Saturday, September 12, 2015

Trouser Government - a Forgotten Farce from 1913.

I have no photo of Frances Fenwick Williams, although a portait of her exists in Nova Scotia somewhere. But this is exactly how I imagine her in Furies Cross the Mersey, my story about the invasion of militant suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13, an invasion she was very much responsible for, I suspect.

Her dress: very cheeky and modern, like her writing style and sexually ambiguous. Hareem pants or Hareem skirt? It was all point of view.

Service and Disservice is about the Suffragists and their involvement in the Conscription Crisis.



Annie Langstaff was a Montreal lawyer, and funny, last night, as I was researching the follow up to Furies, Service and Disservice, I fell upon a bit about Langstaff. 

It appears that Frances Fenwick Williams, the Montreal author and suffragist who I have been writing about on this blog, came out loudly in support of Langstaff being permitted to join the Quebec Bar. She even wrote a satiric poem about it.

In 1915 this was.

Frances Fenwick Williams is considered a 'lost woman's voice' by scholars, but I've been able to glean a lot about her digging around the Net.

She was a writing Jack-of-all-Trades. Aren't we all? She was the married (but separated) daughter of a Montreal stock market executive.

In 1913, she joined the Montreal Suffrage Movement. She figures in my Furies Cross the Mersey, giving a Pro-suffrage speech at the Montreal Suffrage Exhibit in February 1912.

Fenwick Williams gave a lot of speeches on Women's Rights in the era, and unlike the mostly Maternal suffragists of Montreal, she was an Equal Rights  suffragist - and a bit of a rogue, although she fell in line nicely with the UNION forces during WWI, calling for more recruits at any cost.

Three of her novels are online, and although the books have their fine moments, they are very difficult to digest in one swallow. No Georgette Heyer, she.

But. I found a 'patriotic' poem she wrote during WWI that is quite beautiful. Perhaps that was her real calling.

And I found this bit, too, in a small local rag aimed at the "Anglo-Elite" of Montreal.

It's a role-reversal satire about woman suffrage: and it was written in June 1913, six months before Nellie McClung thought up the same kind of thing for her mock parliament.

It features Fenwick WIlliams' signature style.

Service and Disservice is about the Canadian Suffragists and their involvement in the Conscription Crisis. Nellie McClung is often given the credit for thinking up the not very democratic War Time Elections Act. I think it was someone else....Constance Hamilton.


Ad advert from 1913 for the Edinburgh Cafe, the headquarters of the Montreal Suffrage Association for a time in 1914.


Trouser Government


Some people were for giving a few men the vote. “Why shouldn't men who are really intelligent and able be represented? they asked.

“Of course we can’t let in the rabble, but men who have a stake in the country should be represented.”

“Nonsense. Men hang together. Give the college men the vote and they will be demanding that the dock-hands get it, too. And then, mark my words, they will want to be members of Parliament.

Fancy living under trouser government.

That rather settled it.

For men who were by habit hard-drinkers and hard-swearers, smokers, and in many cases, makers of dubious jokes, for such beings, I say, being admitted to the legislature “reeking of the bar and the smoking salon” as one woman put it, was clearly incompatible with the dignity of the Mother of Parliaments.

Moreover, men did not care about politics and would be more likely to sell their votes for a glass of beer.

They might even go drunk to the polls.

And as for Parliament: why would would naturally rely upon their charms to win the votes of susceptible women, and would rely, when they got into Parliament, upon their physical strength.

They would, in consequence, ignore the authority of The Speaker;when they got hot in argument they might even threaten each other with their fists; and Parliament, instead of being a deliberative institution, would become a bear-garden.

It was even rumoured that in a far, distant and cold Canada, where men did have the privilege of sitting in Parliament, these disorders had actually occurred.

Men had gone so far as to shake their fist in the Speaker's face and insist on speaking against a ruling.

“There,” said the people of Happy Parallel triumphantly,”now you see the results of allowing men to leave their proper sphere.Even the women in the Canadian Parliament were not sufficient enough to quell these riots by calling out their inconsistency with all the pretentions to self-government and dignity.”

“There are no women in the Canadian Parliament,” explained an authority.

“Oh, then, of course, you can’t wonder at anything,” said the Happy Parallelers, laughing consumedly at what they thought a mere traveller’s tale.

For how could anyone imagine a land ruled solely by men?

Men with mutton-chop whiskers and pipes and high collars crawling up to their ears.

Absurd!