Friday, September 4, 2015

War and Temperance and Pissed Off Wives

Carrie Derick: Temperance wasn't her thing. Feeble-mindedness was. Mrs. John Scott of Montreal's WCTU was the Temperance Person on the Montreal Council of Women, and she took a back seat to Derick.

I have a yellowed newspaper clipping from the Nicholson Collection reporting on a speech given by a Reverend Dawson where he says THIS WAR IS AWFUL but, hey, at least we'll have temperance by the end of it.

Sounds nutty to the modern ear, but he wasn't alone in his thinking during WWI.

I've just read over some of the Woman's Century Magazines from the 1915-1918 period. This magazine was the organ of the National Council of Women.

And, yes, similar sentiments are expressed by authors within its pages.

Look at this line from 1916 in an article by the Canadian WCTU: The days of the necessity of argument for our cause has happily almost receded into the background of history. 

A later issue of Woman's Century shows a map of Canada with respect to Temperance. Only the Yukon and 14 percent of Quebec are 'wet.'

(Temperance, of course, means moderation, but somehow it got to mean NO BOOZE at all.)

Now, this is the kind of thing that leads historians like Pierre Berton to write off the Canadian Suffrage Movement as plain silly, or stuffy - and  all about temperance.

But that's too much of a simplification. The Canadian suffrage movement was more noble and much more nefarious than that.

It's all very murky and complex.

Temperance, in the eyes the social reformers of the WWI era, was tied into their racism and xenophobia and prudishness and misplaced maternal zeal.

But there was also a lot of misery in the world, and alcohol didn't help things.

The do-gooder men and women had some good - and some very bad - reasons to distrust alcohol.

We still have today, according to the Guardian, that keeps telling older women like me that I drink too much expensive wine.

Still, today, no one cares if some high-performing Wall Street brokers decompress all weekend downing every illegal drug in the book. But the poor, now, that's a different thing.  It was the same back then.

(Besides, if you are rich, you can hire a lawyer to get you off, so arrest is a big waste of time. They'll arrest your supplier, instead.)

In 1910, in Montreal, Quebec, in the eyes of the Montreal Council of Women and the "Citizen's Committee" the liquor trade tied into corrupt city government.

This actress, Patricia Quinn, played Christabel Pankhurst in Shoulder to Shoulder. In 1913 Christabel wrote The Hidden Scourge, about VD. Her motto "Votes for Women, Chastity for Men." Scholars say this was a bit of a ploy. Anyway, this character is from Rocky Horror Picture Show. LOL

The Montreal Council of Women started promoting women suffrage because a spinster or widow with property could vote in the municipal elections and in the 1910 elections they pushed to get the spinster vote out in support of a 'reform ticket' and the reform ticket won.

Unmarried women in those days weren't wild party animals like they are today.

That particularly administration, with an Anglo doctor as Mayor,  lasted for only two years!

During WWI protecting soldiers from the evils of alcohol (and loose women) was a major thrust of these social reformers, a thrust that carried on into the 1920's in Montreal, with the Coderre Inquiry into Montreal Vice and Police Malfeasance (where my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the Director of City Services, was fingered for forcing police to look the other way when children went into cinemas unattended.)

Paradoxically, it was Quebec in 1921 who initiated a Liquor Control Board which ended by being the weak chain in the link of Temperance in North America.

The N.Y times reported a lot in the 1920's about how the Quebec Government was raking it innwith taxes on alcohol, a lot of this booze being drunk by New York citizens.

Anyway, as I've written about  before, in 1903 the St. George's Club of Westmount Quebec, (a very dry, very Anglo area at the time) had to defend its right to have alcohol.

"We're a private club and we can do what we want," they said in the Press

The St. George's Club was for well-to-do males.

This makes we wonder if there wasn't some 'projection' going on among the well-do-do female social reformers of Canada.

Maybe  all this anti-drink zeal (that only increased during a time when thousands of young Canadian men were being sent overseas to have their toes chewed off by rats in the trenches or to be blown to bits) came from the fact they were just really PISSED OFF at their absent husbands.

The Clipping.