Saturday, September 19, 2015

War and Women - and Embarrassing Things you say as a Young Person.


Flora Macdonald Denison, Margaret Gordon, Augusta Stowe Gullen, Constance Hamilton marching in Washington DC in March, 1913. From the Toronto Sunday World, Flora Macdonald Denison's newspaper.


I remember about many, many  years ago I had an argument with a relation, saying that if women ran things, there would be no war.

He replied, "It was the women of the American Civic War who perpetuated the hatred."

Now, this little argument would have meant nothing, except this particular relation was, how might I say it, high up in the American War Machine.  He had a doctorate and had been through WWII as a spy and all over in the Middle East in the 1960's as a high ranking diplomat.

I could see, as I spoke, that the other relatives in the room were very embarrassed for me.

Alas. That's me! Opinionated.

Today, four decades later, I am writing a book, Service and Disservice, about the Suffragists of Canada and their involvement in the 1917 Conscription Election. It's the follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13.

I am working, right now, on Mrs. Flora Macdonald Denison's story.

This got Flora MacD into big trouble.

Flora Macdonald Denison was a Canadian (Toronto) journalist, seamstress and suffragist who was President of the Canadian Suffrage Association from 1912 to 1914.

She made a speech in 1916 at a Conference of the Canadians Suffrage Association about War and Women which was turned into a pamphlet.

And, yes, in this speech, plunk in the middle of WWI, she says that if women had the vote, there would be peace, maybe.

In writing this, another pen than that held by Mars will have to be used. Venus must be the star in the ascendant and the mothers of the race must assist in tracing out a new code of ethics. 

A Woman's thoughts and action have aways been constructive.

They have made the homes in which all sons are born, and they know the cost of life. Every man who went to battie meant that some woman had gone down into the shadow of the valley of suffering to give bim birth. 

Women paid the first great price and at last women are demanding that she have some say as to bow her property and her sons shall be treated. 

Woman demands a say in the social scheme which has cost her so much. She demands not only protection for ber young but the conservation of human life by a more humane civilization. 

The women of England have no quarrel with the women of Germany. 

Both were standing together like sisters asking, pleading, and petitioning tbat International Arbitration keep peace betwveen nations and tbat women be given the power of tne ballot to assist in protecting their homes and making their laws. 

The world howled and shrieked in derision at a little property being destroyed in order to awaken it to the existence of unjust conditions, but now, with whole cities being destroyed and lives swept away by the thousands, women can only bear the burden of slaughtered sons and husbands and ruined homes. 

Their voices were not yet strong enough to make a dent in the murderous giant of militarism.

In 1916, Dr Margaret Gordon, a pacifist, was at the helm of the Canadian Suffrage Association.

Constance Hamilton, President of the rival National Equal Franchise Union, was working hard for the war effort - and she'd be deeply involved in the messy circumstances of the Conscription Election.

Flora MacD Denison had been kicked upstairs to the post of Honourary President f the CSA in 1914, in a power struggle that I will describe in Service and Disservice. She had supported Mrs. Pankhurst and militant means to win the Votes for Women.

In 1916, the lady was scrambling to earn money to pay for her son, Merrill's, college education. She was hoping he'd become a lawyer.

That year, she worked as a dress-maker in Napanee and also washed dishes and cleaned the scullery at her own retreat Bon Echo. She joked that in past years she vacationed in fashionable spots like Atlantic City, but not this year. She had once run a successful textile business.

Denison's pacifist sentiments would be sorely tested when Merrill dropped out of college and enlisted in the Army.

In March 1917, at the beginning of the Canadian Conscription Crisis, with PM Borden back from England demanding another 500,000(sic) Canadian recruits, the Sunset at Bon Echo, the small literary magazine Denison edited, would print of one Merrill's letters home.

This letter is clearly not a typical WWI letter, but a long essay - and likely sent as a piece of propaganda. What, no censored bits?

(No surprise, Merrill went on to be a well-known writer, rather than a lawyer.)

The essay tells of Merrill's comeraderie with a certain other soldier, who like him, was an unabashed Momma's boy.

These young men are at the Front (ambulance drivers) but no talk of  the horrors of war.

Indeed, Merrill says 'he wants to get on with the job and have as much fun as possible doing it, just like everyone else.'

But he does mention places and campaigns and as far as I know, that was verbotten.

So, Mrs. Flora MacDonald Denison, didn't compromise her own values by writing war propaganda in 1916, when she really could have really used the money, like author Frances Fenwick Williams of Montreal.

Denison, it seems, propangandized through her son.

Frances Fenwick Williams is another character in Service and Disservice. She was a suffragist and suffragette sympathizer who wrote a Recruiting Song (a poem) for the New York Times in 1916.

And now you prove us, brothers, that we have not died in vain!
We bid you to share our glory, we charge you to meet the Hun.

In 1913, when the drums of war were only faintly beating, Frances penned an article entitled Women and War, where she predicted that women would be no different when it came to waging wars.


Oddly, Fenwick Williams, who had no children, published another War poem, in 1917, that appears to show two enemy soldiers dying together in a sense of brotherhood. It's a much better poem.


Mine was the hand that struck his life away,
And his the hand that laid me low today.

Yet now, as nearer draws the dreadful end,

He seems to me a brother and a friend.

Weird contradictions. If you want to learn more about Canadian Women and WWI  you can read Mothers of Heroes, Mothers of Martyrs by Suzanne Evans. A great book.

And if you want to read about the suffragists and the Conscription Crisis, wait for my book or read this blog.