Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why it's good for a politician to sound ambiguous but not ambivalent

Emmeline Pankhurst and Carrie Derick

Summer's over and back to work - even if it's 29 degrees out there.

Yesterday, I went into Montreal to visit the library at Concordia to look at the WWI "Woman's Century" magazines on microfiche. The Woman's Century was the publication of the National Council of Women.

I had to, I have started writing my ebook Service and Disservice, the follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the Conscription Crisis in 1917 and, particularly, the involvement of the Canadian suffragists,and I realized I needed more info. Info available in the Woman's Century.

The trouble is, the Webster Library is undergoing renovations. The Microfilm cabinets are all pushed into a corner and the 2 manual machines available to screen them are broken down.

There were no librarians to be seen, just construction workers.

But, I persevered, found the spools I was looking for and got to work reading about the National Council of Women's behavior during WWI.

(It wasn't easy. The page wouldn't center unless I held down one lens and it wouldn't focus unless I raised another. And even then it was barely legible to me, say in 8 point.)

I scribbled notes as I read because I couldn't print anything and I have to transcribe them today or I'll forget what I wrote and lose all these pearls of crazy WWI propaganda.

Yes, I found what I was looking for and more. Lots of scary stuff, too: the temperance fervor, the anti-immigrant stance, the desire to wipe the feeble-minded off the face of the earth, whom they equated with criminality.

I have read and re-read  the minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association and the Montreal Council of Women for the era, but in Quebec the women had to be more careful about what they came out and said.  (A map in the magazine from 1917 shows that all of Canada is under temperance except for the Yukon and 14 percent of Quebec.)

Carrie Derick was especially careful about everything she said in the era. During WWI she was an active Past President of the Montreal Council, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association and Vice President of the National Council. Feeble-mindedness was her baby.
Constance Hamilton

Here's an example: During the war Carrie Derick worked for the Montreal Khaki League, a soldier's aid society.

Nowhere have I read that she actively gave speeches to recruit soldiers...in 1915....but that's what she did according to the Woman's Century Magazine. She gave these speeches in Montreal and the Eastern Townships, including in her home town of Clarenceville.

In 1914, before WWI broke out, she gave out pamphlets promoting woman suffrage in Clarenceville, and THAT was written up in the Montreal Gazette. Not the other, as far as I can see.

*added a few hours later: I just checked my notes of the Minutes of the Montreal Council of Women and it says 'talks were given on Women, Suffrage and War and allied topics.' So you can see how the women of Montreal edited things, even for posterity.

In the 1915 Woman's Century Magazine it is explained how the Canadian Suffrage Organizations stopped doing suffrage propanganda (as they called it) and started doing patriotic work, as they called it.

Carrie Derick said in the Montreal Press: "We have been asking for our rights, now it is time to do our duty." (A weird statement, if you think about it.)

I found this Open Letter by Constance Hamilton, the President of the National Equal Franchise League, in a 1915 Woman's Century.

(Both the National Equal Franchise League and the Canadian Suffrage Association had regular columns in this publication during the WWI years - and there STILL was a great deal written about Woman Suffrage Movement in Canada and around the world in this period.)

"Will you kindly notify all the affiliated societies and others concerned that I have decided to postpone my trip out West until a more favorable occasion. The war has reached such a serious and critical stage that I feel I am in no way justified in using my own energies and means on behalf of the suffrage cause,when the war and all that that implies, needs us so urgently. Though political freedom for Canadian women is very near to my heart, yet at present there is  a far greater issue at stake, the freedom of the whole empire and I feel we should contribute everything in our power, including the sacrifice of our time, means and even our missionary propaganda and that no jot or title that can be given in effort should be withheld by us as patriotic women. I say to you what Mrs. Pankhurst said to Lloyd George lately, "Our fight for votes is a forgotten issue in this national crisis."

Well, interesting. Especially considering the 1917 election where Constance Hamilton and other suffrage leaders rallied around Premier Borden and his campaign for Conscription, and then got all tied up in their own promises and rhetoric and general B.S.

Added a few hours after publication:(The Montreal Council of Women minutes are useful here, because they state outright that at the informal August 4 meeting in Toronto between Suffrage leaders and Premier Borden, he asked them their opinion on limited suffrage. Then he asked them to poll their Canada-wide membership to see whether his Union Government would win the election if ALL women got the vote. 

The newspaper reports of the event seem to leave this important point out, saying only that the Women declared their opposition to an election at this meeting and then Borden explained why he had to hold one. (If he couldn't get unanimous support for this Conscription legislation he would have to go to England to get it and that would be soooooo embarrassing. )The minutes also state that 14 Canadian women's locals were for Conscription, 11 against.)

 It's easy to see why by reading these 1915-17 Women's Century Magazines. There was so much ambivalance and ambiguity and two-facedness in everything they said and wrote. Ah, wartime makes hypocrites of us all, because people who stick to their principles get pilloried.

Like Octavia Grace Ritchie England, President of the Montreal Council of Women, who suffered an impeachment hearing in 1918 over her support of Sir Wilfrid Laurier's party.

I'll discuss this some more in later posts.