Monday, July 20, 2015

Putting on the Ritz in the Suffragette Era


Suffragists would not have approved: In 1912/13 there were burlesque houses in Montreal.

Lately, I have spent a great deal of time poring over the Montreal Gazettes of the November 1912-January 1913 era, in search for information about one Caroline Kenney, militant suffragette from England, who was in Montreal living with her sister, Nell, in Verdun, and stirring up trouble with her speeches and activism.

You can read all about it in Furies Cross the Mersey on Amazon.com Kindle for a couple of dollars, or you can see a pdf here for free.


As it happens, two Montreal institutions were born in that period, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

They were wondering, in the newspapers, whether the new hotel should have a liquor license. There was a powerful temperance movement at that time, promoted mostly by Protestant Presbyterians and 'maternal' suffragists.

The Ritz did get a liquor license, though.

I found one of their first menus. Yummy. People ate out at 11.pm. After the theatre, I guess.



The Ritz got a liquor license in 1912 at the opening, but that didn't stop Society Types from instantly embracing the place. The Social Notes section of the Montreal Gazette for early 1913 reveals that ladies' tea parties are already being given at the new hotel.


This document was not in the Gazette. I found it on Ancestry.ca. It's the marriage certificate for Sarah Helen (Nell) Kenney, Caroline's older sister, and one Frank Randall Clarke, a 'journalist.' They were Brits who married in Montreal in 1909. Caroline and Nell were sisters of famous suffragette Annie Kenney. They were Lancashire Mill workers, from a large, large family. I put a scene with Nell, Frank and Caroline in Furies Cross the Mersey.

In the 1920's era, the Ritz became the favorite Montreal Hotel of David, the partying Prince of Wales. Up until then, the Windsor Hotel was where the British Royals stayed when touring in Montreal.

After David (Edward VIII) abdicated, his brother, Berty (George VI) sent back to the Windsor.

Here's a typical reception notice in the Gazette for the era. This lady, Mrs. Weller, was a staunch supporter of the Militant Suffragettes. This party was held the day Caroline Kenney arrived in Montreal, November 15, 1912. 

 Weller had given a party a few weeks before for another militant suffragette, Barbara Wylie. The press was invited and it was reported that the women attending Mrs. Weller's tea were not at all impressed by Miss Wylie and her militancy. 

Wylie claimed otherwise in a letter home to the WSPU. She said she sold out her copies of Votes for Women magazine!




  The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opened with much social fanfare as well, in 1913. In 1917 the main salon would be used to house a recruitment fair showcasing, instead of fine art, shiny saddles and guns and ammunition- all to impress the local teenage warrior-wannabe.