Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Conscription Crisis Dilemma: Go for the Story or the History?
So Borden gave the vote in the 1917 federal election only to women who had men, sons, husbands, active overseas in the war.
It's not entirely clear, but there is good evidence this limited franchise idea (anathema to most Canadian suffragists - or so they claimed) was put in Borden's head by either Nellie McClung or Constance Hamilton, both prominent suffragist leaders.
Too weird. I just started writing my story Service and Disservice, a follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the 1917 Conscription Crisis in Canada and the iffy involvement of the suffragists, and after two paragraphs I have to go back and check on some details.
The devil's in the details, you know. Especially with respect to this fiasco of a tale.
Years ago, when I first found an enormous stash of family letters and decided to write a book using them, I contacted a leading author of Historical Fiction for the YA market and she told me this: "Forget the history; go for the story."
I didn't listen. Not with Furies Cross the Mersey, although I tried to put a charming fictional story-line in.
I have two female McGill students try to organize a suffrage parade down Sherbrooke Street in March of 1913. I wondered if I was wrong to make up such a story (there were no Montreal suffrage marches and no Canadian marches, after all).
Then, just today, I found a short article in the Globe, February, 1913 about a group of Montreal women, no names mentioned, who want to organize a Spring suffrage tramp from Montreal to Ottawa.
They are inspired by the American Pilgrims who march from NY to Washington at that time.
This was not reported in Montreal newspapers, as far as I know.
I can't help but suspect the organizer of this tramp was Caroline Kenney, sister of British militant Annie Kenney, who came to Montreal in late 1912 to stay with an older sister.
I know that in February, 1913, Caroline Kenney gave a talk which thoroughly upset people. This speech is mentioned in the March issue of Canadian Jewish Times but no details are given.
So it seems with Furies Cross the Mersey, I got to the truth of things by inventing a story!
Yes, here, too, with Service and Disservice I want to get to the truth of things, if this is even possible with respect to this notorious chapter in history.
But everytime I turn around I discover (or realize) something new.
Here's a report from the May 11, 1913 Toronto World.
Mrs. Constance Hamilton is telling her Toronto Equal Suffrage League about the Washington DC suffrage march she attended the week before.
Dr. Stowe-Gullen and Flora MacD Denison are also at the meeting,because they also were in Washington, but their speeches are not recorded.
Mrs. Hamilton says in her speech that she has just received a letter from Barbara Wylie, a WSPU militant suffragette who is just leaving Canada for England after a year long tour.
(Wylie and Kenney were in Montreal at the same time, both attached with the WSPU but I have no evidence their paths crossed. Wylie was feted by the Montreal Suffragists, Caroline ignored.)
Miss Wylie, apparently, advises Hamiltion to organize a deputation to Ottawa to call on Prime Minister Borden. Wylie, the WSPU militant. Imagine.
This is amusing because within a few months, Flora MacDonald Denison, President of the Canadian Suffrage Association, will leave for Europe on a fact-finding tour and Constance Hamilton will organize a revolt against her.
Hamilton will get Denison dumped as President of the CSA (well, promoted upstairs to Honorary President) and then she will organize her own national organization, that will end up being called the National Equal Suffrage League.
The reason given for dumping Denison: because she supports Mrs. Pankhurst and her militants.
In her capacity as President of this National Equal Franchise League, Hamilton will be instrumental in getting the women leaders of Canada to support a limited suffrage bill during the 1917 Conscription Election.
Denison, a pacifist, will have retired to her literary 'commune' at Bon Echo by then, even though her pacifist ideology will be severly tested by the fact her beloved only son has signed up to fight.
Even weirder, this report, where Constance Hamilton says everything at the Washington parade went smoothly, is followed by a shorter item about a Beaches Progressive Club meeting, where it is claimed that the Washington parade had riots.
Did the person doing the layout even notice? Was this done on purpose, I wonder.