Thursday, September 3, 2015

Untangling the Canadian Suffrage Tale - with a scorecard.


Yesterday, I went to the dollar store to buy some coloured pens so that I could 'plan' my story, Service and Disservice, about the 1917 Conscription Crisis in Canada - and the involvement of the Canadian Suffragists.

It's not an easy tale to untangle. I need a visual aid.

Service and Disservice is the follow up to my ebook Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13.

It's not as if I don't know my stuff, but since this history is murky, since people, even back then, didn't know quite what was going on well, that's what makes this new book such a fascinating challenge.

Here's a case in point from my very first day's work.

In January, 1914, the Montreal Suffrage Association brought in a Senator from Colorado, Mrs. Helen Ring Robinson, to speak.  Colorada had woman suffrage.

In their minutes they say they will fete Robinson at a luncheon at the Edinburgh Cafe, and that they will invite the Chairman of the Equal Suffrage League.

 The Montreal Suffrage Association purchased an advert for Mrs Ring Robinson's talk in the Daily Mail but that newspaper didn't send a reporter. The next day they just printed a pic of the American Suffragist with a headline saying she gave a talk the night before. Money wasted :)

The Toronto Sun covered her Toronto speech the next might and also mentioned that 'people had to be turned away' for the talk in Montreal. (In those days, if you couldn't get the Montreal Press to print it, the Toronto Sun often obliged ;)



I almost passed out. Did I miss something in my earlier research ?

 The Equal Suffrage League was the rival to the Montreal Suffrage Association. It was a brand new organization started up by Caroline Kenney, the sister of British Militant Annie, in December, 1913.

I assumed that the MSA, which had been spun off in March 1913 by the highly respectable Montreal Local Council of Women, ignored this upstart (and quasi-militant) Montreal Equal Suffrage League. So why were they inviting the Chairman to a luncheon?

Then  I checked and saw that the Equal Suffrage Association of Toronto, led by Constance Hamilton, was bringing in Mrs. Robinson to speak in their city the next day.

Clearly the MSA secretary meant Equal Suffrage Association and not League, although I think Hamilton led the Toronto Equal Franchise League. OY

Back then in 1914 there was so many different suffrage groups, Leagues, Associations and Societies,  a person needed a scorecard. The newspapers often got things mixed up, that is for sure.

Luckily, a 'scorecard' was left behing in a Social Work Annual for 1915. (Still, they left off Kenney's Equal Suffrage League.)

In January 1914, Constance Hamilton of the Toronto Equal Franchise League was feuding with Flora Macdonald Denison of the Canadian Suffrage Association over National Turf. (And this after having marched together in a HUGE Washington DC suffrage parade in March 1913, as part of a small Canadian delegation.)

Denison had just returned from Europe where she spent time with Mrs. Pankhurst's troops, the guest of Miss Barbara Wylie, who had toured Canada in 1912 and returned to the UK frustrated with the docile Canadian movement.

 Denison had a Toronto World column and she penned a vivid account of  her experience in London's East End, watching a weakened Sylvia Pankhurst speak  before a bunch of shabbily dressed women and watching the police swoop in and arrest a defiant Mrs. Pankhurst (who had come just to meet with Denison).

In her column, Denison also questioned the authority of the Upper Class suffrage types in Canada.

So when she came back to Canada in December of 1913, other members of The Canadian Suffrage Association (founded by Emily Howard Stowe) wanted her ousted as President.

They blamed Denison's poor record on governance. They say she ran the show all by herself.

Denison, who had worked as a lowly seamstress herself,  was soon forced to resign as President of the Canadian National Suffrage Association but not after giving a few high profile speeches defending her support of Mrs. Pankhurst, whom she called one of the greatest women alive.

Constance Hamilton started a new National Organization in March, 1913, one with a long, long name that never caught on, the name I mean...The National Union of Canadian Women's Suffrage Societies. Pheww.

The Montreal Suffrage Association (1913-1919) joined Hamilton's organization in March 1914, calling it the National Equal Franchise League.

The MSA  kept meticulous minutes, but Carrie Derick, the President, still ran the show over there ;)

According to these minutes that are stored at at Montreal City Hall, the MSA thought about joining the Canadian Suffrage Association too, back in October 1913, but delayed (for some reason) and never got around to it as far as I can see.

Denison's behavior and/or demise likely had something to do with this.

Still, I suspect Carrie Derick liked Denison. Derick was a closet militant suffragette supporter herself, although Derick was careful not to shout it out loud, like Denison did.

Derick once referred to the British militant movement as more 'progressive' than the  moderate constitutional movement.

I think Denison was quoted in the press as saying it would be OK for the Suffragettes to shoot Prime Minister Asquith. (This time, I suspect she was taken out of context.)

So, you can see why it's all so complicated, this Pre-WWI suffrage business, and why I need to use colour coding to get it all straight in my head.

And with the War and the divisive Conscription Crisis of 1917 the confusion only gets worse.

The highly intelligent President of the Montreal Local Council of Women, Grace Ritchie England, suffered an impeachment hearing over her muddled interpretation of official policy during WWI over conscription.

Carrie Derick remained unscathed by it all, using bubble speak an awful lot to keep from being pinned down.