Thursday, February 4, 2016

Did the Montreal Local Council of Women officially condemn the Wartime Elections Act of 1917.

I am writing Service and Disservice, about the iffy involvement of the Canadian suffragists in the 1917 Conscription Election.

It's a follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about Carrie Derick's very bad year at McGill and the British Invasion of Militant Suffragists to Canada in 1912/13.

The key question remains: Did the Montreal Local Council of Women officially come out against Borden's 1917 Wartime Elections Act or not?

Simple question, eh? Well, no.

As I write Carrie Derick's testimony for Service and Disservice, I have to figure out what EXACTLY went down back then, and it isn't easy.

I have the 1917 MLCW minutes in front of me. I've read them dozens of times, but still...

Emmeline Pankhurst and Carrie Derick, of Montreal and McGill.

It appears the MLCW executive did pass a resolution demanding that the National Council of Women shout out in the Press that it never supported the Wartime Elections Act, and that Mrs. Torrington, their President, was expressing a personal opinion when she did just that in a 1917 Toronto letter to the Editor.

At this same meeting, Carrie Derick moved to have the MLCW pass a resolution saying that the MLCW go on record as disapproving of the Wartime Elections Act, but that resolution , although written up in the minutes, never was passed.

"That the Montreal LCW reaffirm its belief in the justice and wisdom of the extension of the federal franchise to women upon the same basis as men and that the LC go on record as dispproving of the War-Times Election Act (sic) which discriminates in an undemocratic and unjustifiable manner between different groups of patriotic women."

Too many people had left the meeting by that time. The motion was left for another day, or 'lost' . Both phrases are used in the minutes.

In late 1913, a similar thing happened at the brand new Montreal Suffrage Association, a spin-off of the MLCW, with Derick acting as President.

Someone moved to have the new MSA join the Canadian Suffrage Association, but that motion was left on the table for another day - and it was never taken up again, from what I can see.

Then, in March, 1914,  the venerable Canadian Suffrage Association, led by Flora Macdonald Denison, was denounced by an upstart Toronto suffragist group, led by Constance Hamilton, that soon stole half the CSA's 2000 members, and called itself the National Equal Franchise Union.

Carrie Derick would soon join the NEFU as VP (not doing much during the war with that organization) and then she would have a falling out with Mrs. Hamilton, over this Wartime Elections Act and the anti-Quebec politics surrounding it.

(Hamilton led the charge to keep unpatriotic 'foreigners' and/or Quebeckers from voting in the 1917 election.  Nellie McClung and/or Arthur Meighen are usually given the credit, but Service and Disservice will suggest it was Mrs. Hamilton who 'outsmarted' and out-manoevered the oh-so-clever Miss Carrie Derick in the tumultuous summer of 1917, to make it look to Premier Borden as if Quebec women leaders were open to the idea of limited suffrage.)

Clearly, Carrie Derick knew something was up back in late 1913, when joining the CSA was postponed to a future meeting.

It's all very complicated, and not made easier by ambiguous records kept by the women's organizations at that time, if they kept any records at all.

That was the stated charge against Mrs. Denison, that she was very poor at governance.

And, frankly, that's just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the politicking around the infamous 1917 Canadian Conscription Election.