Thursday, June 4, 2015

Laura Secord, Motar Boards and Your Station in LIfe

Merrill Denison, the son of Flora Macdonald Denison ( the Toronto Suffragist/ette and journalist) was an author and radio-drama pioneer in Canada. He wrote a series for the CBC on famous Canadian historical figures. The one woman subject, of course, was Laura Secord.

He didn't write a play about his mother, although I feel she is more worthy a subject than our lady of the cowbell. PM Harper may not agree.

I've been reading what I can find of her editorials for the Toronto Sunday World circa 1912 and she is a fine writer and her tone and ideology comes off as very  20th century.

Her adversaries dared to call themselves 'the progressives' but history proves she was the real thing. Denison was married, but her husband was 'a professional traveller' (sic) so she was really a single mom, with a good education and a way with words, but needing to support herself.

Flora Macdonald Denison was removed from the leadership of the  Canadian Suffrage movement in March 1914 and then founded a literary commune around the works of Walt Whitman and then she slid into spiritualism (a very Edwardian thing) the reason she has been written off by historians, I think.

Flora McD Denison dared speak her mind, even about militant suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, whom she adored - and it cost her.

She was neither a cagey politician like Professor Carrie Derick of McGill and the Montreal Council of Women who could be very ambiguous when she wanted to be, nor a 'practical idealist' like the uber-wealthy socialite Julia Parker Drummond.

Denison wasn't part of The Club,  anyway. She was a middle-class woman who had to work out in the real world, an equal-rights suffragist as opposed to a social reformer suffragist (maternal) like most of the others.

The Canadian Textile Museum has a short piece about her on YouTube.

Her papers can be explored at the University of Toronto. A short summary of the content of these papers claims that Denison, in 1914,  had to go back to work as a seamstress to support her son through college.

Keystone Stereoscope of a Montreal women working in Textile Industry

Denison was President of the Toronto-based National Suffrage Association from 1912 to 1914. She took over from the iconic Augusta Stowe-Gullen, her mentor in the movement.

At the 1913 AGM of the National Council, she openly objected to the fact the Council wanted procurers of prostitutes to be flayed as a punishment.

At the same meeting, she claimed  that prostitutes were merely  poorly-paid working girls who needed more money to live well and feel good about themselves by dressing well.

(Textile workers in the US, I've read, being adept at sewing, would often be able to make themselves pretty clothes from cheap rags sold on the street...but this bothered middle class women who thought these lower class (immigrant) girls were trying to rise above their station in life.)

Denison openly dissed Julia Parker Drummond in a talk she gave to the press in March 1913, saying Drummond (who had joined the rival Equal Franchise League led by Constance Hamilton)was merely a figure-head for the movement, not a real worker.

Not a smart thing to do, even if true.

Read my Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13. I am now researching the follow up, Service and Disservice about the Conscription Crisis.

One of these women was Miss Barbara Wylie. Later, in October, 1913, Wylie hosted Denison in London and brought her to the scene of two very emotional suffrage meetings, featuring the hunger-strikers Emmeline Pankhurst, her daughter Sylvia and Annie Kenney.

How could she not support Pankhurst after witnessing first-hand women suffrage activists so weak they had to be carried to the podium?

She knew both the Pankhursts personally, having hosted them in Toronto.

According to the Yearbook of the National Council these women delegates to the Washington March 1913 Suffrage Parade were all Torontonians, Including Stowe Gullen and Constance Hamilton. The university graduates wore their robes and motar boards.... indeed a subtle way to make themselves more important than Denison...