Wednesday, July 22, 2015
A Pretty Little Termagant
I've written a great deal about Miss Barbara Wylie, suffragette, here on this blog. She figures in my ebook Furies Cross the Mersey, the story of the British Invasion of Suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13.
The first time I heard her name (well, read her name) was when I found the Nicholson family letters and the yellowed press clippings saved by Edith Nicholson, one of which was about Wylie's Montreal landing on September 28, 1912.
The story was written in a semi-comical tone. Apparently all the reporters almost missed her, expecting a real battle-ax to de-train, but getting a tall, slim pretty girl, instead, and one attended by a male escort!
They interviewed her on the fly and asked her about a summer incident in England, where a suffragette threw an axe at Prime Minister Asquith.
"If it had hit him, it might have knocked some sense into him," she replied.
The reporters knew of Miss Wylie. She was one of three suffragettes who accosted Canadian Prime Minister Borden in London in August, demanding the vote for Canadian women.
This had prompted Borden is September, 1912 to ban suffragettes from coming to Canada. I guess the ban didn't work.
Anyway, as I start work on my sequel to Furies Cross the Mersey, Service and Disservice, about the Conscription Crisis and the involvement of the women suffragists of Canada, I started to read about Wylie's Toronto visit.
Wylie arrived in Montreal on September 28th, and she was invited to speak at a parlour gathering at Mrs. Kathleen Weller's Westmount home.
Mrs. Weller was with the Montreal Women's Club and would become a leader in the Montreal Suffrage Association 1913-1919 She also mounted the Montreal Suffrage Exhibition in February 1913.
(She was a closet suffragette sympathizer, who visited England in 1913 to learn more about the movement.)
The newspaper report from this Montreal meeting says the women were not convinced by Wylie, although Wylie wrote to Votes for Women Magazine saying the ladies snapped up her copies of said magazine and she also got 3 women to take out subscriptions.
Wylie later gave a rousing talk at the YMCA in Montreal, in November, a talk that is in Furies Cross the Mersey, but in between, in October, she made a visit to Toronto.
The trip didn't work out, apparently.
Her August meeting with Borden had made the front page of the Toronto Star. At that meeting she 'bragged' to Borden that she had been to jail.
The Toronto star covered her October visit in a condescending, mocking tone, as if Wylie was a curiosity of some sort, an angry, well-bred little girl.
Wylie was pretty, well-dressed and a 'college-girl' so they had to report about her, out of respect. They didn't have to like what she said, though.
And what she said was pretty incendiary, if the quotes are correct.
(One article did mention that the British suffragists had reason to be upset and were being badly treated. A window-breaking suffragette was dragged into a Private Club and flogged, apparently.)
The Toronto Star claimed there were a few members of Pankhurst's WSPU in the Ontario city (Denison? Hamilton?) but no suffragist in Toronto wanted to host Miss Wylie.
But Wylie did end up giving a talk at the home of the Secretary of the Toronto Local Council.
In October, all told, Wylie spoke to Toronto reporters a few times and gave one public talk to a men's group.
Wylie was described as a "fiery young creature" and an "up-to-date and well-gowned avenging archangel."
She said: "I would as soon fill Parliament with a lot of Teddy Bears than with men."
Also: "So long as you set all in a row, with your mouths open, you will get nothing. You need the termagant spirit."
"I would carry a gun and not be afraid to use it and no jury in the land would convict me because it would be in self-defense."
"Any woman who sits down under the colossal wrongs of woman kind is damning her own soul."
In March, 1913 there was a famous suffrage march in Washington. Prominent Toronto suffragists participated. Speaking to the press about this march, Constance Hamilton, head of a National Suffrage Organization, brazenly defended her support of the British militants and quoted from a letter of support she had recently received from Miss Barbara Wylie.
Wylie went back to England in May 1913, but not before a trip out West, where she had better luck with populace and even acquired a few supporters.
Back home, she was soon arrested in a protest in front of His Majesty's Theatre.
Here's the pic: