Wednesday, January 27, 2016

James McGill, No Fool She and Suffrage Politics in Canada 1912


James McGill weathers the (very small) storm on the McGill Campus.

A while back, I went to McGill and found what I have been looking for for years.

I found that copy of Margaret Gillett's biography of Carrie Derick, No Fool She, in the engineering library.

I thought No Fool She was Gillett's Master's Thesis from Columbia, but it isn't.

 It is the 26 page text of an important speech Gillett gave in 1989 before the McGill Alumnae Society about employment equity at McGill.

Apparently, the situation vis-a-vis women at McGill in  1989 wasn't a hell of a lot better than in 1912 when Carrie Matilda Derick became the first female full professor in Canada - under messy circumstances.

In fact, in 1989 there was only one female dean at McGill and she was, apparently,  head of a tiny faculty.

This Gillett speech (that has been oft quoted by others) describes Derick's education history and her difficulty getting respect from her academic peers at McGill.

She was trained as a school teacher (McGill Normal School) before returning to college in 1887 where, as a mature student, she got the highest marks in her class.

After attending Harvard and the University of Bonn, and after teaching at McGill as an associate, she eventually was appointed a full-professor at that institution but the appointment was mostly ceremonial .

Derick's salary did not increase, nor did her duties change - and she wasn't allowed to sit on any faculty boards.

Still, Derick was making $2000 a year, a nice salary for anyone at the time. (Marion Nicholson made 650. a year as a 6th year teacher with Model School Diploma. The cook at Royal Victoria Women's college was making 360. a year.)

So no wonder Derick  had the time to take on the duties of the Presidency of the Montreal Suffrage Association in 1913-1919 - and no wonder she had delayed her decision through 1912.

Gillette explains how, in 1912, there was an opening in the Botany Department of McGill  and how an American Professor of Botany with connections at Princeton and 6 years of academic experience at Columbia in N.Y. and business experience with the NY Botanical Gardens was hired over local girl Carrie Derick despite the fact William Van Horne, a prominent McGill governor, wanted her for the job.



I got lost in a Harry Potterish world that day. The Derick book I wanted to read was on the fourth floor of the engineering library. I took the modern elevator up, but when I went to take it down it didn't want to move, so I took this as a sign to take the stairs, but ended up in a Victorian stairwell, with a little sitting room at the side with a fireplace with the inscription PROVE ALL THINGS and ornate oak doors to nowhere. The old library! The old entrance! I finally got out!


I find this following bit of info particularly amusing: Gillett explains how the governors of the McGill were looking for an accomplished scientist to fill a vacancy, a person with loads of publications, excellent people skills, a great personality, great lecturing skills - as well as practical business experience.

 Derick, amazingly enough, had all of the above attributes, except for the  business experience. And not only that,  she had been 'acting' Chair of the department of Botany since 1909 when the previous Chair became ill.

The McGill governors, it appears, were unwilling to exchange Derick's community leadership activities (President of the Montreal Council of Women from 1909-1913, Vice-President of the National Council of Women) for the business experience.

Some McGill leaders wanted Derick to get the post, including Dean Walton of the Law School, her partner in suffrage advocacy. In 1913, Walton  would soon take a position under her at the Montreal Suffrage Association.

Anyway, this American, an Alabaman named Lloyd, got hired and his first act was to plunk his menial Miss Derick back in the lab as a demonstrator. She protested that the work was beneath her and almost quit but things were eventually worked out between them.

As far as I can see, Gillett does not mention Derick's suffrage advocacy at all in No Fool She, but does say Derick had an impressive C.V.

I wonder if Derick purposely left her suffrage advocacy out of her  1912 C.V. (I wonder if her support of woman suffrage got in the way of her appointment.)

(Some McGill people, like Walton were for Woman Suffrage, others most opposed. It was a very controversial topic at the time.


Gillett does mention Derick's interest in eugenics, and not in a critical way.  McGill, I read somewhere else, was eugenics central in Canada in the 1910 era.

But, someone has underlined the eugenics paragraph in the Engineering Library copy of No Fool She. 

These days eugenics is THE controversial issue re: Carrie Derick's legacy and not the suffrage business. (The suffrage is so uncontroversial it is almost too boring,)

The eugenics advocacy is what people have focused on lately when disparaging Derick's many considerable accomplishments. (I have not shied away from it on this blog.)

  Still, Miss Carrie Matilda Derick has a street named after her in Verdun.

No statue on the campus though ;)