Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Suffragettes: Theatre and Politics..

Caroline Kenney, sister of Pankhurst militant, Annie Kenney, came to Montreal and tried to start up a militant suffrage organization.

In October, 1913, Flora Macdonald Denison, President of the Canadian Suffrage Association, arrived back from a 6 month tour of Europe and gave a rousing speech in praise of Emmeline Pankhurst.

Denison had gone to Europe specifically to attend a meeting of the International Women's Suffrage Alliance in Bucharest in June and she reported on it in her Toronto World column.

On her way back home, she stopped in Paris and London.

In Paris she wrote about the fashions, bien sur.

In London, Denison wrote about the militant suffragettes. She was hosted there by Miss Barbara Wylie. a British militant who had just returned from Canada.

Wylie had tried to stir up 'suffragette' passions in that country, with very limited success.

Ontario suffragists in Washington, March, 1913, Denison and Dr. Gordon, and Yorkshire born Constance Hamilton who would lead a coup against Canadian born Denison the next year and end up helping Premier Bordon fix the 1917 Conscription Election with his infamous Wartime Elections Act which gave the vote only to women with men at the Front.

Wylie took Denison to see two rallies in one day; one with Annie Kenney at the London Pavilion (where Emmeline showed up and was descended on by police) and one in the East End, where a weakened Sylvia Pankhurst spoke, but escaped the police.

Now, in October, 1913 Toronto appearance, Denison probably should have stuck to a business-only speech about the Bucharest Conference, where they danced around the issue of militancy. Many women in her organization had been out to get her for a while. Instead, she talked about Mrs. Pankhurst, obviously infused with the warrior spirit.

She said that a great play was unfolding in England, with Pankhurst as the heroine and the British government as both the villain and the clown.

Mrs. Pankhurst arriving in Montreal in December, 1911, being met by Dr. Grace Ritchie England, the President of the Montreal Council of Women. She would speak in Toronto a few days later, hosted by Flora Macdonald Denison.

I personally love that statement. In Furies Cross the Mersey, by book about the invasion of militant suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13, I explore the issue of Pankhurst and her brand of suffrage 'theatre.' Or, more precisely, I have a character explore it.

Kathleen Weller, a Manchester-born Montrealer on the Executive of the Montreal Suffrage Association, was in London visiting the suffragettes at the same time as Denison, and she also was moved to give a rousing speech supporting Pankhurst upon her return to the city.

This was against the policy of the MSA, that claimed to be 'sane' and 'reasonable' and was going about 'a peaceful education of the people'.

The movie Suffragette, directed by Sarah Gavron, starring Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst and Carrie Mulligan as a working class suffragette, is interesting and beautifully acted and it recreates some famous suffragette incidents, but the movie fails to explore this 'theatre' angle.