Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"I did not feel degraded." A woman votes for the first time in Canada


In honor of the 2015 Federal Election in Canada,  here are the two flyers from the first election Canadian election where women could vote, in 1921, Richmond, Quebec: one for a Mr. E. W.Tobin, the Liberal Candidate, and one for Azarie Lemire, the PC candidate.

The Liberal flyer says "The woman are particularly welcome to come and hear the issues of the day discussed."

The Conservative flyer says "French and English speakers."

Margaret's Nicholson's 1921 letter to her daughter re: her first time voting.

I only recently learned that Canadian women first got the vote in 1917 - during WWI. I was researching my ebook Furies Cross the Mersey, about the invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal.

That is only the widows, wives, sisters and daughters of men at the Front got the vote with the controversial Wartime Elections Act.

 Then in 1918 voting eligibility was expanded to most Canadian women. But, only in 1920 did all women, even those nasty 'unpatriotic' newcomers, get the vote.

(I don't feel bad about my prior ignorance.  I have a copy of my high school history book, Canada Then and Now, and there's no mention of this important event! Marguerite Bourgeoys Jeanne Manse are the only females mentioned, I think. Maybe Laura Secord, too.)


Margaret and her daughters. Suffragette supporters all! 1912

I am wondering how this felt for the Nicholson women of Richmond, Quebec, who had no men at the front. (Their only son/brother,out West, didn't sign up.)


They were Anglo Quebeckers and at least one article in the Gazette said they should be ashamed of themselves, more than French Quebeckers, because they had all the facts before them.



Ouch!

I have the Nicholsons 1914-1920 letters, but these missives  make no mention about how they feel about the controversial Wartime Elections Act.

There is some talk of conscription in the letters, with comments that "all the Frenchmen are up-in-arms."

Like many Canadians, the Nicholsons were against conscription.

Prime Minister Borden manipulated the  the women suffrage leaders of Canada, getting them to (seemingly) endorse  limited franchise for women in the Conscription Election of 1917 for purely selfish reasons. Most of them already had men at the Front.

 If there was a draft there would be more soldiers at the Front, so  any one mother's child already enlisted  would have less chance of dying in battle. So was the thinking back then.

The Nicholsons weren't of mainland British stock; they were of Isle of Lewis Scotland stock.

There were many people of Isle of Lewis Scot descent in Richmond, Quebec in the era.That's why the local newspaper printed this story no doubt, in 1916.


Here you can read how Margaret felt about voting for the first time, in 1921. She was thrilled. 

However, the ladies in her social circle had already thought up all the usual excuses NOT to vote.


Margaret, a long time suffragist, clearly made the effort to register to vote. In Montreal according to the reports, women in west end areas were more likely to register than in east end. (What a surprise! The west end was English, the east end French.)


Of course, in other provinces, it was easy to make a female electoral list, they already had one for the provincial elections.



Men were also ignorant of the electoral laws. Many turned up to vote on December 6  without proper certificates and were turned away.

Anyway, I am talking the wartime letters and fashioning them into a story Service and Disservice  involving the Canadian Suffragists,who were, for the most part, very conservative.

This will be a  follow up to my historical e-books Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster and Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13, which is both  a history lesson and an exercise in media-literacy.

I think I will start off  Service and Disservice in the Edinburgh cafe on Ste. Catherine Street West, across from St. James Methodist (and around the corner from McGill's Royal Victoria College for Women and near Birks Jewellers, the Henry Morgan Department Store and the Montreal Art Association Building ) a very female corner of town.

That's where the Montreal Suffrage Association kept their materials.

 According to a newspaper report, when an Association of Salesman and Publicity Men had its meeting there, the men read the material on the wall and decided to change the name of their group to the Association of Marketers and Publicity Persons so that women who might like to join wouldn't feel left out. (How so very 1970's of them!)

According to the article, one of the banners on the wall said "Equal suffrage = the Lowest Infant Mortality Rate" so it is clear the Montreal Suffrage Association was mostly a maternal org and not an equal rights org.

During WWI, The Montreal Suffrage Association also had a room across the street on University, where every Thursday night they did Red Cross work.

The Montreal Suffrage Association was one weird organization, from what I can see. I've closely consulted their minutes, stored at Montreal City Hall.

The MSA was spun off from the Montreal Council of Women in 1913, which makes no sense as the MCW was, by design, an umbrella organization of advocacy groups that had sprung up from the grass-roots.

But, hey, politics makes people do weird things. Especially during wartime.