Thursday, January 14, 2016

Canadian women first got the vote in 1917 - but only women with men at the WWI Front.



You know that movie It's Complicated? Well, I think my next ebook should be titled that instead of Service and Disservice.

My book is about the  1917 Canadian Conscription Crisis and the 'iffy' involvement of  the Canadian suffragists,  a follow up to the e-book Furies Cross the Mersey, about the 1912/13 Bristish invasion of militant suffragettes to Canada.

It's all so complicated.

I don't think even the few scholarly accounts of the event get it 100 percent correct.

It's complicated, because even back then in 1917 people didn't know what was going on.

Lots of people involved lied, too.

I was writing up the first draft of the final chapter, the chapter where Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, tells her side of the story, when I realized I was missing some critical info.

That is, info from the summer of 1917, when Mrs. Constance Hamilton, President of the National Equal Franchise Union, held an emergency meeting of the NEFU in her home to ask Borden NOT to hold an election, because if he did, 'slackers from out West and Quebec would get to vote.'

In the Toronto press report the Montreal Suffrage Association (a member of the NEFU) sent a statement of support for Conscription, a somewhat hysterical one, quoting from John McRae's famous war poem.

"Is Canada going to fail? Never. If ye break faith with those who die, they shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields. Canada's honor is at stake. She will not, cannot fail to carry on and keep her word to our brave fighting men and to our glorious dead."


Above, Emmeline Pankhurst, Carrie Derick; below,  Toronto "Canadian' suffragists march in Washington DC, 1913, Constance Hamilton among them as President of the Toronto Equal Suffage League. She would soon start her own 'national' organization.

This struck me as very uncharacteristic of the MSA. Miss Derick was always very careful about what she said to the Press.

For instance, the MSA executive supported Conscription, but called it 'Mandatory Overseas Service', a euphemism. (Later, Derick would say they never supported Conscription, per se.)

So I went over to the Montreal City Hall archives and took a look at the 1917 minutes to learn, as I had suspected, that Derick didn't have anything to do with the bizarre pro-conscription resolution.

 A Mr. Holt and Mrs.Scott received Hamilton's telegram back then and replied on their own, without holding an executive meeting.

Mr. Holt was a lawyer, I believe. He was the man who confronted militant suffragette Barbara Wylie, when she spoke in Montreal in November, 1912.  Wylie made fun of him. A year later, Holt was on the Executive of the newly formed Montreal Suffrage Association. (Quite a few men, many clergymen, were on the executive of the MSA. No young unmarried women, though. Too 'excitable'.)

The importance of all this: well, that 'bogus' statement probably made Premier Borden think that Quebec suffragists would be on-board with a limited suffrage option for women voters if the PM was forced to hold a federal election to get his Conscription Bill through parliament.

 In September, 1917,  Borden gave the vote to women only with male relations at the war front.

The Montreal Suffrage Association, led by Miss Derick,  passed a resolution in protest.



 Borden had to reply to this resolution and explain his position. "You don't realize the difficult position I am in. Would you want unpatriotic foreign women out West to vote just because they married a Canadian?"

Borden didn't mention Quebeckers in his reply to the MSA, as if they were irrelevant. Toronto suffragists, who liked to think of themselves as the leaders in the Canadian movement, were clear about their contempt for 'unpatriotic' Quebeckers. It was written all over the National Council of Women Magazine, The New Century.

Derick couldn't be so blunt.

As it happens, I discovered something else while poring over the minutes. Derick and the MSA tried to take over the National Suffrage Movement in the spring of 1917.

They told Mrs. Hamilton that since Ontario women had just won the vote, the headquarters of the NEFU should be moved to Quebec. They were upset tht the NEFU was doing little  to promote woman suffrage while the war was on.

Hamilton replied that the headquarters should be in a province where women had the vote, so, until Quebec women won the vote, no dice.

In 1915, just one year after launching the National Equal Franchise League (bringing on Carrie Derick and Julia Parker Drummond  as VP's for credibility) Hamilton very publically gave up the suffrage fight for 'patriotic' work.

But, in 1917, when her position as President would prove useful to Borden's Win-the -War efforts, she held that emergency meeting of the NEFU in her home in July and soon helped Borden ascertain, with some carefully placed telegrams,  whether he'd win the election if he gave all Canadian women the vote. (The answer was NO.)

That's why I believe Mrs. Constance Hamilton was largely responsible for the Wartime Elections Act of 1917, the very undemocratic and highly cynical election ploy by Borden, that Dr. Ritchie England, President of the Montreal Local Council of Women, called 'a piece of unsurpassed effrontery'.

Mr. Holt in Montreal helped her.

Nellie McClung is usually given credit. Or Arthur Meighen.