Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Montreal Suffrage Association. Happy 100th Birthday to a Bogus Organization

Here is a page of the minutes of the April 29, 1913 inaugural meeting of the Executive of the Montreal Suffrage Association.

The Montreal Suffrage Association has gone down in Herstory (His Story doesn't care about them) as a reputable organization. But the handful of scholars who have investigated the topic of Woman Suffrage in Canada seem to have taken this association's raison-d'etre at face value.

 I believe the Montreal Suffrage Association to be a bit of a farce, created by the Montreal Local Council of Women and Montreal's other social reformers (mostly doctors and ministers and McGill Professors) to hijack the Suffrage issue in Montreal in order to promote their own 'purity' agenda.

And, at it happens, woman suffrage wasn't really much of an issue in Montreal in 1910.

In their notes for 1912, the Montreal Council of Women Exec proposes starting a Suffrage Association alive 'to keep alive the interest in suffrage' created by Emmeline Pankhurst's recent speech at Windsor Hall.

Pankhurst had come as a guest of the Council, with Carrie Derick (Past President) proposing her as a speaker so that Montrealers could hear 'the other side of the issue'... Mrs. Snowden, a moderate British suffragist, had spoken in Montreal in 1909.

But according to the same minutes, the Council had to give away 200 tickets to the speech and according to Therese Casgrain's autobiography, all she heard on the streets after the speech was a lot of negative talk.

So there you go.

Why have scholars missed the boat with respect to the Montreal Suffrage Association?  I have an idea:  to fully understand why the English MSA was started up in the first place (totally against the Montreal Local Council's own by-laws) a person has to pay attention to what was happening at French City Hall.

I've been paying attention because my grandfather, Jules Crepeau (of Milk and Water) was a civil servant at City Hall in from 1886-1930, ending up as the Director of City Services, a huge post.

In 1910, the Montreal Council helped get a Reformer Mayor, a Dr. John James Guerin, elected.  (Before Michael Applebaum this man was the last English Mayor of Montreal.)

But his tenure didn't last long, just a couple of years. The minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association reveal that they were ELATED when their reform candidate got elected (with the help of the spinster vote) and ANGRY when he was deposed. (Haven't quite figured out why he left office. Must check the Heralds of the era.)

They were very angry. "The Council did its part" they wrote in the notes.

Mayor Geurin was a head table guest at Pankhurst's December 1911 speech, along with other prominent Montreal Reformers.  That alone is problematic for a Mayor of Montreal. What was he thinking!

Cleaning up City Hall (and city vice) was a key concern of these reformers. And since some unmarried women had the vote in Montreal, the Council's many volunteers worked tirelessly to get this vote out.

Not to say that in Montreal, in the era,  there weren't women interested in woman suffrage for woman suffrage's sake, even on the Montreal Local Council of Women, but these women were silenced for the most part, or they cleverly disguised their pro-militant 'free-woman' sentiments when speaking in public.

Not a bad idea. Flora Macdonald Denison, a true suffragette from Toronto, was quoted in a newspaper as saying it was OK to shoot Prime Minister Asquith..

In short, English Montreal's leaders didn't want a factionalized, populist suffrage movement to develop in Montreal, as it had in Toronto.

The Montreal Council of Women, which basically shared an Executive with the the Montreal Suffrage Association, got re-involved in the suffrage issue during WWI and then got tangled in a web of lies during the Conscription Crisis.

Were they for or against conscription? The Council avoided the issue by claiming they didn't involve themselves in party politics. When someone asked them about their long-time involvement in the Montreal Municipal elections, they claimed that municipal elections were about 'good governance' and had nothing to do with politics.

Yikes!..Just by saying that they proved they were politicians... politicians who would have fit in well in today's Canada.