Thursday, September 10, 2015

Advice from a Leading Author of Historical Fiction



So, young suffragettes in Montreal were threatening a suffrage Tramp to Ottawa  to 'interview' Prime Minister Borden. This clip is from February, 1913.

 This 'tramp'  is not mentioned in the minutes of the elitist Montreal Council of Women but it no doubt provoked the city's society leaders to get moving and launch their own, very exclusive, Montreal Suffrage Association in March, 1913.

Ten years ago, when I first discovered the enormous stash of Nicholson family letters from 1879-1938, I contacted Canada's leading author of historical fiction for Young Adults.

"Forget the history," she advised. "Go for the story."

No doubt this is good advice, but I couldn't get myself to do it.

In fact, most of the books I have written, based on these letters, contain an epistolary element.

In each of my books I put in some Nicholson letters verbatim.

Yes, I make scenes up, or extrapolate, but that's only after having spent a decade researching background to the Laurier Era.

I know my stuff.

Now,in my last ebook, Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13, I mix 'fact' and fiction.

One story-line is about Carrie Derick, Canada's first female full professor at McGill.

Derick, who was also a social reformer  and a suffragist, won her pioneering post in 1912.

As it happens, the post was essentially ceremonial. My story explains why.

Another story-line is based on the lives of the Nicholson women, Flora, Edith and Marion, of Montreal.

These women hear British Suffragist Ethel Snowden speak in Montreal in May, 1913 and Edith was 'very sorry that she isn't a militant.'

I know because I have  a May, 2, 1913 she wrote home to her Mom in Richmond, Quebec.

(Snowden was a 'moderate' suffragist. In her May 5 speech she called Mrs. Pankurst and her troops "cavemen.")


I had to laugh. Just yesterday a friend emailed me to say one of the Nicholson Letters from 1895 was on sale on eBay. Did I want it? he asked. No, I have a thousand of them, I said. How did this missive escape the family stash?

And the third story-line of Furies Cross the Mersey is entirely fictional.

I have two young women at McGill's Royal Victoria College get interested in Woman Suffrage and try to organize a march, something not at all tolerated in conservative Montreal suffrage circles.

When I made up this story-line, I felt a bit bad about it. After all, there were ZERO suffrage parades in Montreal or even in Canada, for that matter.

(There was a huge parade in Washington, DC and some leading Toronto Suffragists marched in that one.)

Flora Macdonald Lapham, the closest thing we get to a Young Canadian marching in a suffrage parade.  This was in Washington, DC, in March, 1913. She was the niece of Flora Macdonald Denison, President of the Canadian Suffrage Association in 1913, who also marched with Dr. Stowe-Gullen, Constance Hamilton and other leading Toronto Suffragists.

Marching for suffrage, in the the eyes of almost all Montrealers, was the equivalent of setting fire to a mail box in Westmount or hacking to bits a fine painting in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Sherbrooke Street West.

(Women factory workers could march, but as long as union men were leading the way.)

When the Montreal Suffrage Association launched in March, 1913 the executive, made up of matronly social activists like Derick, clergymen and a few  other McGill Profs, promised to be 'sane' and 'reasonable' and to go about 'a quiet education of the people.'

One of the clergyman leading the organization said at the inauguration "It would be better if the suffragettes starved to death in jail."

Was I right to make up this cute story-line about a march of youthful women, I wondered. Was I right to go for the story?' Well, as it turns out, YES.

Just the other day, while looking in Toronto newspapers for the first time, as I research a follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey called Service and Disservice, about the 1917 Conscription Crisis,  I found an article indicating that some Montrealers actually did threaten to make a suffrage tramp to Ottawa in Spring 1913 to serve P M Borden with a demand for the vote!

Imagine, And in Montreal of all places.

A Suffrage Tramp! Ha. Ha. They were copying Rosalie Jones and her little band of foot-soldiers, marching from NY to Washington for the DC parade!

I suspect Caroline Kenney, militant suffragette and sister of British Militant Annie Kenney, was involved. She was living in Montreal at the time.

This is what all the clergyman, matronly social activists and McGill Profs feared most.

So no wonder these social leaders hopped to it and got their own very exclusive, very conservative, suffrage organization going.

A person couldn't join the Montreal Suffrage Assocation unless they were approved by two members of the Executive.

No young, single women, like Miss Kenney, or the Miss Nicholsons, were invited to join this Montreal Suffrage Association.

That's why, in December, 1913, Miss Kenney started the Montreal Equal Suffrage League, an organization that accepted both militants and non-militants
Emmeline and Carrie Derick and a 1912  newspaper clipping alerting Canadians to an imminent invasion of Suffragettes.