Monday, September 14, 2015

Militant Moles in the Canadian Suffrage Scene? Why, Certainly.

A Clipping kept by Edith Nicholson, my husband's great aunt, about the 1913 Montreal Suffrage Exhibition with a photo of Mrs. Kathleen Weller (misspelled). Odd, I figured out from the Census that her daughter was 19 in 1913, so this photo was calculated to put a 'maternal' spin on the conference. Weller was a militant, masquerading as a maternal suffagist.


In March, 1914 Torontonian Flora MacDonald Denison was forced to resign as the President of the Canadian Suffrage Association, so the story goes, because she was a vocal supporter of Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and her militants.

She had visited the Suffrgettes in London in the fall of 1913 and written sympathetically about their plight  in her Toronto World newspaper column. In her column, Denision  also dissed the upper crust types in the Canadian Suffrage Movement. (Not smart.)

There's more to this story and I am fleshing it out for my book Service and Disservice about the Canadian Suffragists and their iffy involvement in the 1917 Conscription Crisis.

It's a follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey.

There were two unapologetic militant suffragette sympathizers in the Montreal Suffrage Assocation, that I know for sure: Frances Fenwick Williams, Press Committee and Kathleen Weller, Literature Bureau. Both were well-to-do ladies.
PM Borden banned the suffragettes from coming to Canada in the Fall of 1912, but they came anyway. This Montreal Standard cartoon pokes fun at Borden.

Carrie Derick, President of the MSA and Past-President of the Montreal Council of Women and VP of the National Council of Women, was likely a Pankhurst supporter, but she was far too cagey to be pinned down on the subject.

In February 1913-June 1913 Fenwick Williams edited a column called The Feminist in a fancy tabloid aimed at wealthy Montrealers called the Saturday Mirror.

That magazine covered Mrs. Pankhurst's activities with sympathy. The second-to-last issue contains a lovely, long, biography of Annie Kenney, the Mill Girl Suffragette.

Mrs. Kathleen Weller, well, she's been totally forgotten by history, but she was the Society Lady who hosted militant Barbara Wylie in her home in September, 1912.

She was also the woman who ran the February, 1913 Montreal Suffrage Exhibition, that was all about sweet suffragette chocolates and jonquils and Chinese lanterns and home-made teas. The Exhibit was a huge success, too, making a lot of money with sales of Suffrage Literature.

So, when the Montreal Council of Women spun off the Montreal Suffrage Association in March, 1913, they could hardly keep Mrs. Weller off the Executive, even though she was a militant.

They also had to take in loose-cannon journalist Frances Fenwick Williams, because she promoted the Suffrage Exhibit in her column and also took part in a debate.

It's all in Furies Cross the Mersey, my book about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1911/1912.

Prime Minister Borden had banned the British suffragettes from coming to Canada in July, 1912, but still they came.

Maybe it was Fenwick Williams who invited them over herself. She was in London, visiting Pankhurst et al in the summer of 1912.

It's all so  complicated.

And, then, Mrs. Weller goes to England -on a fact-finding mission - for six months from May, 1913 to November, 1913, missing a few initial meetings  of the Montreal Suffrage Association.

When she gets back, she gives public lectures in support of the militants, but not under the MSA flag.

Her talk at the YMCA in March, 1914 is very telling.



They fired Mrs. Denison for saying a lot less..... (Unless a quote I read in one paper is true, where Denison says it would be OK for the suffragettes to shoot PM Asquith.)

Then WWI is declared  and everything changes.

The MSA immediately comes out in support of the war, saying they won't spend money bringing in speakers until it's all over. (President Derick is of Dutch/German descent.)

The Montreal Council of Women starts a Khaki League to help soldiers convalesce and Carrie Derick is elected the leader.

That means Kathleen Weller, militant suffragette sympathizer, is given more to do at the Suffrage Association. She's in charge of outreach, manning the booth at Dominion Park, the Auto Show, and assorted autumn fairs in the Eastern Townships.

The Daily Mail of Montreal writes a snarky editorial in September 1914, asking why the suffragists of Canada and Montreal are still working for suffrage when there is a more important war going on.

Mrs. Weller, coyly using only her initials, KW,  refutes this with a long, long letter, a letter defending Canadian Suffagists:

And English suffragettes:


As you can read, Weller even  gives a shout out to the rival Equal Suffrage League of Montreal, run by Caroline Kenney, sister of Annie.

Caroline Kenney came to Canada in late 1912 to stay with her older married sister, Nell, also as former suffragette, and to work as a teacher.

The Society Ladies of the Montreal Council ignored her organization.  Caroline K wasn't as refined as Miss Barbara Wylie. But, I suspect Fenwick Williams knew her: how else did a portrait of her sister Annie Kenney get into her newspaper in May, 1913?

I also suspect that it was Caroline K who threatened to organize a suffrage "tramp" Montreal to Ottawa, in the Spring of 1913, in imitation of American Rosalie Jones and her band of pilgrims (there's an article about such a braven project in the Ottawa Citizen and Toronto Star).

That threat very likely forced the Montreal Council of Women to launch the Montreal Suffrage Association, in late March, 1913 totally - against their own by-laws.

The MSA Board Members (McGill Profs,clergymen and Society Ladies) promised at its launch to be 'sweet' and 'reasonable' and go about a 'quiet education of the people.'

A clergyman said "It would be better if the suffragettes starved to death in jail."

Cries of "No" "No" were heard in the audience.