Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Toronto-centric Suffrage Studies


Here's a portrait of Flora MacDonald Denison, Canadian suffragette, from a Library of Congress website.

Many people come to my blog looking up "Flora Macdonald".

I have written a series of ebooks, Threshold Girl, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, Furies Cross the Mersey, about the 1910 era lives of Flora, Edith and Marion Nicholson of Richmond Quebec. Flora attended Macdonald College in 1910.

Flora's story Threshold Girl is about the the Two Solitudes and includes a garment industry and suffragette theme. In Quebec, French Canadians worked in the garment industry.

Mine is a Montreal and Quebec story, because I feel that story has largely been forgotten. (And besides, I'm using the Nicholson women's letters as background.)

Social History in Canada is pretty Toronto-centric.

(I am working on a follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, Service and Disservice, about the Canadian Suffrage Movement from 1914-1919, that will included Flora McD's story.

There are already people keeping Flora MacDonald Denison's memory alive (check out this YouTube video) and frankly I think Denison deserves to be in Prime Minister Harper's new Hall of Heroes in his Museum of Canadian History.

Over Barbara Wiley, the British Suffragette who came to Canada for two years (who I sarcastically nominated in an earlier post) and even over Carrie Derick, the head of the  Montreal Suffrage Association and also the first female full professor in Canada. (She was a Botanist at McGill but also a vocal supporter of Eugenics.)

I've re-discovered Mrs. Flora McD Denison (as it is written in the Canadian Council of Women minutes)researching whether Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the British Suffragettes, ever came to Montreal in the 1908-1913 period.

The official story is yes, Emmeline came, but only once in 1911. (I have yet to find a newspaper account of the meeting). She came to Toronto at least twice and it is Flora MacDonald Denison who brought her there as vocal leader of the Canadian Suffrage Association.

In her 1913 autobiography Pankhurst writes that she enjoyed Toronto because she was received by the Mayor.

A biography of Pankhurst says she came to Canada twice and in Toronto, on her first visit, spoke to the Men's Canadian Club in Toronto and at two other venues. She was well-received then.

As it happens, I stumbled upon a piece in a Montreal-based newspaper (a short lived on that appears to have been created to fight City Hall Corruption) that is most amusing.(The style of writing, once again, sounds suspiciously like Edward Beck, crusading journalist, and my grandfather's foe. Read Milk and Water.

Still, I also found this:


Well, Montreal was also in the grip of a Typhoid Epidemic in November 1909. So perhaps that is the reason Mrs. Pankhurst didn't come. Or perhaps it was the money. Pankhurst's many visits to North America (6 in total around 1910) were about raising money for the cause and for lawyers! She charged a pretty penny to speak -as the article above shows.

Anyway, there may have been also some secret visits. There are accounts of people meeting up with the Pankhursts on Atlantic crossings, one where Emmeline is travelling incognito.

The suffragettes had many Canadian connections and used them for all they were worth, no doubt.

Indeed, someone met Sylvia on a transatlantic voyage in 1912 and she said she was going to Montreal. That is the year Carrie Derick set up the non militant (or not militant or non militant) Montreal Suffrage Association.

Anyway, the Canadian Encyclopedia entry on Flora Macdonald Denison says that she had to quit as leader of the Canadian Suffrage League in 1914 because she was for the British Militants.

But many feminist leaders in Canada were for the militants as I've pointed out. (Even Miss Hurblatt, Warden of Royal Victoria College - a very prim and proper place.) They  were careful, though, about the language they used to frame their support.

I found another newspaper article where Denison is quoted as saying that the British Suffragettes have a right to shoot Asquith.  Not a smart thing to say. Maybe she never said it. Maybe she said it 'off the record.'

Anyway, Flora Macdonald Denison was a dressmaker who had worked at Simpson's and wanted to promote women in the workplace. So she wasn't one of the 'maternal' suffragettes who wanted to promote women as homemakers and turn men into women, behavior-wise.

This is from the Yearbook for 1913 of the Canadian Council of Women:

No, most Canadian Suffragists weren't concerned with getting women more rights, so that they could have physical and economic freedom. (The Nicholson women wanted this, though.)  They wanted rights so that they could put in laws to force men to follow the same moral standards as women, as in stop drinking, whoring and such.

Flora Macdonald Denison was a dressmaker, who had fallen on hard times and had to work for a salary, so she had 'hands-on experience' with the life of the worker, unlike most female do-gooders.  She also worked as a journalist.

I wondered if she had been the woman who had tried to get various Canadian ladies' groups to support the Eaton's workers strike in 1912. ( I put a scene in my School Marms and Suffragettes story about this.)

So I checked.

No, that was Alice A Chown, another Ontario Suffragette, who was leader of the Toronto Equal Franchise League, another pro suffrage group. Chown too is an interesting person, whose beliefs about suffrage were more 'forward looking.' She wrote a book in 1923 called the Stairway.

So I nominate Alice Chown with Flora Macdonald Denison for Harper's Hall of Heroes. (Chown was a pacifist in WWI and Denison a 'spiritualist.' Oh well!)

 And here follows an advertisement from the Toronto Council of Woman yearbook that says it all.

Feathers for your hat from 1.00 to 100.00!

100 dollars was the monthly salary of Norman Nicholson, Flora, Marion and Edith's father, who was working on the railroad. It was considered a good monthly salary and few men in Canada made that much, let alone women. (Edith earned 250 A YEAR as a teacher!!)