Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Suffragette's speech to Canadians



Miss Barbara Wylie, militant suffragette, a character in my ebook Furies Cross the Mersey, came to Canada in 1912 to stir up trouble - and got nowhere.

Not for lack of trying.

She arrived in Montreal September 28th, having alerted the English newspapers - and this after Prime Minister Borden had banned any suffragettes from coming to Canada!

When asked by a reporter about a recent incident in England, where a suffragette had hurled an axe at their Prime Minister Asquith, she replied, "If it had hit him in the head it might have knocked some sense into him."

She got away with saying this as she was, ah, so very pretty and lady-like. Indeed, the Montreal reporters had almost missed her, expecting a true battle-ax to detrain and instead being met with a tall, slim, elegant young woman. Oh, my.

I know about this Miss Wylie, because Edith Nicholson of Threshold Girl left behind a news clipping from the Montreal Witness.


Here it is.



But the other Montreal papers also covered her visit extensively. The Montreal Standard devoted an editorial to Miss Wylie, an editorial to which she replied. Her reply was printed with a loud headline, too.

Miss Wylie spoke on November 4th, at the Montreal YMCA, hosted by the Montreal Council of Women prompting an editorial in the Standard. That speech is re-purposed in Furies Cross the Mersey.

As soon as Barbara Wylie arrived in Montreal she made herself conspicuous by sending a Letter to the Editor of the Gazette, in reply to an article dissing the militant suffragettes.

Here it is under the headline "Violence will continue until the ballot is secured, says Miss Wylie."

The militant suffragettes, like Miss Wylie, were often well-bred, well-dressed, well-spoken women, but women who dared behave like men and, historians suggest, this is what really appalled the establishment.

 In this letter to the Editor, Wylie states as much.

History has proven that many suffragettes, despite their sex and social standing, were tortured and beaten inside and out of jail - just to make an example of them.


"In the issue of today in the course of your leader, Women and Votes, you say that many people would doubt that the world would be better governed if women had votes, since women as well as men are prone to error and and do wrong.

Nothing, I think disproves this, since to err is human and not simply manly or womanly. But because some limp, must be all be lame?

Let the best men and the best women cooperate to help those poor lame dogs over their stiles.

Then I think you have forgotten a very large portion of the globe when you claim that the presence of women in the political arena is  an unknown quantity.

In Australia, in New Zealand, in six states in American, in Norway and Finland, the effect of their presence is most advantageously felt. There they use their influence directly and openly.

In countries where women's influence is of the underground kind, the influence is not so good.

Then you complain that the statements of suffragettes is erroneous and we complain when we are sent to jail for breaking windows.

We have never complained of being sent to prison. Our only complaint is when we are denied the treatment which is our due as political prisoners.

We carry on behind bars the same fight for political equality with men that we will never cease go wage until victory is ours.

A man, you go on to say, in the same circumstances, destroying property is punished and the police know how to handle him if he resists arrest.

We have resisted arrest, and the young men who, at a recent by-election in Wales, who broke windows wholesale all over town, had no occasion to do so, and the police excused their behavior as the result of the excitement of an election.

You say the law deals with male criminals more severely than it does with members of the opposite sex.

Recently, Mr. Thomas Mann was tried to inciting soldiers to mutiny. He was provided with a chair outside his dock during the trial.

He was sentenced to six month imprisonment but was released after a month.

Two syndicalists, also charged with sedition, were sentenced to six months hard labour, but were released after four weeks.
Miss Barbara Wylie from Votes For Women Magazine.


Mrs. Pankhurst, Mr and Mrs. Pethwick Lawrence and Mrs. Tuke charged with inciting violence, were not given chairs in the docket but were huddled into it although Mrs. Tuke was dangerously ill.

The jury recommended them to extreme leniency, owing to their purity of motive, but the judge sentenced them to nine months imprisonment.

They had to be released at the end of one month, owing to the government's inability to break their spirit, or force them to accept anything less than first class treatment for their comrades, as well as themselves.

When men resort to violence, you go on to say, in any cause, the forces of law and order are set to work to oppress them.

During a riot in Belfast a few weeks ago, revolvers were used, and 100 people injured. No arrests were made.

During the strike riots recently in Great Britain the soldiers fired volleys into the mob and some were killed, you say.

The soldiers fired one volley, I think, and Mr. McKenna refused to allow them out during the dock strikes.

And herein lies the difference between the treatment of men who are militants and the women who are fighting for the greatest cause of all, human liberty.

The men's grievances are redressed. Witness the minimum wage bill hustled through Parliament in four days during the miners' strike and the reforms in India after the men threw bombs in order to bring attention to their wrongs.

Whereas those of the women remain un-redressed, and although the women are punished with greater severity than the men, their just claim for equal suffrage remains unsatisfied.

Since politicians are inaccessible to reason and argument, as we have proved during the last 45 years, there remains to women the one weapon that has never failed to secure the extension of the franchise to men, that is violence.

Repugnant as it is to women's feeling to use violence, we will continue to do so until justice is done to us. "

Barbara Wylie,
Montreal, October, 1912.