Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Suffrage in Canada - a Tangled Web

A Statue of Mme Gerin Lajoie and Idola St Jean (I think)



The minutes from the first meeting  1922 of La Ligue des droits de la femme, the bilingual group assembled to win the vote for Quebec women at the provincial level. That would take 18 years!


As I start my story Sister Salvation, about the 1912/1913 Montreal Suffrage Movement, the British Invasion (at the time) of British Militant Suffragettes and about Carrie Derick's drama at McGill - fighting for respect and a place at the faculty table, I'm creating little charts in my head.

Carrie Derick is tied to both the Montreal Council of Women and McGill, where she fights with Principal Peterson and Dr. George Adami of the Pathology Department.  Her allies are Dean Walton of the Law Faculty and Dean Moyse of the Arts Faculty.

The Montreal Council  of Women fights with Adami (who is on the Civic Improvement League) and with  most of French City Hall who they see as corrupt and, more importantly, as too lenient on prostitution and drink.

Would be militant Montreal suffragists battle with 'constitutional' suffragists, who in Montreal could be called 'educational' suffragists because they feel it is their job to educate the people with an orderly distribution of books, pamphlets and brochures, (no inflammatory flyers) and not to get attention in the press with marches and protests and public speeches.

Mrs. Hurlbatt - a member of the MCW -  makes woman suffrage a priority for the club in 1909. She sympathizes with the British Militants (she's from London herself) but she can't be too open about it because she is Warden of the very conservative Royal Victoria College at McGill, the women's college.


And so on. It's all very complicated.

The sign-ins at the first meeting of La Ligue. The Mr. Hague is a banker, the father- in- law of the lady whose father died at Changi and whom I interviewed for my WWII play  Looking for Mrs. Peel. Ritchie England (a McGill Donalda, or pioneering co-ed)  survived a 1919 impeachment trial and was a party to this organization, a good thing as her thinking was more in line with the French-Canadians.) Marie Gerin-Lajoie, was first President.

In 1912 the Montreal Council of Women decided to 'spin off' the Montreal Suffrage Association "to keep the interest in suffrage alive"after a December 1911 speech at Windsor Hall  by Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, despite the fact there wasn't that much interest in suffrage on the Montreal street and any interest that existed was mostly negative.

The MCW's  key focus with respect to to the women's vote had been  getting the spinster vote out in Municipal Elections in an all-out effort to clean up corrupt City Hall.

It worked in 1910 when the MCW got their candidate elected Mayor, Jean James Guerin, a doctor. It didn't work too well in February 1912...Guerin was out...only  a few of their candidates got in.

With the Montreal Suffrage Association, the ladies of the MCW could lobby freely for the Federal Vote while keeping the issue at arm's length.

Not all the MCW's 40 member organizations supported woman suffrage. Indeed, just 'several' of them appeared to. Several is how many of the MCW's member organization agreed to send around a suffrage petition in 1912.  (What is several =5 or 6, maybe?)


Dr. Adami, Cambridge educated McGill pathologist and supporter of Eugenics, like Carrie Derick.

In 1912, Dr. Adami of McGill, President of the Civic Improvement League, did not like the idea of woman suffrage and he waged open war in the press with the Montreal Council of Women over what organization was to head the October Child Welfare Exhibit.

He also crashed an Executive Meeting of the Montreal Council in 1912 and said "All you care about is suffrage."

The suffrage issue was not showcased at the Child Welfare Exhibit; the Montreal Suffragists held a Woman Suffrage Exhibit six months later in February, which proved a success if sales of literature are any measure. They made $300.00.

So, the Montreal Suffrage Association was launched in late April 1913 (with proceeds from the February exhibit)  promising at the press conference to be 'sweet' and 'reasonable.'

The MSA Board was announced: it was made up of Council ladies, clergyman and McGill profs like Carrie Derick and Dean Walton. At the presser, two clergymen openly denounced the British Suffragettes, one of them  saying it would be better if they died in jail.

Mumbles of  "No. No" were heard in the audience.

Mrs. Hurlbatt, Miss Cartwright (gym teacher) and Miss Cameron (English teacher) of R.V.C. immediately signed up to be members. Miss Cameron later got her named scratched off the membership register.

But WWI soon broke out and Woman Suffrage took a back seat to more important war effort.

The Child Welfare Exhibit's name was changed to the Baby Welfare Exhibit. (After all, male 'children' were being sent to the Front to be killed.)

The Montreal Council of Women and their President Dr. Ritchie England got into a lot of hot water in 1918 for actively supporting Wilfrid Laurier in the 1917 Conscription Election. Laurier did not support Conscription without a national wide referendum. .

In 1917, there was a frenzy among some of the National Council of Women leaders to get the Conscription Bill through. Prime Minister Borden cleverly pitted woman against woman, suffragist against suffragist, getting them to fall back on their principles, preying on their fears for their own men at the front.

 It was a somewhat shameful episode in the history of Canadian women's rights. Only women with close relatives at the Front, husbands, brothers or sons, got to vote federally in 1917 and because of his alliance with the leadership of certain pan-Canadian suffrage groups Borden was able to say 'all the women of Canada agreed.'

Dr. Ritchie England (President of the Montreal Council of Women) stood by her principles in the perilous era and suffered for it. (Or she didn't quite understand what was going on.)

In 1918 most Canadian women won the vote (so WWI accomplished that at least) and the Montreal Suffrage Association moved to disband in 1919, with only a few members in attendance at the meeting in question.

Someone complained about this in the Gazette. (I suspect it was Mrs. Fenwick Williams, the one abstainer in the group at the meeting.)

And then this organization, La Ligue des droits de la femme was organized, with a 50/50 English/ French membership, it was written right into the Constitution.

So, with the launch of the MSA in 1913, certain pro-suffrage, anti-militant forces got to shake off a few undesirables (some earlier suffrage advocates had gone about it in bull-headed fashion, not understanding the complexities of Quebec politics) and control the suffrage debate in the city.

And it was all repeated in 1919.

The fact is, there was very little that was democratic about the suffrage movement in Montreal in 1910-1919. And it was more about municipal politics, Protestant values including social purity and  temperance. But that doesn't mean it was all bad.


A weird cartoon about suffrage in the Montreal Herald. Poor women (lobbying for vote) are pointing at a rich woman as if accusing her of something.

It was the richer women who lobbied for the vote, in their efforts to 'protect' poorer women and children, at least from what I can see.