Sunday, July 26, 2015

Purity and Carrie Derick of Montreal

Some non-toxic cleanser I like to use since I am more afraid of chemicals than of dirt these days. But I am a Liberal. 

In the online Yale Course, Moralities of Everyday Life it is explained that in 'laboratory' conditions, people become meaner in their attitudes if they are first exposed to something they find disgusting, a smell or picture.  So the 'disgust' reflex can distort moral thinking. The lab also reveals that Liberals have a greater disgust tolerance than Conservatives.

So I guess it follows that if someone on a jury has bad breath or BO or stinky socks, the jury is more likely to convict. (I'm saying that, not the course.)



A few years ago I bought and read the social history book, Light, Soap and Water by Marianne Valverde, a Canadian criminologist.

It was interesting but it contained little I didn't already know.

After all, I had been researching the life of three women in 1910 Canada and so I knew all about 'the purity movement.'

Funny, Valverde says in her preface that many scholars took exception to her book, which shows the dark and dirty side of that era's feminist movement.

I mean, you just have to flip though the women's magazines of the 1910 era to see that something's up. Every second product is described as pure, including Ivory Soap, but also Crisco.

I've written a great deal about the topic on my blog here, pure water, pure air, pure homes (which means pure women as men cannot be expected to be pure.)

This little bit from Food and Cookery Magazine, says it all. I put it at the beginning of Threshold Girl.

"Give us a healthy home full of intellectual activity where the homely virtues prevail. Where complete honesty and frankness have free expression. Where the lungs expand with pure air, and the brain quivers with wholesome aspiration and sincere inquiry. Where souls bask in contentment and the sunshine of purity and peace.

This past month, however, I've expanded my understanding of the issue by taking an online course from Yale called Moralities of Everyday Life.
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Apparently, morality can be divided into five categories: be fair, do no harm, respect authority, be loyal to your group and stay pure. These categories evolved as survival mechanisms, including the last, purity/divinity.

 Love Cosmetics in the early 70's made sex 'fresh' while playing on the double entendre and using phallic shaped containers. I wanted some so so bad!

Our Urge to Purge evolved from our need to eat what we could without getting poisoned, the Omnivore's Dilemma.

We are all grossed out by other people's effluvia. (Indeed, many of us gag at the thought of our significant others using our toothbrush when it really makes no sense, all considered.)

The prof in the course says the first four categories have served humanity well but the last has let us down: we use the excuse of purity to do really really bad things to other people.

Hence the 1910's purity movement where the Protestants tried to make everyone else become like them, so that immigrants, the darker, Catholic ones who lived crammed in ghettos were seen as 'dirty' and consequently less close to God.  These people really did believe the saying "Cleanliness is next to godliness."

It wasn't exactly ethnic cleansing, unless you considered the very popular ideas on eugenics.


(Food could be tainted in and around 1900, so the purity movement had its roots in something rational. In the Victorian era, lead was often used as filler in foods and since it tasted sweet people liked it. (I admit, I liked the smell of leaded gasoline fumes in the 1960's although I knew better than to inhale on purpose.)

My personal problem with the purity movement (apart from the periodic ethnic cleansing horror shows of history) is that it is totally one-sided when it comes to sex.

Christabel Pankhurst said it best in a book a long time ago:

"This book deals with what is commonly described as the Hidden Scourge, and is written with the intention that this scourge shall be hidden no longer, for if it were to remain hidden, then there would be no hope of abolishing it.

Men writers for the most part refuse to tell what the Hidden Scourge is, and so it becomes the duty of women to do it.

The Hidden Scourge is sexual disease,which takes two chief forms — syphilis and
gonorrhoea. These diseases are due to prostitution —they are due, that is to say, to sexual immorality. But they are not confined to those who are immoral. Being contagious, they are communicated to the innocent, and especially to wives. The infection of innocent wives in marriage is  justly declared by a man doctor to be "The crowning infamy of our social life."

The sexual diseases are the great cause of physical, mental, and moral degeneracy, and of race suicide. As they are very widespread (from 75 to 80 per cent, of men becoming infected by gonorrhoea, and a considerable percentage, difficult to ascertain precisely, becoming infected with syphilis), the problem is one of appalling magnitude.

To discuss an evil, and then to run away from it without suggesting how it may be
cured, is not the way of Suffragettes, and in the following pages will be found a proposed cure for the great evil in question. That cure, briefly stated, is Votes for Women and Chastity for Men."


St Paul has been blamed for this, but some scholars believe he was an equal opportunity aesthete back in the time (wanting men and women to remain sexually untouched) and that his beliefs were distorted to conform more to the Greco-Roman way of managing a household.

Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Council of Women 1909-1912, President of the Montreal Suffrage Assocation 1913-1919.

The Montreal Council of Women was pivotal in getting out the 'spinster' vote and getting the (mostly English) Reform Ticket in at (mostly French) Montreal City Hall. It didn't last long. But before that Derick wrote this a self-congratulatory piece for the White Ribbon Magazine the WCTU's magazine saying:


Self-seeking and dishonor, which would have been scorned in private life, long characterized the Municipal Government of Montreal. The citizens appeared to be indifferent or helpless, allowing corrupt officials to display open disregard of the right principles. Occasionally, the social conscience stirred and led to efforts to secure civic reform. Associations and leagues to purify the administration of Municipal affairs sprang into being and died..



 Hmm. Purify the Administration.