Monday, February 8, 2016

The Duchess of Duke Street and Canadian Suffragists in 1917

My copy of Atlantis from 1975 about the Canadian Suffragists during WWI.


Well, more and more stuff comes online each day.

Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax has posted back issues of Atlantis, the Women and Gender Studies journal - and with it, two articles that mirror my ebooks about the Canadian Suffragists.


One is English Militancy and the Canadian Suffrage Movement by Deborah Gorman and the other is The Wartime Elections Act of 1917 and the Canadian Suffrage Movement by Gloria Geller.

The first piece covers the same territory as my Furies Cross the Mersey, available on Amazon Kindle.  The second, the same territory as Service and Disservice, a work in progress.

 I read the Geller article two years ago. A copy of the Atlantis issue containing it is somwhere in my basement.

Both of these articles are from around 1975. That's a long time ago. 40 years ago, yikes! I was in my first year of university.

 Gorman writes a lot about Miss Barbara Wylie's 1912 visit to Canada, saying it was pretty ineffective, indeed, hubris on the part of the W.S.P.U,  but ignores the Quebec side of things.

She doesn't mention Caroline Kenney (sister of famed militant Annie Kenney) being in Montreal at the same time. That's not I surprise; I figured that out by myself only last year.

So, 1975 is the very last time someone addressed these historical events.

The Duchess of Duke Street was on PBS back then. (I just watched an episode of that on YouTube yesterday.) So was Upstairs, Downstairs.  Remember that great show? Why doesn't someone do a re-make? :)

Next year will be the anniversary of the Conscription Criss, an event that may have changed the course of Canadian history.

And women were involved. Who would have guessed?

Now, upon reading the Geller article for a second time, I can see that she believed that Constance Hamilton of the National Equal Franchise Union and Mrs. Torrington of the National Council and Mrs Gooderale of I.O.D.E. had a part in fashioning the Wartime Elections Act.

Those women who supported Borden and were instrumental in determining the nature of the Act itself were, as noted above, Mrs. A.E. Gooderham, President of the I.O.D.E. (Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire), Mrs. L.A. Hamilton, Chairman, Women's Section of the Win-the-War League and President, National Equal Franchise Union, Mrs. F.H. Torrington, President of the National Council of Women. p.103.

It is commonly believed that Arthur Meighan or Nellie McClung were the culprits.

(Geller did not consult the minutes of the Montreal Suffrage League or the Montreal Council of Women. She did consult Carole Bacchi's master's thesis on Canadian Suffrage which became a doctoral  thesis which became the definitive book on the subject of  the Canadian women's suffrage movement - published around 1980.)

Of course, I agree with Geller.That's the key point in  Service and Disservice, where I tell this unheralded story from the point of view of five Canadian suffragists, three of them from Montreal.

Emmeline Pankhurst, Carrie Derick and some 1912 headlines about British Suffragettes in Canada.

But, since Mrs. Gooderham complained in the Toronto Press about the secretive way things were handled by Hamilton and Borden and since Mrs. Torrington told the Montreal Council of Women that she didn't know what she was doing when she signed a public letter in support of the Wartime Elections Act, I'll go even further and say it was all Mrs. Constance Hamilton (conspiring with folks in the PM's office) . In 1917, Hamilton was a passive on-hold President of the NEFU and a very active member of the Women's Section of the Win-the-War Committee.

 I have the evidence, the smoking gun, as it were, and it involves Carrie Derick of Montreal. It seems she dropped the ball in the summer of 1917  and let Mrs. Hamilton do an end run around her. (That's not mixing metaphors, is it? The Superbowl was yesterday.)

I think Carrie Derick (President of the Montreal Suffrage Association; Past President of the Montreal Local Council of Women; VP Education Chair of the National Council of Women and, yes, VP of the National Equal Franchise Union)  could have stopped this game-changer from unfolding.

Indeed, Derick tried very hard, but she let up just at the wrong moment, in July 1917, when Mrs. Hamilton held an emergency meeting of the National Equal Franchise Union (which had been dormant since the War began) and got a Mr. C.M.  Holt, Pankhurst-hating VP of Miss Derick's Montreal Suffrage Association to send her an hysterical sounding 'resolution' (that wasn't really a resolution since there was no formal meeting, no quorum, no motion, or no record of said resolution in any minutes) seeming to support anything that would keep unpatriotic 'slackers' from voting, a resolution that was printed up in the Toronto newspapers - and probably lead Premier Borden to believe that Quebec women would be on-side with him should he have no choice but to call an election.

The very next day the local  Women were invited to participate in the Toronto August 2, Win-the-War meetings.  (They only had only two days to prepare, it was said, just two days to find 2,000 participants.)

The next day those infamous telegrams were sent out by Torrington, Gooderham and Hamilton, asking  elite women 'from sea-to-sea' (secretly) whether Borden would win an election if Canadian women could vote.

The answer came back NO.

Derick and Ritchie England received the telegrams, it is written in MLCW minutes, but there is no way to know how they replied, or whether they replied at all - or whether they received the telegrams only much later because they were out of town.

They didn't have to answer: everyone knew the situation with respect to Quebec.

Both Derick and England were keen to make sure ALL Canadian women got the vote when it happened. Many people, and some MP's, were pushing to give the federal vote only to women who already had the provincial vote. That would leave Quebec women out.

These two Montreal women were very much against limited suffrage of any kind - and Dr. England, at least, paid a price for her strong views.

Carrie Derick got Constance Hamilton back, a bit,  by formally protesting against the Wartime Elections Act in her capacity as President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, forcing Borden to write her back a tense letter of explanation. It  was all about foreign women out West, he said in the  letter. (Borden wrote the same letter to the French Federation St. Jean Baptiste.)

Yes, the P.M. seemed angry and impatient in his letter.

Derick had tried to get a similar protest resolution passed by the Montreal Local Council of Women, but too many women walked out on that meeting, apparently, so the motion was 'lost'.

That's why I don't believe Derick simply allowed Mr. Holt to send that crazy, bogus resolution to Hamilton in July, 1917.  It is claimed in the minutes that Mr. Holt and Mrs. Scott were the only two members of the MSA executive in the City.

Derick's had always controlled the message at the MSA but, at the time, Derick, a McGill botany professor, was busy working on the vital issue of  food conservation.

She had also locked horns with Hamilton, in May, 1917 over Quebec and the federal vote. There is some evidence,too, that Derick tried to wrest the NEFU from Hamilton at that time.

And, at the 1918 AGM of the National Council of Women, the NEFU reported that after some period of  upset over the Wartime Elections Act their membership came together in a spirit of patriotism; The Canadian Suffrage Association, a more pacifist suffrage organization,  bit the bullet and said the Wartime Elections Act may have been a silver lining in a dark cloud; while the Montreal Local Council of Women discussed only their program for the feeble-minded in their report to to the AGM and the Montreal Suffrage Association published no report at all.