Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pitting Woman against woman in 1917 Canada

Hm. I am re-reading the paper Divided by the Ballot Box by Tara Brookfield, about the Montreal Council of Women and the Vote and WWI.

It's a wonderful article (printed in the Canadian Historical Review) but I have one issue with it.

The author believes that the Montreal Council of Women embraced the French Fact and I am not so sure.

In fact, she tells how the Montreal Council supported the Reform Candidate in the Montreal Civic Elections of 1910 and 1912 and this, in my opinion, supports my point, from everything I have learned researching my story Milk and Water about Montreal City Hall at the turn of the last century and into the 1920's.

And another thing Brookfield claims strikes me as iffy:that the Montreal Suffrage Association included Francophones and Anglophones.


 But, everyone on the executive, from what I see, was English, including Dr. Symonds of Christ Church Cathedral, who at the inaugural session in April 1913, talked about St. Paul and all that stuff...In a 1911 Tighsolas Letter Margaret Nicholson recounts an argument she has with her Uncle Alex and she says he brings up St. Paul and she says, "Times have changed" exactly echoing Symond's speech at this 1913 session.

And the McGill Connection. All those Medical People from McGill promoting suffrage. A Francophone book I consulted claims the Association was made up mostly of McGill Professors and students. Sure enough, Mrs. Hurblatt, the Warden of McGill's Royal Victoria (Women's) College  was a big supporter of suffrage in Montreal.

(Anyway, I have no indication in the Nicholson letters about how "the girls" felt about this Suffrage Act, and not being able to vote (I suspect humbled, subdued, and maybe humiliated but still safely in Laurier's camp)  although I will go back and re-read them.

 In one letter from 1916 Marion tells her mom Margaret  that her Mother In Law, Madame Blair, is railing against conscription (She's a French Speaking Scot from Quebec) "as if her sons are the only  ones who will have to go." I don't know if Marion feels secure in the fact that her husband, Hugh,is not likely to be drafted, as he is older, 38, and is married with children. )

Below, I've transcribed the bit about the Dominion Franchise War Time Act from the 1918 yearbook of the National Council of Women. According to Brookfield, the President NCW was consulted by Borden before he implemented his great big idea so no wonder they liked it!

Yes, there's a reason Canada has no National Suffrage Myth! Because the first Canadian women's vote cleverly pitted one group of Canadian women against another group, preying on their natural instincts in the most cynical way.

"No thinking person doubts the complete success of suffrage for Canadian women. Our nation has discovered how much it needs the co-operation and actual work of women in war, as well as in peace; and it is safe to say that never again will women be relegated to the unequal economic and political position that women occupied before the war. Canadians can point with pride to Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Ontario as holding high the torch light, while the "Dominion Franchise War Time Act" gives Dominion franchise to all women who have fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons who are on active service, or who have made the supreme sacrifice.

At first the "Dominion Franchise Act" which extended the vote only to mothers, wives, daughters, widows and sisters, who had relations  at the front, or whose relatives had died or been honorably discharged from service was not appealing to the majority of suffragists, especially in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Alberta. (Editor: Why did they write that?)

It was thought that the women of Canada were being defrauded of their just rights and surely the same interpretation should be given as exists in our criminal code -where men and women stand on an equal basis.

However, the preparations for, and the election in December convinced many that the Military Service Act, like the shield, possessed its golden and silver side.

Among the supporters and workers were women who were not cognizant of the underlying principles of this reform. Women, who were formerly mainly attracted by social and financial allurements - and the still humorous spectacle of our ant-suffrage friends making speeches on the necessity and importance of women voting; while other anti-suffragists took to the polls, and acted as scrutineers at the different polling subdivisions, these facts were the last convincing straw."