Monday, October 10, 2016

An Anti-Suffragette Editorial: A Really Stupid One

Edith Nicholson in her 'mannish' shirtwaist and the same shirtwaist in a Delineator Magazine. She also read the Ladies Home Journal writing in a letter home, "Curls are in this year. I read it in the Ladies' Home Journal."

In February 1913, an editorial cropped up in the Montreal Gazette. No doubt it was part of a 'disinformation' campaign to diss the suffrage movement and, most importantly, the militant British suffragettes who were invading Canada and Montreal and also making big headlines in the press (true and exaggerated) for their warrior-like ways at home.

This editorial is special for another reason: it just might be one the worst one ever written. It isn't really an editorial at all because it largely quotes someone else from another print venue.

I guess the Gazette Editors, all men, felt that they needed to quote a woman about suffragists.

I wonder what Edith Nicholson of Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster thought of this editorial, calling her and her ilk unfeminine and manly. She was such a girly girl when it came to fashion.

This editorial was published a few months after militant suffragette Barbara Wylie came to speak in Montreal and mocked British Prime Minister Asquith. Wylie had written a note to Votes for Women Magazine saying she had lined up a possible meeting at Royal Victoria Women's College of McGill.

  Caroline Kenney, sister of militant suffragette Annie Kenney, was possibly already in Montreal stirring up trouble. She gave a rabble-rousing speech in early March that did not impress your average Montrealer.

In late March, the Montreal Suffrage Association would  be launched and with a loud promise to be NON Militant and 'reasonable.'

Miss Ethel Hurlbatt, a suffragette sympathizer from London, England  and Matron at McGill's Royal Victoria College, the Women's College, did not sit on the board of the M.S.A. She had bowed out of suffrage activities at the Montreal Council of Women recently citing work conflicts.  This article may have been one reason why.

The Efficient Citizen 

So far, the severest condemnation of the militant suffragette has, apparently, come not from men, public or otherwise, but from women.

This, it may be said, is rather in the favor of the militant suffragette than otherwise, as it is well known that women are the harshest critics of women’s shortcomings or excesses.

We do not care to weigh the value of such a judgement from that point of view, but simply to note it as among the facts or considerations that may lead to the attainment of an ultimate just conclusion.

In the last issue of the National Review, Miss Helen Hamilton undertakes to account for the appearance in Great Britain of the militant suffragette by the taking of certain English schools.

As she has been a teacher herself, she probably knows something of what she is discussing.

Her article is headed “Suffragette Factories.”

She begins by representing the manufacturers as pointing proudly to the ‘finished article, the public school and college trained girl” as not a mere woman, but an “efficient citizen.”

This expression is, she says, a favorite one in certain scholastic circles. Miss Hamilton does not approve of it, although it has won the admiration of some simple parents. To her it is ‘inhuman, so superior – so neuter” suggesting to  a startled and unwilling world “an almost sexless creature.”

She knows that her statements may meet with contradiction and that it may be urged that school and college have had nothing to do with evolving such a type as the armed suffragist. But such a type could not, she holds, have come into being save by artificial means.

 It is well known that some of the militant suffragettes are highly educated women, and her education must, to some extent, have been responsible for her opinions. It is just after the completion of her training that she begins to reveal her most striking characteristics.

And what are the characteristics that she displays? “Independence, self-assertion, self-importance, a desire to make a mark in the world, a somewhat aggressive and dogmatic attitude toward others, especially to men, a want of tolerance to those whose opinions she does not share, combined with a contempt for ideals which are not her own.”

How so undesirable a type can have been developed, Miss Hamilton is at some pains to make clear to her readers.

The explanation lies in the fact that she has been educated on pretty much the same lines as a boy, and that, at the most impressionable period of her life, she came under the influence of women who had undergone a similar training.

If the influence is strong and the girl is by nature malleable, she discards the home and is subdued by the school influences, and develops into a ‘bad imitation of a man, in other words, into a suffragette type of woman.”

Another  influence on which Miss Hamilton lays stress is the varied succession of entertainments, rehearsals, literary clubs, debating societies, and other attractions and distractions, which make a constant demand on the girls’ time, and estrange her more and more from home and its claims. It may be thought that instructions in domestic science, cooking, sewing, house decoration and management ,  ought to be a counter –irritant, as it were, to the distractions, and make for love of domestic life. But Miss Hamilton’s experience has convinced her that girls who pass through courses rarely settle down at home.

But why do parents lose control of their daughters? Miss Hamilton says that mother have a blind faith, not untinged with fear in the college trained woman.

There is another reason for the alienation. After living for years by a time table, the girl of “the suffragette factory” is at a loss what to do with herself , when it is all over.  As for the general character of education, Miss Hamilton says that the pupil is crammed with a smattering of a multitudinous subjects.  The result is that often instead of finding pleasure in reading, she acquires a distaste for it. Art, which would stimulate the imagination and emotional qualities, is pushed into the background.

The Efficient Citizen: must be a creature  of reason blind to beauty and gentleness – otherwise she might develop into a "mere woman.” But the central aim of all this training is to give life and exercise to the ‘man vs woman spirit.” The girl is taught to compete with men in the same kind of work, and ignoring the fact that nature has given him an advantage in some kinds of labour, as he is physically stronger, she learns to look upon him as a tyrannical oppressor.In fine, Miss Hamilton concludes, the Efficient Citizen, who becomes the militant suffragette, has ‘shed her femininity” with all that made it attractive.

For her own part she has no use for such a hybrid.

Hmm. The word hybrid. Was it Hamilton's or the Gazette's? It suggests a non-human, doesn't it?

Next bit is about Auto Vehicle show. (Oddly, the Montreal Suffrage Association has a booth there the next year.|The motor show opens today in the Drill Hall on Craig Street and the 65th Armory on Pine Avenue will have on exhibition the latest devices in the way of automobile bliss, which are rapidly growing in favor in Montreal as elsewhere.