first and last names back then) was the wife of a UK Labour MP and she gave two speeches in Montreal, in 1909,1913, the first at Stanley Hall and the Second at St. James Methodist. She was  invited here by the Montreal Local Council of Women and the Canadian Council of Women (who were holding their Annual General Meeting in Montreal in May 1913.)



Both of these events  lost money because most Montrealers weren't that interested in the issue of Woman Suffrage, except for a few Society Ladies and also a few young unmarried women, like Edith Nicholson of my Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster e-books.

But there was a powerful REFORM movement in Montreal at the time and these Reformers ( Society Women and Men of the Cloth and McGill Professors, etc, mostly but not entirely Evangelical Protestants) saw Woman Suffrage as a powerful  tool for their sweeping 'purity'agenda.

Mrs. Ethel Snowden was a 'moderate' suffragist, as opposed to a militant brick-throwing suffragette. Edith Nicholson wrote to her mother in May 1913 saying, "I am going to hear Mrs. Snowden speak, but she is not militant and for this I am sad."

Mrs.Snowden wanted women to get the vote 'so of that every child will be well-born' and she didn't mean that every child would be born rich, just get enough to eat, medical attention, some education, etc..

This point of view suited the Montreal suffragists, who were, for the most part, maternal suffragists, who were traditionalists. They wanted to turn back the clock to a more civilized time before industrialization and rampant immigration.

(Edith Nicholson, my husband's great aunt, a spinster, was an exception, but her kind of suffragism was squashed in Montreal. She wanted to be able to live her life outside of marriage.)

Anyway, Mrs. Snowden  assured Montrealers that if women won the right to vote it wouldn't be such a cataclysmic event.

50 percent of the population of Britain are Whigs and 50 percent are Tories, she said,  and that will likely continue even if women vote. (How right she was!)

And she also assured her audience that woman suffrage did not mean women would vacate their proper place, the home, to enter the political arena, the House of Commons.

I imagine this British suffragist (a beautiful woman with a lovely manner, apparently) would have been appalled by Mrs. Thatcher, who, like all politicians, had to forsake her children for her job.

But, then, maybe not, because back then in Edwardian times upper class women farmed out their child-raising duties to their domestics (who in turn couldn't be there to raise their own children).

 Russell Brand wrote a brilliant essay on that theme for the Guardian lately that got 130 THOUSAND Facebook links.   He has a great line about glass ceilings and women like Thatcher..