Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Difference between a Suffragette and a Suffragist


"There is no suffragette movement in Canada. There is only a movement for the enfranchisement of women." Letter to the Editor of the Montreal Witness, March 1913.

Beautiful militant Barbara Wylie came to Canada in 1912 to try and stir things up. She did not apologize for the 'hurling of the hatchet'  at Asquith in England in the summer, saying it might have knocked some sense into him.

If you enter the term "Suffragettes Canada" into Google, you get a lot of websites about the Famous Five.

But that's wrong.

The Famous Five were suffragists, in that they did not organize marches, speak in very public spaces, throw bricks at windows, etc. They were not militant suffragettes, like Mrs. Pankhurst and her troops.

All you should get when enter the term "Suffragettes Canada" into Google are  links to my blogs :)


 That's because I have written a book Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13.


Back then most knowledgeable people in Canada understood the distinction between suffragist and suffragette. And it was a critical distinction, too.

When the Montreal Suffrage Association launched with a news conference in March, 1913, President Carrie Derick promised the Press that the organization would be engaged 'in a quiet education of the people.'

And this despite the fact she was a closet supporter of Mrs. Pankhurst's militant suffragettes.

Derick brought  Emmeline Pankhurst to Montreal to speak at Windsor Hall in December, 1911, "to hear the other side" of the suffrage question.

Mrs. Ethel Snowden, a British moderate, had been brought in to speak in 1909.

Derick considered the movement to be divided into 'the moderates' and the 'more-advanced.' It is written up in the MSA minutes.

The MSA's official line "a quiet education of the people"  meant that they were going to distribute pamphlets and sponsor a few speakers at the YMCA. That's all. Oh, and post a few signs.

Women Suffrage=Better Health for Children.

NO MARCHING. No public displays. (What good would that do, anyway? The newspapers didn't have photographs and the Montreal Movement didn't have any young and attractive members to fascinate and confuse the men of the press. They did not allow such 'restless' women to join their organization.

 (Furies is all about some McGill students who dare to organize a march, down Sherbrooke, to the Mount Royal Club.!)

In March, 1913 these same British Suffragettes were getting into big trouble in the UK, setting fires and such.

Soon, in June, in England, Emily Davison, would throw herself in front of the King's Horse and become "the First Suffragette Martyr."

This was the headline in the Montreal Witness, an evangelical newspaper that was all for the suffragists (and women getting the vote) but against the militant suffragettes, sort of.

Back then, suffragists believed that if women got the vote, all those social evils so beloved of the male sex (sex outside of marriage, prostitution and alcohol)  would be eliminated.

Suffragists didn't want women to become free and easy like men. They wanted men to become 'pure' like women.


Carrie Derick writes to French Canada suffragist Madame Gerin-Lajoie. In 1910, they joined forces to put a Reform Slate in at City Hall. In 1914, Gerin-Lajoie bowed out of election campaigning.

Derick referred to the 1910 purge as a "purification" of city politics. The Purity movement was all about Protestant values.

Carrie Derick and the other ladies of the Montreal Suffrage Association agreed with this purity  ideology,  although they also were interested  in giving women more power over their lives.

(There were a lot of men on the executive of the MSA, mostly professors and clergymen.)

These Montreal suffragists  wanted single women to be able to choose a good career for themselves and they wanted married women to have more economic power and protection.

A handful of them actually wanted to empower poor people. Oh, my!

At least two women on the MSA board, Mrs. Kathleen Weller and Mrs. Fenwick Williams, claimed later on that they had visited the UK in 1912 and 1913 to work with the militant suffragettes. At the first meeting of the MSA, Fenwick Williams suggested that "New York lawyer" Inez Milholland be brought in as a speaker.

Milholland was the beauty who led the Washington and New York parades on horseback, the first time on a white horse, in a while robe, with her hair down around her shoulders, and carrying the green, purple and white colours of Pankhurst's WSPU.

There were Canadian representatives in both parades, mostly from Toronto. Mrs. Constance Hamilton and Flora Macdonald Denison marched in Washington. No Montrealers, from what I can see.

The non-militant suffragists of Canada were a diverse bunch, and this all came to a head during WWI, with the Conscription Crisis.

My next book "Service and Disservice" will be about that time.