Monday, July 20, 2015

The Humiliation of Miss Carrie Derick, McGill Botanist


 Carrie Derick
 Emmeline Pankhurst
 Ethel Hurlbatt

In  1912/13, McGill Botanist Carrie Derick, Canada's first female full-time professor, was listed in the University Calendar after Mrs.Ethel Hurlbatt, Warden of Royal Victoria College, under OTHERS and not with the other McGill Professors.

Carrie Derick had been appointed a full-professor of Botany in June 1912, but she had been told by President Peterson that it was a 'courtesy appointment.'

This sad fact will have to go into my story, Furies Cross the Mersey, about the Montreal Suffragettes of the 1912/13 era, where I have two RVC students get into trouble trying to start a suffrage march, an act that would have been characterized in Montreal at the time as 'militant' and against the law.

Practically the ONLY suffrage headlines published in the Montreal newspapers were about Pankhurst and her WSPU's  acts of civil disobedience, threats of big violence, and acts of small violence.

From what I can see, Hurlbatt, Warden of RVC, was a suffrage supporter and closet suffragette supporter. Carrie Derick was too. Derick described British suffragists in the press as 'moderate' and the militant suffragettes as 'more advanced.'

In January 1912, after Mrs. Pankhurst's December 1911 speech in Montreal, Hurlbatt announced at the executive meeting of the Montreal Council of Women that she would offer 'citizenship' classes for anyone interested. (Her students?) Citizenship courses were code for woman suffrage classes in those days.

It was the Citizenship Committee of the Montreal Council of Women that mounted the February 1913 Woman's Suffrage Exhibit.

According to the minutes of the Montreal Council of Women, only one person signed up, and Mrs. Hurlbatt announced at the next Executive Meeting that she was giving up her suffrage activities on the Council due to 'work conflict'.

At the time I first read this in the minutes I assumed Hurlbatt quit because her pride was hurt. But now I suspect something different, something more political.

That's because, right around then the Montreal Gazette published an editorial calling Women's Universities "Suffragette Factories."

All this most probably  no coincidence. RVC was the only Women's College in Montreal.

At the same January 1912 post-Panhurst meeting of the Montreal Council of Women, it was moved to start a suffrage association, 'to keep the interest in suffrage alive',  although Thérèse Casgrain in her 1972 autobiography claimed that Pankhurst's 1911 speech mostly inspired negative feelings on the Montreal street.

It took over  a year for the new organization to be born, and this interim period is when my own Furies Cross the Mersey story unfolds.

As it happened, militant suffragette Barbara Wylie visited Montreal in September 1912 and perhaps spoke to RVC students. A lot happened during this year including a fight between militants and non-militants for control of the suffrage conversation in the city.

When the new 'sweet' and  'reasonable' Montreal Suffrage Association was finally launched on April 1913, Carrie Derick was appointed President although, it was claimed, she took on the post reluctantly.

Carrie Derick had been President of the Montreal Council of Women from 1909 to late 1911.

It was Derick who proposed a motion at a Montreal Council meeting (in October 1911)  to have Pankhurst come to speak to Montrealers on their behalf  "So that we can hear the other side of the question."

But it was the next  MCW President, Dr. Ritchie England, who picked up Pankhurst at the train station in December 1911 and got snapped by the photographer from the Montreal Star.

This same 1909-1912  period was when Derick was de-facto Chair of the McGill Botany Department, helping out the ailing Chair, at first, and then taking over for him after his death in 1910

Derick clearly was a woman of high energy.

But in June 1912, McGill appointed an American as Chair of the Department, over Derick, who was expecting the appointment - as unprecedented as it was.

Dean Walton of the McGill Law School lobbied the other McGill Governors on her behalf but to no avail. I will postulate in my story that her suffrage advocacy was the reason why she wasn't hired as Chair with 3,000 salary.

It's not such a stretch. Suffrage was a very controversial issue in Montreal in 1912/13, even at McGill.

Dean Walton would be appointed Honourary Vice President of the new Montreal Suffrage Assocation.

He would talk at the inaugural meeting of the Montreal Suffrage Association, saying "Only imbeciles lunatics  and women didn't have the vote."

Funny, Margaret Gillett, in We Walked Very Warily, her book about women at McGill,  says Hurlbatt said the same thing.

I have to revisit the minutes of the Montreal Council from 1910-1913, but especially for 1912, to remind myself exactly what was happening at that time...for my story.

(I had notes, but they are locked inside a broken hard-drive.)

I just realized Derick's McGill drama must be part of my suffragette story.

While two naive young girls try to start a parade in imitation of the Americans (not realizing how different politics are in Montreal) Derick will be humiliated at McGill - being told by the President that her full professorship is only 'a courtesy' post - and one without a seat on Faculty to be  listed in the McGill Calendar under the Warden of RVC (who did have excellent education qualifications).

I can only speculate about how Miss Derick felt at the time.I guess I also will have to speculate about the relationship between Dean Walton and Derick.

It's sad about Derick's courtesy posting. My research reveals that she was a savvy politico.

During the 1917 Conscription Crisis she steered her Suffrage Association clear of all controversy while  Dr. Ritchie England, a brilliant woman of principle,  had her name dragged through the mud for supporting Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

Miss Carrie Derick understood Montreal (and Quebec) politics and she had a most modern way of playing with words, of 'spinning' events in the press.

The only 'taint' against Derick is her support of eugenics, but then McGill was eugenics central in the 1910 era. That part of her resume would have been a big plus, I imagine.

Furies Cross the Mersey