Friday, September 25, 2015

Two Toronto Suffrage Adversaries in 1913/14

Toronto Suffragists march in the Washington, DC parade in 1913. Flora Macdonald Denison led the group, as President of the Canadian Suffrage Association and Constance Hamilton walked behind. 


As I write the first part of my story Service and Disservice - about the iffy involvement of Canadian suffragists in the 1917 Concription Election, I continue to do research.

Service and Disservice is a follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey- about the British invasion of suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13.

I am writing from a first person point of view, so I need to get into these suffragists' heads.

I downloaded a copy of Mary Melville Psychic, Flora Macdonald Denison's 1900 novel, that is nicely written, and which reads a bit like Frances Fenwick Williams' 1915 novel A Soul on Fire. (Fenwick Williams was a Montreal Suffragist.)

Interesting line from Mary Melville:


And I'm re-reading Whitman. Haven't read his poems since university.  Denison started a Whitman Club at Bon Echo, a retreat near Belleville where she stayed during WWI.

In my book, I'm at the point where Denison, easily the most interesting character in Canadian Suffrage, is fighting for her political life as President of the Canadian Suffrage Association.

Her adversary is Constance Hamilton of the Toronto Equal Suffrage League, who wants more power as a Canadian suffragist.

Young Constance

Constance Hamilton, I discovered, was the daughter of a Yorkshire UK doctor, but may have lived in India (at least her father worked there) and certainly studied music in Germany.

Her family moved to BC, where her father ran a sanitorium.

She married well, a civil engineer who was high up in the CPR and who became an "Honorable' at one time.

Constance had no children of her own.

In 1914, Hamilton launched the National Equal Franchise Union, her own Canadian suffrage organization, taking 1,000 of the CSA's members with her.

Flora Macdonald Denison was married to a travelling salesman, whom she was with when he was still married to his first wife.  She had one son, Merrill.

She was the breadwinner of the family, usually. The couple separated for good in 1914... just at the time of my story.

In December, 1913 Denison  published a column in the Toronto World, trashing the hypocrits in the Canadian Suffrage Movements who didn't want working class women to participate.

She said women who dress poorly and can't speak well have just as much right to vote as any other women in Canada. She had visited in August 1913 with the Suffragettes and attended a suffrage meeting in the East End of London, where Sylvia Pankhurst, looking weak and pale,  spoke.



Denison was soon moved 'upstairs' at the Canadian Suffrage Association to  the the Post of Honourary President. Dr. Margaret Gordon took over from Denison and during WWI took the CSA in an entirely different direction from Hamilton's NESU.

Gordon worked for municipal voting rights across Canada during WWI and Hamilton worked for the Patriotic Cause, putting aside the suffrage fight - and making it quite clear in letters published in newspapers and in the National Council of Women's New Century Magazine.

"The war has reached such a serious and critical stage that I feel I am in no way justified in using my own and other women's energies and means on behalf of the suffrage cause."

Denison kept her hand in suffrage issues, while sewing clothes and washing dishes to survive, by writing a pamphlet, Women and War for the CSA's 1916 Annual General Conference and commenting on Mrs. Pankhurst and her "martyr's voice" in the Bon Echo newsletter.

Hamilton was in favour of starting a 'working women's suffrage group' the newspapers reveal, before the war, anyway, so she was not necessarily an elitist. She went on to be Toronto's first female alderman.

It was Constance Hamilton, among a few other women leaders, who gave PM Borden the permission to create a War Times Election Act during WWI, an Act that permitted only women with men in the war to vote in the 1917 Conscription Election.

Hamilton defended this War Times Elections Act in the newspapers, as expedient.  It was what had to be done to win the war... and that was her stated priority.

Pacifist Dr. Gordon of the C.SA. replied to Hamilton,  calling the Act, effectively,  'a disenfranchisement act.'

Pacifist Flora MacD Denison, ironically, got to vote in the Conscription election. Her only son, Merrill, had enlisted in 1916.