Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Women Suffrage and Municipal Politics, a Montreal Combo

Gazette advertisement for Mederic Martin, 1928, the election he lost that ended my own grandfather's career as Director of City Services.

My two stories Milk and Water (about Montreal in the 1927, during American Prohibition) and Furies Cross the Mersey (about the British Invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13) come together in 1914, the first year of WWI.

Read a PDF of Furies her for free on the cloud.

This is very clear from the notes I took at the National Library of Quebec of the Minutes of the Montreal Council of Women from 1909-1918.

Once again, in 1914, the MCW was getting involved in the Municipal Elections, but this time their French sister association, La Fédération St Jean Baptist, bowed out.

It's right there in my notes.

Fed Nationale will not canvas for women’s votes

A letter from Carrie Derick to Marie Gerin-Lajoie, years later in 1922. Gerin would soon drop out of suffrage advocacy, prompted by her Monsigneur. Of course, Canadian women had the Federal vote at that time, but Quebec women could not vote in their own provincial elections until 1940.


La Fédération, under Marie Gerin-Lajoie,  had been involved in getting the women's vote out in city elections since 1904. at least. I saw this in my ramblings through that organization's FONDS at the National Library of Quebec.

(These Fédération files contain all kinds of interesting information about those times, including a few letters of appreciation from first time women voters to Gerin-Lajoie.

Her personal fonds are full of rich detail, including her handwritten speeches. The fonds of the Montreal Council are interesting too, but picked cleaner, vetted and culled.

The Fonds of the Montreal Suffrage Association, 1913-1919,available at City Hall, are ultra-clean, wiped of all their personality, likely by Carrie Derick herself, who served as President. I know for a fact she still had all the files on her in the 1930's. It can be said, I guess,  that the French minutes are very Catholic and the English minutes more Protestant.)

According to these Minutes of the Council, Montreal spinsters with property won the municipal vote in 1892.

This favorable feminist fact eventually led to the Montreal Council of Women getting heavily involved in the 1910 municipal elections in Montreal, (even renting special typewriters to make comprehensive lists of eligible women voters) where they helped an English reform  faction led by Mayor John James Guerin, an Anglo doctor, get elected.

The Montreal Council ladies  were elated with the 1910 result. The minutes describe their efforts as "a great national work."

More from my notes:

Congratulations to Federation Nationale and WCTU. 

The work was magnificent. No one could have done it alone.

But working together with a united front and securing the cooperation of the St. Jean Baptiste.  By showing how important the interests, every ward was covered.


This led the Montreal Council of Women in 1910 to endorse Women Suffrage in general (an issue they were deliberating) even if no formal resolution was passed.

The minutes say "It was found that the MCW was in favor of women's suffrage and could vote as such at the National meetings in Montreal."



Two years later, in 1912 the Council once again got involved in the City Elections, but the Reform Ticket lost this time.

During this same period the organization was big into promoting suffrage, hosting militant suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst and Barbara Wylie.

Dr. Ritchie England, new President of the Montreal Council of Women, taking over from Carrie Derick, meets Emmeline at the Montreal train station. This pic is from Margaret Gillette's We Walked Very Warily about Women at McGill.


After Emmeline's December 1911 speech, the Men's Committee of St. Andrew's church denied their rooms to the Montreal Council of Women for meetings. (That's in the minutes, too.)

Then came the 1914 election where the French Women's groups bowed out. La Fédération had been the first to get involved in civic politics and now they were dropping the ball. Why was this? Was it because of sticky French-English politics? But, of course.

In 1914, the Montreal Council passed a resolution officially condemning a contentious tramways deal that benefitted certain industrialists, including the French Forget's. (My grandfather was a Forget, so part of the gang.)

 Earlier on, in late 1913,  the Executive of the MCW had sent Mayor Martin a letter about the contract and he didn't reply. Instead he mocked them in the press. He called the good ladies 'idlers'. This was a mistake. He later had to retract.

In November 1913, the newly formed Montreal Suffrage Association published a special suffrage issue in the Montreal Herald newspaper, whose editor, Edward Beck, despised this 40 year deal.

Beck likely pushed them to pass a later resolution condemning the contract, an area which really had nothing to do with Child Welfare, Social Purity and Woman Suffrage, issues they traditionally cared about.

The MCW minutes from the era contain another funny mention.  Apparently Mayor Martin (who would still be Mayor in 1927, the time of Milk and Water) wrote the MCW a letter of apology, sort of.

The minutes claim:


A letter was received and read from Mayor Martin regarding their letter re: tramways. Hilarity ensued and some indignation as the secretary only received the answer after an appeal in the Press.

Mrs. McNaughton says that the letter begins with an untruth and ends with an insult.

 In November 1913 the Council sent out 200 invitations to a lecture on The Essentials of Good Civic Government, to be held at McGill's Royal Victoria College. According to the minutes, the event was poorly attended.

The Montreal Council of Women thought this candidate in 1914 was a good one. My notes again:


Stephens a good governance candidate. Playground and parks and ensure women have say in public life.

Public health and hygiene.. bureau of info and complaints.. regulation of transportation question.

11,000 women voters. To the women voter supreme importance of the vote, especially THIS YEAR.

Why 'especially this year?' I wonder.

Well, anyway, in 1918, Dr. Grace Ritchie England, President of the Montreal Council of Women, would suffer an impeachment hearing over her support of Laurier during the Conscription Election.

War is a messy business and the MCW got messed up big time in the politics of WWI in Montreal and Quebec, where Borden gave the vote only to women with male relations actively engaged in the big fight.

The MCW tried to weasel of out of this mess by saying they were  a non-political body.... When someone suggested that they had been involved with the Municipal elections for years, their answer was, "That isn't about politics, that is about good governance."

Oh what a tangled web we weave....when first we practice to deceive.