Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sweet and Reasonable and Sane: Canada's Suffrage Movement. A lesson in Media Literacy.

In 1911, Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst came to Canada, Toronto and Montreal to raise funds for her legal bills. Only on these and similar occasions did Canadians get to hear rational arguments about Britain's suffragette movement.


Well, I finally finished Furies Cross the Mersey, the untold story of the suffrage movement in Montreal 1912/13 exploring the fall-out from an era invasion of militant suffragettes.

I even kept a folder called Suffragette Tidbits containing snippets of newspaper articles from Canada and the US - mostly about the British suffragettes.

I added the virtual clippings I found online to the yellowed paper ones actually clipped by Edith Nichlson, by husband's great aunt, way back in the Laurier Era.

Below is a delicious remnant of a clipping from the Montreal Witness about the visit of militant suffragette Barbara Wylie to Montreal in 1912.



I can't help but make this Furies Cross the Mersey story a bit of a media literacy exercise.

I have one of my fictional main characters, a rich girl at McGill's Royal Victoria College, decide she wants to work as a newspaper reporter and, then, she comments on how the Montreal newspapers report on the suffragettes.

She remarks that the Gazette articles either mock the suffragettes as silly or revile them as violent terrorists.

The suffrage headlines, you see, tend to be sensational.

The little bits of editorializing tend to be mocking, in the Montreal Gazette, anyway, and the Montreal Gazette and the New York Times shared a news feed way back then. But the Gazette made its own headlines, of course, and the headline is everything.



Incidental, gratuitous pokes at the suffragettes were very common in the Montreal press in the 1910 era.

Carrie Derick, one of my real characters, gets upset about the following headline because she feels the reference to suffragettes is gratuitous.

The article (below)  is about an American Women's Labour Union visiting Montreal  in July 1912, where they are feted by the Montreal Council of Women, given a tour of Chateau Ramezay,etc.


Derick, THE expert on women's working conditions in the city,  is not in the city to meet them. In  my story she is cloistered in the Eastern Townships, upset about being denied the Chair of the Department of Botany at McGill.

A month earlier, in June, some striking garment workers, mostly women (but in a parade led by men and American Union Organizers) marched up St Lawrence Blvd yelling "No More Piecework" "No more blacklisting".

In Montreal, women could march if they were part of a labour union, but not as women wanting the vote.

No. No. THAT would have caused too much trouble, a woman-only march. Unseemly!

So Montreal's 'official' suffragists claimed to the press upon the inauguration of the Montreal Suffrage Association in March, 1913, that they would be  'sweet and reasonable' and 'sane' and go about 'a quiet education of the people.'

Julia Parker Drummond, Montreal's most prominent 'society' lady and social advocate,  used the term 'sweet and reasonable' and Carrie Derick used the word 'sane.'

Just having to use the word "sane" at a press conference says a lot, no? 

In Montreal, in the 1910 era, even quiet, peaceful suffrage marches  were out of the question.

I believe Canada had just one, anemic suffrage march out West, somewhere.

My ebook Furies Cross the Mersey focuses on this fact and even pokes fun of it.