Friday, February 26, 2016

How Winston Churchill got Suffragettes 'banned' from Canada


This is a capture of a 'scene' from A Soul on Fire, by Frances Fenwick Williams, published in 1915.

It's a dinner table scene taking place in sophisticated English Montreal circles. Frances Fenwick Williams was Press Secretary of the Montreal Suffrage Association in 1915. So, she knew of what she spoke, perhaps exaggerating a tad :)

When I first read this paragraph, I assumed that FW was using the names Christina Bankhurst and Windholme Churchham for Pankhurst and Churchill out of fear of being sued or something.

How could anyone not know the name of Winston Churchill?

But this is 1915 and clearly Fenwick Williams is mocking the ignorance of people with a pronounced opinion on Woman Suffrage.

I imagine that in that era, Pankhurst's name was more recognizable by the Anglo Man and Woman on the Street than Winston Churchill's. Pankhurst gave a speech in Montreal in December, 1911 at Windsor Hall. It is a pivotal moment in my story Furies Cross the Mersey, available on Kindle.

Much in the way most Montrealers today won't recognize the name Ed Milliband, even in the age of Internet. (I hope I spelled that correctly...:)

Now, Winston Churchill had spoken in Montreal, too, in 1901, also at Windsor Hall. He was lecturing about the Boer War and promoting himself to the world.

The reporters said 'Sir Randolph's son has a way with words' or something to that effect.

Cartoon mocking Borden's ban of suffragettes in 1912


In 1912, Prime Minister Borden of Canada visited London to discuss NAVY issues and was accosted by three British Suffragettes, including Miss Barbara Wylie, who demanded votes for Canadian women.

Soon, the suffragettes were banned from entering Canada, branded as undesirables. They came anyway. Read Furies Cross the Mersey.

It is likely this ban was invoked because Borden had invited Prime Minister Asquith and Churchill to Canada.

Churchill was afraid of the suffragettes, in large part because they were going to take away his champagne..



 Clipping saved by my husband's great Aunt Edie about the February 1913 Montreal Suffrage Exhibit that was all about happy families.


A newspaper clipping saved by Edith Nicholson from September 1912, upon British suffragette Barbara Wylie's arrival in Montreal. The reporters, apparently, almost missed her. They expected a battle-ax to detrain and instead were met with a lovely looking young woman. :)

Miss Wylie walks to the speaker’s platform, confidently, her heels clicking like a foot soldier’s on the hardwood floor.

Her eyes look bigger and brighter than on the other day at the college. Could that be kohl around the lids? And rouge de theatre on her cheeks?

The pretty suffragette begins by describing the events of 1912 with respect to the WSPU, Mrs. Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union: How the year began with 19 women in Holloway Jail.  How Emily Davison Wilding was brought to trial in January for setting fire to a pillar box. How Asquith went back on his word with respect to the Conciliation Bill while Mrs. Pankhurst was on tour in America. How several hundred women broke plate glass windows in the West End of London. How police raided the offices of the W.S.P.U. in March and arrested the Pethwick Lawrence’s. How Christabel Pankhurst escaped to France.

How Mrs. Pankhurst made a speech about ‘the argument of the pane.’

Once her list is complete she speaks in earnest.

“We women have nailed our flag to the masthead and we can no longer retreat with honor, so we will go on and never falter, until women have received the vote on an equal basis with men.”

The hall erupts in applause, Edith and Marion and Penelope and Mathilda’s wild hand-clapping is as enthusiastic as any in the audience.

‘I encourage you Canadian women to gather in thousands and go and see Mr. Borden. Use all ‘ladylike’ constitutional methods first." Edith Marion Penelope and Mathilda laugh loudly with most everyone else. "And should these fail, then I think that the Canadian women should be as willing to show an unselfish and high spirited constant devotion to the cause of liberty as the women of England.”

There is more loud applause, but rumble of discontent rises from the back of the room.

“Women did not object to making themselves conspicuous in tennis or golf and they should not be afraid of it in the cause of liberty for women who are enslaved.”


Wylie from Votes for Women, in an article discussing her trip to Canada.

Miss Wylie hits a high note on the word enslaved and it is almost too much to bear for the women in the audience. They send out a loud raucous roar.

Penelope’s colour rises to a deep red.

She imagines herself leading a suffrage parade down Sherbrooke, with tennis racquet in hand. She yells out, “Yes, liberty!”

Wylie acknowledges her comment with a nod and continues, “Of course, we shall never win the moment by physical force. We cannot turn ourselves, and go out in the thousands like the Serbs with our guns. What we can do is to express ourselves, our moral force, our physical force, in some way the people understand, even in putting a stone through a window, which may be a most righteous, heroic and religious act.”

The room is in awe, but an old curmudgeon in the back disrespectfully breaks Wylie’s witchy spell.

“But militant methods are absolutely wrong and have actually prevented women from getting the vote,” he says. He continues, “Despite the fact you are charming in personality, I call on the Montreal audience to express its disapproval of militancy and all it stands for.”

There are loud boos. And a few cheers, mostly of the baritone variety.

Dr. England intervenes from the Chair.

“Mr. Holt.  Miss Wylie has been asked to speak as a guest of the Montreal Council of Women and to state her views. It was not our intention to pass any resolution for or against militancy. But, kind sir, since you have brought up the issue, we must allow Miss Wylie to reply.”

Miss Wylie replies, pointing an accusing finger at the man: “You, sir, are the same kind of man as some of the cabinet ministers of England who express sympathy with the objects but feel that it would have come about had it not been for militancy.”

“I imagine,” replies Mr. Holt, “that comparing me to a cabinet minister is placing me very low down in the suffragette scale.” He gazes around the room waiting for a laugh that does not come.

“Let me give you an example,” says Miss Wylie.  A man stuck in a rut on a dark road may gather a lot of sympathy from passersby but if he pulled his horse across the road, he might get abuse and no sympathy, but he might get out of his own rig to get out of the rut.

Applause from the front. Boos from the back.

Another man rises to his feet to say that he is in support of militancy. That the easy peaceful methods are like a stage coach, the militant like an automobile which proceeds by a series of explosions much more quickly.

“Miss Wylie has advocated constitutional methods first,” he says. “But if a need arises for militant methods I would be willing to take part in the shame and opprobrium that would come to those who fight so that my mother and sister could vote on an equality with myself.

Yet another man leaps forward from the back to express his regrets that the man should express these sentiments.

Dr. Ritchie England cuts short his comments by declaring the meeting closed.

She is out of her depth here and knows it.


Miss Wylie looks as if she is not quite sure what has happened.  Heated arguments are de rigueur  at her speeches in England. Why not a little rowdyism? Who’s going to pay attention otherwise? Certainly not the press.
Excerpt from  by Dorothy Nixon,Furies Cross the Mersey 2014. All Rights Reserved.

A social note about a talk Wylie gave in a private parlour to a small group of Society Women in Montreal, before her YMCA talk. This bit says the women weren't impressed. In a letter to Votes for Women Wylie said she gave away all of her copies of Votes for Women, sold three subscriptions and set up a talk at McGill's Royal Victoria College. My story Furies Cross the Mersey includes a fictional description of this talk. The scene above is adapted from the report in the Montreal Gazette.