Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Militant Moles and Montreal

 A list of donors to the WSPU in Votes for Women Magazine, September 1912, right in the middle of my story Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13.


Back in 1910 and Elizabeth Skelton wrote a piece in Maclean's Magazine claiming that Canada had no suffrage movement to speak of because 1) they had fewer spinsters than in the UK 2) there was no tradition of fighting for Liberty in Canada, where everyone was a homesteader 'on the make.'


No doubt, there were more Misses involved in the UK Suffrage Movement than in the Montreal Movement, although it is impossible to tell how old these Misses are.

Caroline Kenney and Barbara Wylie, the two British Suffragette Militants who came to Canada in 1912 were both around 30.


Pretty Barbara Wylie. She came to Montreal in late September 1912 and gave the press a  heads up, despite the fact Borden had banned militants from coming to Canada as 'undesirables.'  She had been one a handful of women who had accosted Canadian PM Borden in London in August demanding he give women the vote. He said it was up the the provinces to do it first.

Today I read a Guardian headline that claims the UK Government is banning extremists from speaking at UK Universities. Terror Bill Bans Extremists. 


There is no doubt that women in their twenties were NOT encouraged to join the Montreal Suffrage Association. In order to become a member, a person had to be approved by two officers on the Board. Not very democratic at all!

Middle class Montreal English women in their twenties were either married and busy with family or unmarried and working at some time-consuming job like teaching.

Marion Nicholson, of Threshold Girl, would have made a boffo suffragette, (she went on to lead the Montreal Teachers' Union) but in 1912 she had a classroom of 50 and she was in full courtship mode, being taken out of her awful rooming house by a certain Mr. Blair, who she would soon marry.


The Membership of the Montreal Suffrage Association was made up of clergymen, McGill Profs and middle class matrons with older kids and money for maids That organization had been spun off from the Montreal Council of Women, taking in a couple of people from the Montreal Women's Club.

A couple of these matrons enrolled their teenage daughters in the Association, but these were the only younger members.

Young women were considered too wild and too unpredictable to be suffragists in Montreal even if they could afford it.


A letter from Carrie Derick, McGill Botany Prof and President of the Montreal Suffrage Association (1913-1919) to Marie Gerin Lajoie, pioneering French Canadian suffragist. This was Post WWI when the English and French suffragists joined forces to push suffrage through in Quebec. Gerin-Lajoie soon gave up the fight for faith, but others, like Therese Cassgrain, took up the torch.


One exception to the rule was Mrs. Francis Fenwick Williams, an author, who played a prominent role as a debater in the Montreal Suffrage Exhibit held in February 1913. It's all in Furies Cross the Mersey which you can read here on PDF for free or download for a pittance on Kindle for Amazon.



Fenwick Williams was only 30 years old in 1912, according to a travel document, but she was married in name only. She was estranged from her husband, who lived in New York. She lived in an apartment in the Golden Square Mile.

She worked as an author and journalist, but she clearly had family money. Her father was high up in the Montreal Stock Market. And she visited the UK in 1912 to work for the suffragettes. So she was a kind of Mole in the ultra-conservative Montreal Suffrage Association.

The headlines in the Montreal newspapers with regard to the UK suffragettes were often sensational.

Funny, the New York Times and the Montreal Gazette shared a news wire feed about the British suffragettes, but in 1913 there was a HUGE suffrage parade in New York, led by Inez Milholland on a horse carrying the colours of the WSPU. No such parade in Montreal, though.

Furies Cross the Mersey plays with this fact plotwise.


Headlines, I guess, can change how readers see the story.. (Imagine!)



Furies Cross the Mersey on Amazon.


Furies Cross the Mersey: A Story of 1912 (School Marms and Suffragettes Book 6)