Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Toronto Suffragette, Canadian Suffragette, Progressive Suffragette, Cagey Suffragette

They described themselves as progressive, but were they really?

The suffragists of Canada who, in 1914, wanted to break away from the National Suffrage Association, or have the President, Flora Macdonald Denison ousted.

Flora McD Denison in black with Canadian delegation at March 15, 1913 Washington Suffrage march.

They told the press that the National Suffrage Organization was disorganized. They were not incorporated. They had no minutes. They didn't have regular meetings. Only a few women controlled the organization, they said, and these women did anything they wanted   - they even supported the militant WSPU in England.

 Yes, Flora McD Denison had gone to England in August 1913 as a guest of Miss Barbara Wylie of the WSPU and she had witnessed first-hand some moving cat-and-mouse meetings with hunger-starved suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst and Annie Kenney.

I know this because she wrote about the  visit in the Toronto Sunday World newspaper, where she was a columnist.

But Mrs. Denison also wrote, in the same article, that many of her fellow Canadian suffragists were hypocrites; hypocrites for wanting to win the right to vote for Canadian women but for not wanting to give a voice in the Canadian movement to working women.

(The M.S.A.'s articles of incorporation stated that any new members had to be nominated by two established members of the executive and approved by all, effectively keeping most women out of their elite organization. They were happy to have anyone sign their petitions, though.)

I'm guessing this was what really alienated Denison's followers, even if the historical record says it was all about her support of Mrs. Pankhurst.

I've carefully read the 1913-1919  annual reports of the National Council of Women, but I take every word within them with a grain of salt.
Carrie Derick, who carefully managed her legacy. But how was she to know that a certain German dictator would make the word 'eugenics' poison. Still, her policies were implemented in schools across Canada, even into the 60's and 70's.

These documents were heavily redacted.

I know that Miss Carrie Derick (Honorary President of the Montreal Council of Women, VP Education of the National Council) was wary about every word she said, every word she wrote in any given report.

 And when she wasn't being careful, she was being ambiguous. She once referred to the suffrage movement as divided into two factions, 'the moderates' and the 'more advanced.'

Now, who was for Pankhurst?

Then, when the Montreal Suffrage Association launched in March 1913, Derick said the MSA would go about a 'quiet education of the people.'

At least she didn't say 'it would be better if the suffragettes starved to death in jail.' That was left to another MSA officer at the inaugural press conference, a certain Reverend Dickie.

The Montreal Suffrage Association was, indeed, a legitimate corporation, with lawyers and by-laws and meetings and minutes, but it was also bogus, having been spun off by the Montreal Council of Women against that organization's own by-laws. And a few women controlled both organizations.

And these women ignored the by-laws whenever they wanted to. That's how I interpret the historical record. With skepticism. And that goes quadruple for anything said by anyone around the Conscription Crisis.

War makes liars of everyone.

In fact, the Montreal Suffrage Organziation  was dissolved in 1919 with only 7 people (of 200 or so members) in attendance. And the monies left in the till were awarded to Derick's 'eugenics' projects, the care and protection of the so-called feeble-minded.

Someone called them on this in an anonymous letter to the Editor in the Montreal Gazette.

The Montreal Suffrage Association minutes are in the Montreal City Hall archives but Derick held on to them until 1933, just before her death, giving them over to Mrs. Casgrain's Ligue des droits de la femme. I know this because Casgrain praised Derick at at 1933 Quebec suffrage meeting, saying that in the future 'everyone would know her name.' Not quite right.

A page from the minutes of the MSA. Mrs. L.A Hamilton of the "Equal Suffrage League of Toronto" speaks.

I'm sure she combed through them carefully, too, taking out anything of controversy. They are very clean, so to speak.

(Very different from Gerin-Lajoie's papers in the Quebec National Library that are rich-bodied and full of delicious minutia.)

In March, 1914 Denison defended her suffrage organization and her actions with a long article in the Toronto World, saying the fact that Julia Parker Drummond joined Mrs. Hamilton's organization means little..she is not a suffragist.. the position is only honorary and "Those of us who are democratic would give these positions to the workers who are surely more deserving of recognition. OUCH! Julia Parker Drummond was also Honorary VP of the Montreal Suffrage Association, a member of Denison's national organization.

She said she was against militancy and that her friend Mrs. Pankhurst had never suggested that Canadian women should become militant. She also wrote that Mrs. Pankhurst is the greatest woman in the world.

All to no avail. Denison was soon ousted as President of the CSA and 1000 of the CSA membership went over to Constance Hamilton, and the new National Equal Franchise Union that wouldn't do much during the War for suffrage  but Hamilton would get very involved in Win the War efforts and the Conscription Election. Dr. Margaret Gordon, avowed Pacifist, took over the CSA and was very criticial of Borden's actions during the election.

Constance Hamilton announced a 'working girls' suffrage league at one point, too, so the newspaper record shows. Her organization has left behind no minutes either.

Constance Hamilton gave a speech at the Montreal Suffrage Organization Executive Meeting in March, 1914.

Oddly, the MSA minutes reveal Derick and Drummond joined both national organizations at that time.

Denison went on to found an artist's colony at Bon Echo and a literary magazine, The Sunset, associated with it. In the second edition of that magazine Denison writes about Pankhurst and her turn-about supporting the British Government during WWI. It's brilliant stuff.

I'll reprint that in the next post. I assume it is in the Public Domain.