Sunday, August 30, 2015

War and Suffrage and Politics (as usual or unusual).

Mrs. Denison's Threat..March 1914 So, if WWI hadn't happened, we might have had a real suffragette movement in Canada! Big if, though.

Furies Cross the Mersey is  the story of how the British Suffragettes invaded Montreal in 1912/13.

It is also the story of  the 1912-1913 trials of Carrie Derick, Canada's first female full professor at McGill and first and only President of the Montreal Suffrage Association.

In the 1912/13 era, Carrie Derick was also an active Past-President of the Montreal Council of Women, a group that was highly ambivalent about their support for Mrs. Pankhurst and her militant suffragettes in England.

To keep controversy at bay, they had to spin off the Montreal Suffrage Association, totally against their own by-laws. The Montreal Council was, after all,  an umbrella group of social organizations that had sprung up spontaneously from the grass-roots.


Furies Cross the Mersey takes place in 1912/13 when the Pankhurst suffragettes of the UK were ramping up their militancy, setting fires and such,  and making sensational headlines in the Montreal newspapers for it.

The ebook includes two other story-lines, one fictional, one real. The real story centers on the  Nicholson women of Richmond, Quebec, and Montreal, my husband's ancestors, who left behind 300 letters from the era.

The fictional one involves two students at McGill's Royal Victoria Women's college.
From Votes for Women

I am now embarking on the follow-up to Furies Cross the Mersey, a murky story that will be about the Conscription Crisis of 1917 and explain how Canada's suffragists were involved up to their elbows in the deception. It's tentatively called Service and Disservice.

A trip to Toronto is in the air. Flora Macdonald Denison's papers are at the University of Toronto and contain many scrapbooks and hopefully some delicious dishing about the movement. Denison and another Torontonian, Constance Hamilton, figured prominently in WWI events.

The Nicholson's wartime story will figure in Service and Disservice, too: the family left behind many wartime letters. These are compiled in Not Bonne Over Here, also on Kindle.

In the 1912/13 Edith Nicholson was a young, unmarried women and all for Mrs. Pankhurst's window-bashing suffragettes.

 She clipped reports of the WSPU's Miss Barbara Wylie's visit in 1913 to Montreal, a pretty, 30  year old suffragette who didn't mince words when it came to her support of Mrs. Pankhurst's militant tactics.

Edith N. was also about 30. Like many of the era's  'new women,'  was fighting to have more fun in her life in a day and age when young unmarried women were considered in need of protection from the evil elements in society and, especially, from their own shallow and erratic  impulses.

Of course, it was understood that women grew out of this erratic phase, whether they married or not.  And with Edith it was no different, although WWI likely matured her beyond her years.

Edith volunteered with the Y's Red Triangle and other organizations like the Navy League.

By 1919, the end of the war, her letters reveal, Edith was a conservative spinster, with much war volunteer experience, discussing the evils of VD and the good of temperance in her letters and ready to go and work at McGill University,  supervising the 'excitable' younger set.

My Furies ebook ends in May, 1913, with Mrs. Pankhurst's troops acting up and provoking a slew of bizarre and biased stories in the press.

 (The Suffragette movie with Streep and Mulligan soon to be released on October, 23rd, is all about this time in herstory.)

WWI broke out in August, 1914, and the 12 months prior to this is a telling time for the Montreal and Canadian suffrage movement.

The suffrage movement in Eastern Canada didn't quite know how to behave, or how to 'brand' itself.

You can see that if WWI hadn't happened, there might, indeed,  have been a more in-your-face suffrage movement in Canada.

Maybe Edith Nicholson, dear old Aunt Dee Dee, who also figures in Furies Cross the Mersey, would have joined in the fun and gone to prison for it ;)

I found a newspaper report of a speech given by Torontonian Flora Macdonald Denison (my favorite Canadian suffragist) in May 1914, when Ms. McD was fighting for her political life as leader of the Canadian Suffrage Association, an equal rights organization founded earlier by Emily Howard Stowe.

In the speech, the journalist and working class suffragist, defends herself for sending well-wishes to Mrs. Pankhurst who was in jail.

She also says the Canadian suffragists shouldn't use force like the militants in the UK, UNLESS.....Dum de dum dum.. (See clip above.)

Constance Hamilton, who would become Toronto's first female alderman, gives speeches in her capacity as President of the rival Equal Franchise League, part of  a turf war between the two organizations that would continue through the WWI years, long after Denison was ousted from her own Presidential post in 1914 for either 1) supporting Mrs. Pankhurst 2) being too working class herself.

 In 1914, as recorded in the newspapers, Constance Hamilton defends her National Equal Franchise League organization as the 'real' national group, saying the proof lies in the recent membership of  "Society Lady' Lady Julia Grace Drummond, of Montreal.

She says the fact that Lady Drummond has  joined her new national organization gives it 'some class.'

"We're not working class like Denison's organization, Hamilton seems to be saying, although at other times she speaks in the press of wanting to start a 'working women's suffrage group.' (Ah, politics.)

Constance Hamilton had visited Montreal to talk directly to the Executive of the Montreal Suffrage Association in March 1914. It's written in their minutes.



The MSA under Derick joined Hamilton's National/Toronto Equal Franchise League shortly thereafter. They merely considered joining the Canadian Suffrage Association, their minutes reveal.

As it happens, the Montreal Suffrage Association (1913-1919)  is one of the few Canadian suffrage organizations to leave behind their minutes, because President Carrie Derick passed them on to Thérèse Casgrain in 1933 at a luncheon in support of Provincial Woman Suffrage and they have ended up in the archives at Montreal City Hall.

Edith Nicholson, by then a distinguished McGill matron, was at that same luncheon, as it happens.

(It is possible that Denison's Canadian Suffrage Association kept no minutes. One criticism of her was that she didn't understand governance and did not exercise due diligence but ran the show all by herself.)
 Page from minutes of Montreal Suffrage Association with bit about Hamilton's visit.

Carrie Derick, no doubt, cleaned up these MSA minutes and other documents with an eye towards her place in history. (Bthe way, Carrie Derick also ran the show all by herself, she just made sure it didn't seem that way. Cagey lady, she. )

Compared to, say, Gerin-Lajoie's fonds at the Bibliotheque Nationale, these Montreal Suffrage Association fonds don't contain very much. (Gerin-Lajoie was head of the Fédération St Jean Baptiste.)

One could say Derick's fonds are very Protestant and Gerin-Lajoie's are very Catholic.

At the very 1933 luncheon where the MSA fonds were turned over, Thérèse Casgrain claimed that Derick would always be remembered as a famous Canadian.

Of course, that didn't happen. It is understood by public historians that the Canadian Suffrage  Movement was racist, among other uncomfortable things. And Carrie Derick, a Botanist who knew all about pea-pods, was a prominent and influential supporter of 'eugenics' theory.

Toronto delegation in Washington,DC march. Inez Milholland. Pics from Toronto Sun.

In this speech from March, 1914, clipped above, Denison claims that the suffrage movement in Canada started in Ontario.

Carrie Derick didn't agree.

Derick claimed it started in Montreal, with the Donaldas, the first female McGill students and that it was the Montreal Council of Women that persuaded the National/Toronto Council of Women to support woman suffrage in 1912 and this 'against determined opposition."

She said this in a speech in May 5, 1913 at a Suffrage Evening during the week long AGM of the Canadian Council of Women. 

My Furies Cross the Mersey story ends at this very AGM, with the guest speaker, Mrs. Ethel Snowden, beautiful and charming moderate suffragist from the UK, giving a brilliant speech and calling Mrs. Pankhurst's troops 'cavemen.'

Flora Denison attended this 1913 Montreal AGM as President of the Canadian  Suffrage Association and also as a member of the executive of the National Council of Women.

Edith Nicholson also likely attended. She wrote in a May 2, 1913 letter she was "going to hear Mrs. Snowden speak, although she is not militant and for this I am very sad."

In October 1913,  Flora McD Denison would go to Europe with her son to represent Canadian suffragists an international conference,dropping by London on her way home, where she would hang with the militants and write vivid accounts of their tumultuous working class meetings for the Toronto Sun.

Soon after her return, she'd be booted as leader of her Canadian Suffrage Association.

Always one to stick to her principles, at this earlier May 1913 AGM, Flora McD Denison made a protest speech against the National Council because that organization had come out in favour of the flogging of men who force women into prostitution.

It is written in the AGM's 1913 Annual Report that  Denison attended the March suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. as part of the Canadian delegation, with Stowe Gullen and many other Torontonians.

That is the march where Inez Milholland, draped in white robes, led the parade of 10,000 marchers on a beautiful white horse, hoisting a flag with the colours of the WSPU militants.

There's pictorial proof of this, too. See above.  From the Toronto Sun. These are probably the ONLY photos of Canadian Suffragists marching that we will ever see.

No Montrealers marched in that Washington parade, apparently.

While this suffrage parade was taking place in March, 1913, the Montreal Suffrage Association  was being launched after a two year delay, promising in the Press to be sweet and reasonable and to go about a 'quiet education of the people.'

One of their Executive Members, a Reverend Dickie from  McConnell's church, said that 'it would be better if the British suffragettes starved to death in jail.'

No marches were allowed Montreal. (Read Furies, it's all about a would-be suffrage march down Sherbrooke to the Mount Royal Club!)

It is likely some of the same TO women attended the other huge May 3rd suffrage parade
in New York City.

 The New York Times reported that there was a Canadian contingent present at the massive Fifth Avenue parade, an event that figures big time in my Furies Cross the Mersey.

Of course, Gullen and Denison couldn't have attended the New York March, they were at the Montreal AGM.





Carrie Derick center. Pankhurst top.