Monday, July 27, 2015

Uig Carnish, the Navy League and Sun Life Insurance


A typewritten letter from Edith to her Mom from 1917.

(I feel more of a snoop printing this old letter than the handwritten letters of Tighsolas. At least it took me weeks and weeks to decipher the handwritten ones. I earned the right to post them.)

Only Flora and Marion Nicholson had nice handwriting. That's why I started with their letters from 1911. And then I figured out these letters chronicled Flora's first year at Macdonald College (only year as it happens) and that got me curious about ALL the letters.

Had I started with Edith's letters I might have given up and not have gone on to create Tighsolas or written School Marms and Suffragettes.


(Edith's writing. A real scrawl)

Typewriters? Remember those? In the typed letter at top letter Edith calls the typewriter a 'machine' although she refers to what she is doing as typewriting.

She apologizes for her mistakes. She has recently started working at Sun Life Insurance, obviously not as a typist.

As it happens I know she had been thinking of going to business college in Boston (Symons College?) right before she got this job (which she doesn't particularly like she writes in another letter.)

In 1906 she took a stenography course at St. Francis College High School and typed 45 words a minute. (I have the document testifying to her prowess.) When she first got this Sun Life job in October, Sun Life was in the old building on Notre Dame. 200 Employees she said.

This typewritten letter is significant for a number of things.

Edith writes "I came down here yesterday afternoon. Dr. Manson's Stenographer is on his holidays so for p practice  I am running the machine..."

Wait a sec! HIS holidays?? Dr. Manson's stenographer (a word often used for typists too) was a MALE. In 1917?  During the War?

Hmm.

So much for Rosie the Riveter, Women doing Men's work. Here we have a man doing woman's work.

Well, in those days, it was only the beginning of the pink collar ghetto. I guess businesses soon realized that women could do the same work for less money and the secretary was born.

Now, important men had their male secretaries well into the century, but these were assistants who didn't touch a keyboard.  Indeed, I was told by a woman who been offered the job of secretary  to a VERY prominent Montreal businessman that the man's female secretary was only a social secretary. She didn't want it, too boring.

And now, there are no more secretaries, they are called assistants, except there are few of those too. Everyone types their own emails. Even Four Star Generals, it seems. And  emails are not private at all, either. Less private than letters. Even for American four star generals.

Anyway, this letter was written from a building with a great view, where the Nicholson`s friend, Dr. Manson had his office and hired Flora for summer - and then she went to work at Sun Life, first on Notre Dame and then in the brand new Sun Life building, where Dr. Manson was a friend of the President. Connections. Connections.  (This Dr. Manson may have been a Doctor of Divinity.)

Edith writes: "The view from the office window is beautiful, the best with the exception of the Mountain I have seen in the City. It is such a treat to look up to the Mountain with its green trees and beautiful homes.  They look fresh and cool even on this hot frightfully day. (She meant frightfully hot.)

Now, Edith would have had a similar view walking up Greene from Westmount Methodist back in 1910. Indeed, you still have that view today - of upper Westmount. Maybe this office is in Westmount too.

I wonder what you see from the top of the first stage of the Sun Life Building Today.

Edith is playing around in Dr. Manson's office, likely because he is one of the Mansons the Nicholsons are always referring to, family friends in Richmond.

He  probably got her the job. Connections. Connections. (She was a teacher at St. Francis College in 1914-16, although she seems to have had a stint at the Wesleyan College in 1915.

I'm guessing about Dr. Manson, but it is an educated guess. In another letter she says Dr. Manson is going to talk to the President about getting her a raise.

Connections. Connections. Connections.

I have a number of 1917-1920 era letters from Edith on Sun Life stationery. It's very thick paper.

In one letter from January  1919 she writes about helping to  collect money (despite the fact the war is over) at a lecture by a famous officer, Captain Carpenter V.C. who was at Teebrugge. (He's going a tour of Canada.)

The girls sold autographs and photos and tie ribbons at his lecture at His Majesty's Theatre. The items went for 5.00 each and the girls had only 15 minutes at intermission but they made 615. dollars.

 The lecture is being illustrated with "Lantern Slides."

She is with the Navy League. So this explains this picture of Edith (second from right) in front of the Sun Life Building. The money was likely being collected for that organization.


Hmm. I'm starting to get jealous. Edith Nicholson, spinster, who worked hard all her life, but at first jumping from job to job, who lived through two World Wars and never saved a penny (largely because she had too major operations she had to pay for) who lived out her life in genteel poverty in Westmount and Richmond Quebec (says a niece) had a TERRIFIC life.

Maybe no sex (although I can see she had some boyfriends during the war) but a GREAT LIFE. And she had a family too, when she wanted, her sister Marion's kids.

And no Edwardian husband to slave over.

I've written Diary of a Confirmed Spinster about the 1910 era, where she lost her Great Love in the Rossmore Hotel Fire and now I am writing A Presbyterian in Paris, about her Paris Summer in 1928, but I'll have her flashback to the war, no doubt.

In the 1930's, the President of Sun Life sends Edith a self-published book about his roots at Uig Carnish in the Hebrides.