Friday, August 7, 2015

Suffragettes: the militant, the constitional, the maternal, the equal rights kind

A list of members of the Montreal Suffrage Association. I snapped it because this is where Therese Casgrain's name would have been, so I thought. But she married in 1917 so I should have snapped the page for Forget. (I don't believe she was a member, although her autobiography says she was sent out in 1917 to meet the Provincial Prime Minister.)


I'm getting down to writing my play, except after a few stabs at an opening scene I realize I need to do more research.

I need to look at the entire list of members of the Montreal Suffrage Association to see who these women were. I can cross reference with the 1911 and 1921 census and also McGill yearbooks. Lots of work.

This page above has the only two listing for people living at Royal Victoria College, and one is crossed out (I can't make out name here) and the other is Miss Cartwright, the phys ed teacher.

I'm guessing that of the 200 or so names, most are Mrs. Blah Blah as in someone's wife, although likely many members are former McGill students, and the Misses are "Old Maid" teachers.. like the Brittains.

Isabel Brittain taught at the Montreal High School for Girls. She was a Donalda.

My latest research into early education for Women in Montreal, using mostly McGill theses, makes it quite clear that these McGill university educated women high-jacked the suffrage movement in Montreal.

So there is some truth to the claim (in a French book) that  the Montreal Suffrage Association was made up of mostly McGill Professors and their students.

But these members were all  FORMER students, I suspect. I do not believe that any young women (at RVC or elsewhere) were encouraged to join the Montreal Movement.

A WWII story about Kathleen B. Courtney, where she is described as a former suffragette.  It was popular in the 40's for women to say they were former suffragettes, but not so much in the 30's.

A former President of the Montreal High School for Girls, Miss Catherine Mackenzie, claims in a 1956 article that she was a former suffragette who went out on marches and even  carried a banner.

This Miss  Mackenzie must have been from England. No marches were held in Montreal.  

No, I looked her up. 

She's Canadian. Born in Montreal. With a BA 1904 from McGill. So what was she doing in 1913? I can't find her on the 1911 or 1921 censuses.

From this 1956 article I can tell she was born 1883, the same year as Edith Nicholson, my husband's great aunt and a militant suffragette supporter.

Mackenzie would have been 19 or 20 at graduation. 

Her first teaching assignment was at Aberdeen School.  (Found that in another article.)

Like Marion Nicholson, Edith's younger sister,  she went on to become President of the PAPT Teacher's Union. Upon her retirement, she did a lot of public speaking. 

(Marion Nicholson died before she could retire and become a public speaker of note!)

More important,  Catherine Mackenize  was a charter member of the Themis Club, a social group for female McGill graduates (started in 1914) and she also founded the University Women's Club in the 1920's. 

How very interesting! 

 I must check if she ever signed up to became a member of the Montreal Suffrage Association. 

She was a very likely choice for the Board.  Miss Brittain was a member.

 If Mackenzie didn't sign up... well...then there's a real story about a would be militant right here and I don't have to make anything up!

Maybe the Themis club was started as a suffrage group. Who knows?

The suffrage debate in Montreal was deemed either too controversial or too 'exciting' for the impressionable young women. Like Edith Nicholson of Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, these young women might have found Mrs. Pankhurst's militants inspiring and wanted to go out and march!

This page has two people from St. Lambert. St. Lambert, if I recall, was over-represented on this entire list. I wonder why.

Franck Randall Clarke and his wife, Sarah (Nell) lived there. Nell was the older sister of Annie Kenney, famous militant suffragette from England.

Caroline Kenney, another militant-trained sister, came to live with her in Montreal in 1913 and stirred up trouble for a short while.

But this is not the same Clarke (even if they spelled the name wrong.) A relation?  It's all weird, because the Montreal Suffrage Association proclaimed itself 'sweet' and 'reasonable' and non-militant although the elite women on the Board undoubtedly sympathized with Mrs. Pankhurst.

Christabel Pankhurst wrote a couple of paragraphs for the M.S.A. for a special suffrage edition of the Montreal Herald Newspaper in November 1913.

I recently found another scholarly paper about the Canadian suffragists and their fear of being labelled "militant".

This paper was published in the International Women's Studies International Forum and is called "Uptake and Genre:The Canadian reception of British Militancy." It is by Katje Thieme.

However, it is rather obscure piece, a linguistics paper, so I didn't understand much upon  first reading. Thieme acknowledges the influence of  the sensational newspaper reports in Canada about the militant suffragettes.

That's all the people read about. But the suffrage movement in England was much broader and much wider.

(In fact, I found a 1916 article online where a British suffragist of the Constitutional kind says she visited 'her friend' the Dean of McGill's Women's college (Miss Hurlbatt) to talk about the British movement. "All they know over there is Pankhurst and Snowden." So true!!)

This Thieme paper says, in a very academic way, what I've been saying here: That the British militant suffragettes were very concerned with image.

But even if they dressed pretty and looked lady-like their methods were very masculine - and that is what freaked everyone out at the time.

Anyway, my job is to take the subject and make it accessible to everyone, in a play about two RVC students who try to organize a suffrage march in 1913 in Montreal, just as the Montreal Suffrage Association is getting going.

I must show, not tell. Like they do in Tenko. I'm watching that 1981 BBC series now and find it 'bang on' when compared to my grandmother's Changi diary. Good work!

(The MSA  launched on April 25, in a kind of rush after a great delay. One report in a Toronto newspaper suggests that some of the 'more aggressive elements' in the city were getting antsy about starting a group. The aggressive elements didn't get invited to join the Montreal Suffrage Association. They started an Equal Suffrage League, but even if they started out militant-minded, they soon became more calm and genteel, having quiet meetings, picnics,  and lectures and such.)