Friday, August 7, 2015

Working Class Suffragettes? Not in Canada

Canada's delegation in the Washington 1913 parade, a picture from the Toronto World. According to Constance Hamilton of the Toronto Equal Franchise League,  all the Toronto Newspapers supported suffrage. The magazine Votes for Women in England claimed that only the Toronto World supported the suffragette movement.   The Toronto Sunday World had lots of photos, useful when supporting suffragettes because the movement was very theatrical.

Read Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13.


The story goes that Mrs. Flora Macdonald Denison was kicked out as leader of the Canadian Suffrage Association in May, 1914 due to her support of Emmeline Pankhurst.

(The official reason was that her organization came up short when it came to governance.)

I suspect Denison's support of Miss Sylvia Pankurst was more the reason.

Denison's demotion wasn't so much about supporting the militants in Britain, but about supporting the working class militants in Britain.

In August, 1913, Denison visited London, as a guest of Miss Barbara Wylie, the suffragette who had visited Canada the year before.

Denison was to give a speech and Emmeline Pankhurst was determined to attend it, even though she would be arrested.

Later the same day, Wylie took her to East End London to attend a working class meeting where Sylvia P., weak from hunger-striking, was speaker.

Denison wrote about these events in her column for the  Toronto Sunday World..

Then, on December 1, perhaps in response to criticism of her support of working class suffragists in her August column, Denison dissed some of her fellows, calling them hypocrites. (See below.)

Ouch and Touché.

Canada's movement shunned the lower working classes, who existed merely to be made better 'purer' people through social engineering. Middle-class women who were working were also kept out of the Canadian suffrage movement. These unmarried women were too 'excitable'  and ' restless' and in need of guidance and protection when working in the big, bad city.

It is possible that female textile workers were told to fear suffrage as it was believed by some textile people that if women got the vote they'd insist that the textile tarifs be removed so that they could get cheaper clothes!

Read Threshold Girl, about Flora, Marion and Edith Nicholson in sinful Montreal in 1910.

To join the Montreal Suffrage Association, for instance, a person had to be nominated by a member of the Executive and approved by all the Executive. Imagine!

The MSA's executive was made up of female college-pioneers of McGill, McGill professors and Clergyman. Clergymen, especially, detested the young militant women.


This was in Denison's December 1, 1913 column. By February other Toronto suffragists were actively seeking her post as President of the National Suffrage Association.

By March the controversy was in full swing.  That month, Denison  most eloquently defended her position in a Toronto Sun article, calling Mrs. Pankhurst the greatest woman she has ever known, but to no avail.

In the US, the large marches including working women of all classes.
Clerks, stenographers, telephone operators...and domestic servants....(Eugene Register)