Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Frances Fenwick Williams _ a Suffragette Author

Mrs. Frances Fenwick Williams is not listed as a member of the Montreal Suffrage Association under her usual name, but under Williams.


As I put together Sister Salvation (the story of the suffrage movement in Montreal in 1912/13 - and the British Invasion of militant suffragettes happening at that time) I have a little problem:

I can't discover what Frances Fenwick Williams looked like.

She's the Canadian author who was the press secretary for the Montreal Suffrage Association (1913-1919)

In my story, I have her give a talk to students at Royal Victoria College, about Montreal newspapers and the different factions that control them.

That's in October 1912... I also have her bring along a special guest, militant Suffragette Barbara Wylie.

I did find this interesting bit in the paper: Apparently in 1917 Frances FW came out in favor of Borden's Unionist government. Strongly in favor.



Dr. Ritchie England, President of the Montreal Council of Women campaigned for Laurier and got into hot water for it.

Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, steered clear of all controversy often by re-writing history on the spot.

Clever woman this Carrie Derick, who also figures largely in my Sister Salvation Story. She had a politician's way of playing with words and re-writing history.

She claimed that the Montreal Suffrage Association was started 'to keep the interest in suffrage alive' after Emmeline Pankhurst's 1911 speech in Montreal. Except there was no interest, really.

My story ends in 1917, but the article above contains a most interesting point: Fenwick Williams claims that five years before, that would be in 1912, she was in England campaigning for the suffragettes.

She may be lying, but maybe it is true. Maybe Frances Fenwick Williams was in England in August 1912 when Wylie 'accosted' Premier Borden and demanded the vote for Canadian women.

Borden then banned militant suffragettes from coming to Canada, but still they came. Wylie and then Caroline Kenney, sister of famous militant suffragette Annie Kenney.

Simon Fraser University has put together a bio of Williams.

She apparently got married in 1909, to a well-known New York City based city planner, but clearly that marriage didn't work out.

She moved back  home to Montreal almost immediately.




In 1911, her father, a stock broker in 'mining' was living at 24 Crescent...no salary mentioned in the Census data. She isn't living with him, she lives on Oldfield. (Where's that? Westmount?)

Carrie Derick lived at 65 Crescent in 1911. She was making 2,000 a year as an Assistant Professor at McGill, although that info isn't in the Census. I got it elsewhere.

In 1901 Frances, who would be 23 years old and the eldest of the Fenwick children, wasn't at home either. I wonder where she was? She claimed she had worked as a secretary for Dr. McPhail of McGill.

She later made fun of McPhail and his anti-suffrage stance in a 1915 book A Soul on Fire.

I don't think FW was a Donalda, a McGill graduate, but there are no early yearbooks online for the 1900 period, so I can't be sure.

Fenwick Williams  wrote short stories for some 'pulp' fiction magazines in the 1905 period and then published her first novel, The Arch-Satirist in 1910. Sometime around then she also wrote for the Montreal Herald. Don't know whether she reported or got a by-line.

I'm sure Royal Victoria College students would have loved to hear her talk.

A Wisconsin newspaper called her  1910 novel 'breezy summer reading.'



In 1919, the MSA disbanded, with only Mrs. Fenwick Williams dissenting. They essentially threw her off possibly because of her boistrous support of the Unionist Government. The MSA pretended to be non-political.

Later on she taught creative writing in Montreal.

She had many sisters and a brother, so likely she has descendants, but no direct descendants.

I wonder what went wrong with her marriage: so many things could have happened, abuse, gay husband, VD... didn't like being married.

But why she didn't get divorced? (My husband's grandmother, a wealthy woman, got married twice in the same era and just left her husbands, without divorcing.  She left one  of them, she claimed because he couldn't have children.)

According to the SFU blurb on Fenwick Williams her husband is listed on the US Census a living in a Club in New York throughout the decades until his death.

I can't find Frances on the 1921 Canada census either.