Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Place for Women in the Big, Bad City

The inscription under the statue of Edward VII in Phillip's Square, Montreal. Here's a video of the place.

Funny, we don't really look at statues or monuments. They are a kind of 3-D wallpaper. And we only read the inscriptions when we are tourists, or thinking of making a documentary.

I went to Phillip's Square a while back to 'scout' some images for my documentary on the Montreal Suffragists. 

"Phillip's Square is ground-zero of the Montreal Suffrage Movement," I said to my husband, who came along with the dog. He's the professional news editor, but he would have preferred to stay home on his day off and paint the moulding on our stairwell.

If he had been listening  he might have asked, "Does that mean there was a famous rally or riot there?"

And the answer would have been NO. An unequivocal NO.

Montreal suffragists in the 1910 era didn't rally or riot or march, they wrote letters, rented booths at events and had open houses at their various headquarters, always near Phillip's Square. UPTOWN it was called in those days. 

 (And theirs was not a populist movement, all members of the Montreal Suffrage Association (which had been spun off from the Montreal Council of Women) had to be nominated by a member of the Executive and approved by the Executive.)

As as I have written before on this blog, Phillip's Square was the women's square with its churches, department store, Birks jewelers and the Montreal Art Association Building.. (A new art gallery would be built on Sherbrooke in 1913, I believe.)

Now, were I doing a radio show for BBC Radio Four, where they care about history, I would approach this statue and inquire about the 4 different statues at the base.  Are these Amazon women suffragettes? No of course not. They are a group of women symbolizing our four founding nations, apparently.

Actually, this statue symbolizes prosperity. I figured with the cornucopia.

These women are our four founding nations..

A beautiful face, for sure. But has anyone really looked closely?

Anyway, on that topic. I recently bought the bio of Thérèse Casgrain, suffragist icon in Quebec, to see what she said about her early days in the movement. 

In the bio, written in 1972, she says that it was in 1917 after she had helped her husband win his Liberal seat in the infamous Conscription Election (the subject of my documentary) that she was approached by Julia Parker Drummond and Carrie Derick (who were both associated with the Montreal Suffrage Association). She said she soon was off to Ottawa to give a speech.

The book I bought second-hand happened to contain a 1974 Maclean's article about her where it says that it was only after the 1921 Election, where she helped her husband, that she was approached by a group of suffragists to join the battle. (So history gets 'rewritten' from the beginning... or is it just a mistake by Macleans?)

Hmm. Interesting. The 1974 article suggests or implies it was in 1921 that Casgrain got her start in advocacy, but it does not preclude that she got introduced earlier to the same suffragists. Words are like that, they can be slippery. 

It might seem a silly point, but frankly, I was surprised that she had anything to do with the Montreal Suffrage Association as that group of women had had an open argument in the press with Mayor Martin over the proposed Montreal Tramways Contract.. and she was a Forget who benefited from said 40 year contract. (And besides, these MSA women  were kinda racist  or should I say, very much into "social hygiene" a loaded concept. They had a number of Protestant churchmen on their board.)

As I wrote earlier, the membership book of the Montreal Suffrage Association does not include her name and she is never mentioned in the minutes..although, I believe her husband, Pierre, is mentioned as a potential speaker.

St. James Methodist, near Phillip's Square, where the National Council of Women held its AGM in May 1913 and where Mrs. Snowden, moderate suffragist, spoke (again) perhaps in front of Edith Nicholson, who was sorry she wasn't a militant. All this is in my ebook Furies Cross the Mersey.  Here's a free pdf copy. Funny, I just found a bit from a 1913 International Suffrage Bulletin, describing this event. It claims that St James Methodist is the biggest church in Montreal (maybe) and that Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, is the first woman Chair of a University Department. Not quite. She was turned down for the position of Chair of Botany at McGill in June, 1912 and given a courtesy appointment as full professor instead. It's all in Furies Cross the Mersey

Me and another statue, more famous. Location, location, location. 1992 fountain, a newbie.

The Montreal Herald Building. The Montreal Suffrage Association held one meeting in the place, in October 1913,  when they were friendly with Edward Beck, Editor, who allowed them to write up a special suffrage section in his newspaper in November 1913.

The MSA and Beck  soon fought over who was to pay for the section.

 In return for the favour, the Montreal Council of Women came out against the Montreal Tramways Deal with a formal resolution...a deal  BECK despised and condemned in a huge one page rant in the newspaper, where he claimed certain Montreal Newspaper factions were corrupt and in the grip of City Hall.