Sunday, January 24, 2016

Who Shares the Cost of War? Says the Montreal Suffrage Association

My facsimile of a poster in the MSA archives.


By Frances Fenwick Williams

No prayer can help, no agony atone,
As I came into life I go  - alone!

Another man is lying by my side,
Another, caught in death's fast-brimming tide.

Mine was the hand that struck his life away,
And his the hand that laid me low today.

Yet now, as nearer draws the dreadful end,
He seems to me a brother and a friend.

What is he thinking as his life ebbs fast?
(How lonely each poor soul is at the last!)

If I could hear him speak before he dies I should not feel so desolate,  but he lies,
Silent and spent.

His lips grow slowly white.

I hate to look upon the piteous sight!

I have some water here. If I could crawl
Close to his death-place he should have it all.

Ah, I have reached him " but he shrinks.
Poor friend! My wish is but to share your bitter end.

He smiles , he drinks! Ah, me, how eagerly
He laps the water and leans back to die.

Oh, while the death-guns shriek, the madmen fight,
Speak to me, brother!
Darker grows the night,
And I am friendless, and my life ebbs fast ,
(How lonely each poor soul is at the last!)

He smiles. He speaks.
Oh, brother, louder pray! I'm growing deaf.
(That means death's near, they say.)
No war where we are going?
Friend, your hand! Together let us seek that longed-for land.
No war!. How white he is, how cold a thing!
But his dead face has robbed death of her sting.

Cabinet of the Prime Minister
Ottawa, the 13th of September, 1917.

I am in receipt of your telegram of the 11th of this month regarding the War Time Elections Act.

It is clear that you don’t appreciate my position and what the government has to deal with.  I herewith include a letter that I addressed to another correspondent on this subject.

R. Borden.


Who faces death in order to give life to men? WOMEN.

Who loves and works to raise the sons who are killed in battle? WOMEN

Who keeps shops and schools and works in factories while the men are in the trenches. WOMEN

WWI poster of the Montreal Suffrage Association

This is the first few paragraphs of Service and Disservice, in editing,  about the Canadian suffragists and their iffy involvement in the Conscription Crisis. It's the follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of militant suffragettes to Canada in 1912/13.

Flora Macdonald Denison

So you want to talk to me, about what exactly? You want me to explain my position on Woman Suffrage back in the day, 1913-1918.

Well, you must know of my position. I wanted woman to have the vote. All women. Women equal with men.

You want me to focus on the you-know-what, the Great Deception of 1917, (or the Disenfranchise Act as Dr. Margaret Gordon, my successor as President of the Canadian Suffrage Association, aptly described it in an angry letter to the newspapers back in the day).

“It would be more direct and at the same time more honest, if it simply stated that all who did not pledge themselves to vote Conservative would be disenfranchised,” she wrote.

Peculiar laws you moderns have, allowing you to bring back from the dead people, to grill them on an historical point of interest. Not that I am a bit surprised.

To what end all of this?   To promote democracy by shedding light on a shady chapter in Canadian history, you say. Ah.

Well, then, let’s get started.

Am I on trial? Or am I here to testify against the other ones, the truly culpable parties, those suffragists among us who were guilty of crimes against democracy?

Either way, I have nothing to hide.

Never did. I wasn’t like the others. I always wore my heart on my sleeve.  But you’ve already figured that out, haven’t you?

I can tell by that half-smile on your lips.

You want me to start when? In June, 1913.  As  good a place as any, I guess,  a full year into my Presidency of the Canadians Suffrage Association, and  about one year before I was deposed, kicked upstairs, if you will and given that title of Honorary President, with Dr. Gordon taking my place.

And all because of  Mrs. L.A. Hamilton.

(If I could let out a giant sigh, right now, I would, but, of course, that is not possible.)

Let me start, then, by painting you a pretty little word picture. 

After all, that is what I do – or did – best, back in the day.

Ontario Suffragists, including Denison and Hamilton, march in the 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade.

I was a wonderful wordsmith, you know, a journalist, as well as a capable seamstress; a creative person, first, I think, but also a very practical person, whatever my detractors liked to say.

I was a woman who was used to supporting herself and who, at times, had to support her entire family.

 If I wasn’t perfect with council meetings and agendas and minute books, well, that’s not such a terrible thing, is it?

So, imagine this, if you will:  Union Station in Toronto, one bright morning in May, 1913.  The departure platform.

A handsome full-figured woman in her middle years (that’s me)  with a fine, strong profile full of character, is participating in a little ceremony in front of her compartment.

 She is embarking on a trip, first to Boston, then New York, by train, and then to Europe by steamer, to attend an important international conference on the woman  suffrage issue.

Her strapping college-age son, by her side, is accompanying her on the trip.

Two little darling brown haired children clutching bright bunches of yellow daisies proudly strut up and  hand each of the people a bouquet.

This is a families-friendly touch I thought up myself.

It is something to allow the cub reporter sent by the Toronto World, to show what he can do words, to liven up this otherwise dull assignment.

It’s also a little bit of political damage control,  as I’ll explain a little later.

After the children have done their bit,  Augusta Stowe-Gullen, that is Dr. Stowe Gullen, the first female graduate of a Canadian medical school, and daughter of Emily Howard Stowe, the first female doctor in Canada, steps up to present me, just me this time, with a giant bouquet of red roses, this time.

This is yet another carefully-curated scene and we are trusting that the young reporter gets it right in the newspaper the next day.

The woman (me) is Flora Macdonald Denison, President of the Canadian Suffrage Association, an organization started by Emily Howard Stowe when Victoria was still on the throne, and she is off to Budapest to attend the Conference of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance and to report on it for the Toronto World in her newspaper column, Stray Leaves from a Suffragette.

But, first, she makes this little speech for the benefit of the small group gathered, especially the reporter. “I go to Europe,” she says, “as a representative of Canadian women who have pledged themselves to the suffrage cause. Failure is impossible.”

The people  around her clap and she climbs up the stairs onto the train.

From Toronto she will go to Paris, to report on the latest French fashions. She is, after all, a couturier by trade,  once was in charge of the custom dress department at Robert Simpson’s, and then it’s off to England, to survey the suffrage situation there, as a guest of Pankhurst’s WSPU.

The name of Mrs. Pankhurst is like a red flag to a bull and the Suffragists of Canada in this era work harder to prove that they aren’t militant suffragettes than they ever do to fight for the vote.
Such is the sad situation.

I, myself,  had entertained Mrs. Pankhurst in my home in Toronto on two occasions, in 1909 and 1911.

For this trip, Mrs. Pankhurst  is not in any position to reciprocate, being on the run from the police, so I will stay with Barbara Wylie, a suffragette who is most familiar with the Canadian suffrage scene.

I am trying to sound strong and purposeful with this short speech in the sun at Union Station.

As it happens, there are a number of women in my suffrage organization, perhaps half of the 2,000 total, who do not like me as their leader.

They are whispers and grumblings behind my back and these women will surely take advantage of  my long absence  to hatch a plot to oust me. 

Well, they have already hatched a plan to force me out of the movement.  I can almost feel their daggers in my side as I turn to climb onto the train, but, wait, it’s only my dear Merrill’s hand protectively guiding me to my appointed duties.

When I ascended to the Presidency of the CSA, just a year before, appointed, some say anointed, by the former President, Augusta Stowe-Gullen, I knew I had some built-in enemies.

Many high up in the Canadian suffrage movement, particularly Mrs. Constance Hamilton, President of  Toronto Equal Franchise League, did not think it was  ‘natural’ that I was selected as successor to Stowe-Gullen ‘due to my experience and gifted ability as a writer and a speaker,” as was explained at the National Council of Women’s AGM in 1912.

Somehow, because she was British and high-born, Mrs. Hamilton felt that she was better suited to the leadership of the Canadian suffrage movement, despite having adopted the suffrage cause only one year before.

But, she had many friends out in the Canadian West, because she had lived in Vancouver and Winnipeg, including that tea-totalling schemer Nelly McClung  in Manitoba.

And that fact helped her  cause against me.

And also it helped her in 1917 when she conspired with Premier Borden to fashion the War Times Election Act.  She had studied the immigrant ‘problem’ while out West. Her much older husband, a town planner, was a legend in Winnipeg and Vancouver, and so her words were steeped in authority.

Well, I’m just guessing here.  Dr. Gordon liked to blame the Great McClung, herself, but I chose to blame Mrs. Constance Hamilton.