Sunday, February 7, 2016

Service and Disservice Chapter 3, Kathleen Weller

This is Chapter 3 of Service and Disservice, about the iffy involvement of the Canadian Suffragists in the 1917 Conscription Election. It is a follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey.




Mrs. Kathleen Weller

So, you want to talk to me about the suffrage movement in Montreal, in Canada, in those early years, right through to the end of the Great War?

Well, first, let me say that I am truly amazed that I have gone down in Canadian history as an important suffragist. (Although, I  was.)

By 1919, they’d already erased any record of my contribution to the suffrage cause in the country, the province and, even in the city of Montreal.

By then, most women in Canada, federally, had already won the right to vote and in Quebec it was just the beginning of a long campaign to win the provincial vote – and  I wasn’t invited to that party.

From then on, it was all Dr. Ritchie England and Professor Derick and Madames  Gerin-Lajoie and Casgrain of La Ligue des droits de la femme.

No Britishers need apply.

Upon the dissolution of the Montreal Suffrage Association, in 1919,  an anonymous letter to the Editor was published in the pages of the Montreal Gazette, complaining that only 17 of the 200 or so MSA members were present at that final meeting, so that the vote to disband was hardly representative.

The same letter tore into the Association's  President, Carrie Derick, without mentioning her name, for turning against Borden’s Union Government during the 1917 election, and for making a formal protest against limited suffrage and the Wartime Elections Act.

This was a big embarrassment for some members of the MSA Executive, who had led Premier Borden to believe MSA would  be on board with any plan he might concoct  to win the war.

As this letter said, many members of the MSA quit the organization, right then and there,  in protest.
This same letter also brought up my name, but in a kinder context, explaining  I had done good work for the MSA during the war years.

“Much effort was put into the organization in the early days, most notably by Mrs. John Scott, Mrs. H.W. Weller and Mrs. Mindon Cole, all of whom had an excellent record in war work.” 

By the way, everyone in suffrage circles knew the letter was written by novelist Frances Fenwick Williams. Who else could have written such a letter?

“We may ask “Who Killed Cock Robin?” but the question of who killed the Montreal Suffrage Association need not go ringing down the corridors of time, for alas the answer is too well known. The arrow that let out the life of the organization was politics, for when its President permitted and even directed the attack on Mr. Borden’s government when Conscription was the issue, then was launched the arrow, tipped with poisonous gall, and like a boomerang brought destruction to its source.”

She had been the one dissenter at the meeting.

Anyway, that was the very last time I’ve ever been acknowledged publically as a pioneering suffragist in Canada.

It is true what Frances says: in late 1914, with most suffragists in Canada dropping the cause for Patriotic Work, I carried on with suffrage propaganda on  behalf of the MSA, handing out hundreds of pamphlets, in both English and French,  at summer fairs in the Eastern Townships, and manning the booths at Dominion Park and even the annual Auto Show.

When I eventually gave up the  suffrage fight, around  the end of 1915, I  did it not for war reasons but to appease  my  husband, H.W. Weller, one of  world’s top electricity men who, for decades, ran the Canadian arm of a giant American company, Babcock Wilcox, out of their Westmount, Quebec offices.

In 1914 and 15, the Montreal Local Council of Women stupidly got involved in an issue entirely unrelated to women’s rights or social reform, a looming 30 year tramway deal.

They also got into an unseemly public battle with French Mayor Mederic Martin, who  called them ‘idle ladies’ in the Press.

This embarrassed my husband, H.W. Weller, who was on the Montreal Board of Trade – and well versed in the complex world of transportation politics, especially in Quebec with its precarious French/English balance.

He knew better than to take sides, and I was tainted by association with the Council.  I had no choice but to back out of the MSA.

The Montreal Suffrage Association, technically speaking,  wasn’t the Montreal Local Council of Women,  but those days there were so many women’s groups and so many suffrage groups, everyone, including newspaper journalists, got them all mixed up, which  sometimes was a very bad thing and sometimes, well, it was advantageous, providing a kind of anonymity, unaccountability, especially during those dark days of the Great War.

The 1914 women’s annual lists scores of Canadian suffrage of associations, leagues, societies, unions and even one 'club' in Brantford, Ontario.

The Canadian Suffrage Association is listed as THE pioneer organization in a most laudatory way, the brand new NEFU claims to have the elite Montrealer Julia Parker Drummond as Honorary VP, giving them an aura of authenticity.

Toronto has by far the most organizations, five of them, including a Junior Suffrage League. British Columbia, Manitoba and  Ontario have provincial organizations.  There is  a Quebec Provincial Suffrage Association ,under a certain Mrs. Bullock, listed as a member of the CSA, but that organization is of no import.

 The Montreal Suffrage League, started by Caroline Kenney, sister of Annie Kenney, is  left off the 1914 list.

If you can makes sense of all that, you are better than most.

Frances Fenwick William, despite her fine family affiliations, and I, were outsiders, in large part because we were both relatively new to the City of Montreal. I was from Midlands, UK, not far from the home of the Pankhursts, and she was from Nova Scotia.

 Frances did not like Carrie Derick who had stolen her Press Committee thunder at the MSA right from the beginning – and, later when Miss Derick and her followers on the Executive of the Montreal Suffrage Association passed a resolution in protest of the War Times Election Act in 1917, Frances was livid.

Mrs. Fenwick Williams got very vocal – and emotional -in her support of the Union Government in 1917. The rumour was she was the victim of someone in the Prime Minister’s Office.

By that time, though, she was off the Executive of the MSA, as was I.

Others had taken our place: Mrs. Hurlbatt of McGill’s Royal Victoria College got back on board the suffrage bandwagon after an hiatus of a few years, and Annie Langstaff, Quebec’s first female law school graduate, got involved, too.

And there was Mrs. Goodchild, from St Lambert, who everyone knew was Mrs. Williams’ very good friend. A plant, or sorts.

I can’t say I disliked Miss Derick, myself.   You had to admire her gumption, to stand up with the men like she did, all her life long.

Let’s say, though, I wasn’t fond of the way she insisted on taking credit for everything always on behalf of the Montreal Local Council. And she gave so many speeches, on all kinds of subjects, to such a wide spectrum of citizens, over such a long stretch of time, often getting attention in the local Press, well, her version of things usually stuck.

As it happens, the History of the Canadian Suffrage Movement was one of her favorite topics.

She might start by invoking Eve to show she was pious and Sappho (to show how educated she was) and then lead into a mention of the British Movement, John Stuart Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft, to show how modern she was, and then move to the Americans,  and then when it came to the Quebec, well it was always all about the Donaldas, and how Mrs. England in 1888 defied the Principal of McGill in her valedictory speech by demanding women be allowed into McGill Medical School. And then she’d talk about the Montreal Suffrage Association, founded only in 1913.

She was proud of the fact the Executive was made up of both men and women, although the membership was entirely female. That didn't make any sense to me. 

So, if you too believe the Donaldas, McGill's first female students, are the be all and end all, you'll like her take on things.

But let me set you straight: It was the Montreal Women’s Club that got the suffrage ball rolling in Montreal in the Laurier Era. The Montreal Women’s Club, founded by, yes, another McGill graduate, Helen Reid, as a literary club.

The Citizenship Committee of the Montreal Women’s Club, to be exact. That would be Mrs. MacIntosh and me, Mrs. H. W. Weller, (Kathleen to my friends) and about 30 other future-gazing women.

I was also on the Citizenship Committee of the National Council of Women in 1910,  and that's two years before that organization officially came out in favor of woman suffrage.

In those early days, I did my homework. I was no dabbler, no dillitante. I spent hundreds of hours studying the woman suffrage question and reading up on all the latest literature.

In 1910, I took a particular interest in Lady McLaren’s Women’s Charter of Rights and Liberties.  I combed through her book, sentence by sentence. I discussed the ideas in detail with the other women on our Committee.

You see, I took my responsibilities very seriously, even if I wasn’t a university woman, just a daughter of a well-to-do Derbyshire farmer who had used her position  to marry a hard working, talented and ambitious man.


I was proud of my husband, who for the most part supported my feminist advocacy.   I was no man- hater but I could see how some married women might be.

Let Lady  McLaren explain:

“Women have suffered so much that nothing is further from their wish than gaining equal rights for women, lest any injustice be done to the man or the child, the other two persons in the Human Trinity.

But up to the present time, man, with his wishes, his pleasure, his power has been the only one considered in the legislation. Comparatively recently, the child has risen to a position superior to that of the mother, with much of this gain coming at the Mother’s Expense.

In addition to the many ruthless wrongs which have survived from Barbarous times, much new social legislation contains clauses which entrench on the liberty, property and happiness of women.”

Unlike Canadian suffragists, Lady MacLaren thought the municipal franchise was not a worthy goal:  To confer municipal rights on women is to practically to allow them to work in the public service for nothing and there is little in these rights which confer an actual benefit to women themselves.

She thought women should be allowed to divorce on the same basis as men and that women with no children should be permitted divorce with a five year waiting period.

And she thought women needed the franchise to be able to take care of themselves, financially. Men would never allow them into the workforce without the vote.

I had my own income, due to my parents’ benevolent foresight.  Only part of my dowry went to setting my husband up in  business; and that turned out to be a most worthy investment. He rose to the very top of his profession, as we moved around the world for his many contracts.

 Most women in Quebec lost control of their dowries the minute they married. But in the Province of Quebec I couldn’t keep a bank account of over 2,000 dollars. I couldn’t conceive of not being financially independent, however kind and hardworking my husband.

In those days I also read the play How the Vote was Won, by Cecily and Christopher St-John, that was produced by our Association at the start of war.

I read My Faith in Women’s Suffrage; the feminist writings of Bernard Shaw, Zangwell and the Earl of Selbourne, Lord Robert Cecil, Beatrice Harraden, Elizabeth Robins and Lady Constance Lytton.

In my mind, it was all about fairness, but women, too, could come up short in that area.

Take for example, the Montreal Suffrage Exhibition held for two weeks at the beginning of February, 1913.

That was entirely our idea, mostly my idea.

Now, the Montreal Women’s Club was a charter member of the Montreal Local Council and some people might say I am just splitting hairs when I say one group deserves credit over the other one.

But I like credit to be given where it is due.

Back in October, 1912, when Dr. Adami of the City Improvement League refused to allow a suffrage table at the Child Welfare Exhibit, thinking it would alienate the French, we at the Women’s Club took action. 

We went to the Local Council and suggested we women hold our own suffrage exhibition, something never before done in Canada.

The MLCW provided the seed money, I admit it, but I did all the work – and no one disputed that fact.

My picture was in the newspapers promoting the exhibit, embracing my daughter. It was an old photo, because my daughter, in 1911, was 19, after all. Too old to sit on my lap.

 It was also my idea to given the exhibition a heart-warming  and untimidating Valentine’s theme. 

We displayed dollies  representing countries that already had woman suffrage, like Finland and Australia. We had sweet suffragette chocolates and an excellent home-made tea each day.

And in the basement we sold serious suffrage literature and held a series of rousing debates.

At first, we were vague about the particulars, about who exactly was mounting the event. We didn't shout it out in the Press. The promotional articles didn't mention any names.

That was out of an over-abundance of caution. A month before, the Montreal Gazette had just come out with a long editorial that was very strong against Votes for Women.

Woman Suffrage was a dirty word to many people in Montreal in 1913,and  not only the French citizens.

But, by the end of the first week, it was clear that our Suffrage Exhibition was going to be a popular and financial success.  The  Montreal Local Council began taking credit for the whole thing in the newspapers. By the end of  second week, I had to set the record straight in the Press.

“The exhibit was the outgrowth of a plan formed by a group of workers numbering about thirty from the Citizenship Class of the Montreal Women’s Club. These ladies asked and secured the support of the Local Council of Women, in their enterprise and the results have amply justified, in their opinion the efforts put forth.”

No surprise then, that when the Montreal Suffrage Association finally was launched in March, by the Local Council, I was not asked to be on the Executive. 

It was Mrs. Fenwick Williams who published a cryptic note in her Feminist Column that embarrassed the Montreal Council of Women executive. "Kathleen: the suffrage exhibit literature bureau made a small fortune for the Montreal Council of Women - and you were the reason. If you want to apply to be on the Board of the new Suffrage Organization, apply to Mrs. Walter Lyman. She even published her address."

I received a phone call the very next day from Mrs. Lyman. I was asked to be on Literature Committee. I accepted, with bells on. I was needed there.

Mrs. Walter Lyman, a Vice-President of the Montreal Local Council,  was the daughter of Reverend Scrimger, the Principal of the Canadian Presbyterian College, so she had stacked the MSA exectuvive with 3 clergymen. Well, Reverend Herbert Symonds was Anglican, but you get my drift.

And so many men on the Board, too, including  Mr. Holt, who had made a total fool of himself when Miss Barbara Wylie came to town to speak in November, 1912, getting into a lound fight with her.

It all made no sense to me. The MSA membership was almost entirely made up of women. Only one man was allowed to join, if I recall. Why so many men?

But, then, my husband was called to the UK, on some business to do with the Dreadnoughts Borden had promised to England.

I went along with him and while I was there in England, in the summer and fall of 1913, I met up with the suffragettes. Miss Wylie, who I had entertained in my Westmount home in 1912, reciprocated my hospitality, and took brought me to various suffrage meetings. At one of these meetings, in the East End of London, I met up with Flora Macdonald Denison, President of the Canadians Suffrage Association.

We both witnessed quite a show put on by Sylvia Pankhurst, who was on the run from the police.

Mrs. Denison and I had been on the Citizenship Committee of the National Council of Women at one time.

Flora was doing research for her Toronto World column. I asked her not to mention in her column, the fact that I was in England with her - and she complied, but I had a lot to think of on the long boat ride home.

When I got back to Montreal in October, I had a change of heart. I proposed a motion at the next board meeting that the Montreal Suffrage Association denouncing the force-feeding of the suffragettes in England to be sent to  Prime Minister Asquith.

No men were at this meeting, so the resolution passed.

 Buoyed by that unexpected win, I gave a talk in support of Mrs. Pankhurst to the Montreal Women's Club, speaking only for myself and not the M.S.A. but the local press reported on it.

A few weeks before a suffragette in London had notoriously destroyed a painting in the National Gallery, so a reporter snared me with a very unfair question. "Did I think that it was permissible to destroy Art Works in the name of women suffrage?"

I replied that I hadn't been in England when that happened, but the suffragette must have had good reason to do it.

Of course, that was what made the headline.

So, one meeting into my tenure as Literature Committee Convenor of the Montreal Suffrage Association, I was in their bad books.

Then it only got more uncomfortable. A municipal election was called, with the Tramway Deal being the main issue and the women on the executive of the MSA were keen to get involved once again, as they had in 1910 and 1912, with the Montreal Local Council.

Colonel Stephens, the Reform Candidate for Mayor was against the deal. Mederic Martin, his opponent was widely believed to be a pro-tramway man.

At my husband's request, I proposed that the MSA stay out of the Municipal Election as ours was a suffrage organization - and that meant not taking sides.

To my astonishment President Derick agreed.  This resolution was passed.

"Be it resolved that the MSA will not take part in the upcoming civic elections, but any MSA member who wishes to is encouraged to volunteer as a member of the Montreal Local Council in their efforts to elect reform candidates."  Not 100% what I wanted, but good enough to please my husband.

Then Miss Derick gave a statement to the local press stating that the MSA was non-partisan and would stay out of the election, while not mentioning the second part of the resolution.

She was a cagey one, that Carrie.

And this official MSA policy certainly didn't stop her from stomping for Colonel Stephens, under no particular banner, but as an elite Montreal female of influence.

She loudly proclaimed at her speaking engagements that month, that "All women would vote for Col. Stephenson."And she got a lot of press headlines, too, on the England and the French side.

That's not the point of the vote, is it? For one influential women to tell all the other women who to vote for?

I was a fish out of water and I knew it. I began to wish Mrs. Williams hadn't pushed so hard for me to get a place on the MSA executive.

Then war broke out - and everything changed, for a while at least. It started with a October, 1914 letter I wrote to the editor of the Montreal Daily Mail in reply to an earlier letter criticizing Canadian suffragists for continuing the suffrage fight in a time of crisis.

I nipped that  argument in the bud, describing, in detail, the patriotic works suffragists everywhere were engaged in, in Canada, the US and England.

Then I described the national and relief work being taken up by  suffragists everywhere. Sylvia Pankhurst starting up restaurant where a meal could be had for next to nothing. Mrs. Belmont in the US setting up a relief effort for the Belgians.  The MSA mounting a play as a fundraiser and the Equal Suffrage League also planning to engage in extensive relief work.

"We suffragists are the most undaunted people in the kingdom," I wrote. "We are used to endurance."

This excelellent letter got me back in the MSA's good books. Besides they needed me. Most members, including Miss Derick, were too busy with war work to keep up the suffrage side of things.

Mrs. John Scott of the Montreal Women's Christian Temperance Union and I were the only ones with enough time to travel to the fairs in the Eastern Townships to hand out the thousands of suffrage pamphlets, in English and French, and the bright yellow Votes for Women buttons that the MSA had ordered at launch.

Miss Derick sometimes accompanied us to give one her famous speeches, or to adapt one just for the occasion. She was a genius public speaker, really. Sometimes you didn't understand what she was saying, but you always were taken in by her eloquence.

But, eventually, this initial supply of propaganda, the flyers and pamphlets, ran out and there was no money for more. The MSA rooms on University had been turned, every Thursday, over for Red Cross Work.

And, then, the Montreal Council in Women got into an unseemly public feud with Mayor Mederic Martin.

It was all too much.  By the autumn of 1915, I quit the MSA executive, unofficially, at least.  By that time, Mrs. Williams had disappeared, too, preferring to spend more time with the rival Equal Franchise League and her real friends there.

 I was not  invited to the final Annual Meeting of the MSA, the one in 1919, the one where the MSA was dissolved.

So, you see, I wasn't involved in Canadian or Montreal suffrage circles in 1917, when the Conscription Crisis hit. What I know, I know only second-hand, through friends or friends of friends.

Mrs. Fenwick Williams, through her informer, Mrs. Goodchild, kept me informed about Miss Derick, I learned how she forced through a resolution against Borden's War Time Elections Act at the MSA, but how she was not able to do the same at the Montreal Local Council of Women.

As for how this Wartime Elections Act came to be in the first place, all I know is what was explained at Montreal Council Meetings.

It was Mrs. Hamilton's idea.  It was her idea to send around the telegrams with the infamous question: "Would Borden win the election if women were given the vote?" And when the answere came back an overwhelming NO, it was Mrs. Hamilton's idea to give the vote only to women with men at the Front.

Am I right? I couldn't be 100% certain. No one could back then, about anything.

Miss Derick supposedly had been left out of the loop, with respect to this plan with Borden, even if she, at the time,  was VP of Mrs. Hamilton's National Equal Franchise League.

To be honest,  I don't believe that for an instant. Not with what I know first hand about Miss Carrie Derick.

Was I mad at Miss Derick for forcing the MSA to officially condemn this limited suffrage ploy?

Not at all.

I was with her all the way.

I may have been one of those 'maternal suffragists' in public, with my sweet suffragette chocolates and adorable suffrage dollies, but in private I was an equal-rights suffragist.

I hadn't spent so much time studying all those suffrage tracts for nothing.  In my opinion, there was nothing democratic about Mr. Borden's War Time Elections Act.

That's where my good friend, Mrs. Frances Fenwick Williams, and I disagreed.

Democracy isn't something you can turn on and off  like a tap. In fact, it's during trying times when it matters more to stick to your principles.

No, I was not happy with the Wartime Elections Act, especially since it slighted Quebeckers the most.

And, yes, I felt slighted, with no son to have in the war, only a daughter, and a husband too old to fight, although he contributed to the war effort in many other, very important, ways.

Ad with all the work I had done for the war effort. Yes, I felt slighted, humiliated. I could not suck it up, like I was told to, by Mrs. Hamilton and her ilk.

They all  justified it afterwards by saying that Borden would have won the 1917 election, regardless. But that was no justification in my eyes.

Few young men ended up being drafted, after all, about 22,000. That's the number I heard. And even fewer of them were sent into the fray.

The war ended in late 1918. Maybe if the war had lasted longer, they would have needed those conscripts.

Most Canadian women, save enemy aliens, were given full franchise before the end of the war in 1918, with the Act to Confer the Electoral Franchise on Women.

All Canadian women were given the right to vote in Federal Elections in 1920, except for aboriginal women.

I, myself, voted for the first time in the 1921 Federal election.

You would be surprised how many women didn't bother to cast a ballot in that first election.

 They couldn't be bothered. They felt ashamed. They were out of town. They were too busy.

Can you imagine?

(You can? It still happens? Women don't bother to vote?)

And, then, the Montreal Suffrage Association was suddenly disbanded, at a meeting in 1919, with  Mrs. Fenwick Williams the one dissenting voice.

The small amount of money left in the till was turned over to Miss Derick and her efforts for the feeble-minded. (Well, she had raised the monies on her speaking tours, so you could hardly condemn her for that.)

Then Mrs. Williams sent off that angry letter to the Editor of the Montreal  Gazette that mentioned my name, Mrs. H.W. Weller (Kathleen to my friends)  as a prominent Montreal suffragist, for the last time ever.

And La Ligue des droits de la femme was set up by Carrie Derick and Madame Gerin-Lajoie, with many notable Montrealer's, men and women, French and English, agreeing to be on the Board.

No Britishers like me, though, were asked to participate.

 La Ligue had a long fight ahead, as it turned out.

So, it's nice to be remembered, by you, at least, as a Canadian suffragist of note. All that hard work I put in. And on the hundredth anniversary of the contentious 1917 Conscription election, you say?

That's when you are going to publish your little book about us. How delicious that sounds.