Friday, March 18, 2016

Constance Hamilton, suffragist, on the 1917 Conscription Election

The Toronto Suffragists, including Mrs. Flora Macdonald Denison and Mrs. Constance Hamilton, marching in the 1913 Washington Suffrage Procession.

(Constance Hamilton speaking)

In 1916, Premier Borden came back from a visit to England with an enormous mandate: to get 500,000 more recruits for the war effort.

The Montreal Council of Women, of all places, spurred by Carrie Derick, their Past-President, passed their own Conscription resolution.

This resolution was sent along to the National Council of Women then on to all the locals across the country. It became known as the Montreal Resolution. I believe 11 Councils came out in favour, 7 against.

Later, Carrie Derick, The MLCW Past-President, felt she had to flatly deny that her organization had ever come out in favor of Conscription; they had come out, she said, for 'compulsory public service' for both men and women.

I was told, on the sly, that the word Conscription was written in their minutes before the resolution in question and even underlined.

“Re: Conscription and expression of sympathy: That the LCW is dissatisfied with the present undemocratic method of recruiting and believe that Canada should without further delay fulfill her pledge to send 500,000 men for the Defence of the Empire and petition the government to take definite steps to extend the operation of the Military Act for Home Defence to overseas, with just and reasonable exceptions.”
Ah, the Montreal Council. They had their own peculiar set of problems, many of which we, in Ontario, couldn’t fully understand. So, who am I to judge?

Even if Miss Derick did turn against me, in 1917, during that time of crisis, and  against Premier Borden and against the country and the war effort.

My opinion, anyway.

Still, as I said, I will always owe the woman a special debt.

Up until the founding of the Toronto Equal Franchise League, my chief concern had been getting city women back to the farm, a more wholesome environment for them than the big city, with its many temptations.

Then, in 1912, Miss Derick who convinced me that if young  country women were going to continue to flock to the big cities for work and recreation, even with our government’s great efforts to counter that trend with the Macdonald Movement for Rural Education, then we righteous women had to get involved.

And the municipal arena was the logical place to start.

Derick considered it a big fiery feather in her cap, the 1910 Montreal Municipal elections, where the reform candidate, a Dr. John James Guerin was elected Mayor, largely because of her organization’s efforts.

Her enthusiasm was contagious. So, in 1912, I adopted the suffrage cause, just as Flora Macdonald Denison was given the post of President of the Canadian Suffrage Association.

Right from the start, I recognized that the CSA was decrepit and obsolete.   I asked to see the membership list of the CSA, but none was to be had. The treasurer's reports? Non-existent.

I had heard that the CSA’s Port Arthur branch had only two women working for it. Her Quebec representative, a Mrs. Hammond Bullock,  I understood, was tone-death to the political realities of that Province.

And, yet, here was Mrs. Denison, being feted by none other than Mrs. Chapman Catt, a leader of the American movement, at the Washington DC parade in March, 1913, and described  in all the introductions as Canada’s greatest suffrage leader.

As if she were some kind of superstar. No question about it, she had a peculiar charisma, that woman,  to go along with her most peculiar ideas.

I make no apologies for the coup I instigated in March, 1914, taking away 1,000 of the CSA's members to start another, more responsible and responsive, national suffrage organization.

I know Mrs. Denison likes to think she kicked us out, but we were the ones who broke away from her organization.

Frilly talk in newspaper columns and high-sounding speeches in foreign countries does not a national suffrage organization make.

The suffrage movement in Canada, for so long the purview of over-educated, spoiled and excitable women, was stagnating. Something had to be done to shake it up.

And, if a Great War broke out before we, ourselves, at the National Equal Franchise Union, could get organized, well, that's not our fault either, is it?

As I said earlier, I gave up the suffrage cause before our National Equal Suffrage Union could have its second meeting. We brought in Nellie McClung to speak, though, in the summer of 1915, if I recall, as well as Mrs. Rose Henderson of Montreal, the child-offender champion.

I enlisted, instead, as Chair of the Women's side of the Win-the-War-Committee.

And, then, as it became clearer and clearer that the Allies wouldn't win the war without more soldiers at the Front, more Canadian soldiers, I applied myself to that sticky problem.