Monday, October 10, 2016

Militant Moles in Montreal

A patriotic cartoon in the South Shore Press, the St. Lambert newspaper, in very early WWI. The  local newspaper was full of war propaganda stories and photos of war, too. I hope I can find a picture of the suffrage play, How the Vote Was Won, put on in September, 1914. It's a long shot, but still worth going to the Archives in Ottawa to find out.

I am writing Service and Disservice, about the Canadian suffragists and their iffy involvement in the 1917 Conscription Election. It is a follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Montreal, Canada in 1912/13.  

The 'maternal' suffragists of Canada did not allow the feisty young unmarried equal-rights suffragettes into the national movement, but some of them managed to sneak in.


Yes, I guessed right.

Caroline Kenney, sister of WSPU militant suffragette Annie Kenney, did participate in a suffrage play in Montreal put on by the Montreal Suffrage Association, an organization that promised at launch to be 'sane' and 'reasonable' and to 'go about a quiet education of the people.'

Caroline had launched her own more militant local organization in December, 1913, the Equal Suffrage League. She was the one (probably) who threatened to hold a 'suffrage tramp' from Montreal to Ottawa in the Spring of 1913, that forced the Montreal Anglo Elite women to start up the MSA, a very exclusive club where, to become a member, required an endorsement from two executive members.



The MSA was an organization made up of  elite women and men; stodgy men, mostly professors and clergymen, all of whom simply DETESTED Mrs. Pankhurst and her militant suffragette troops.

One clergyman said at the launch press conference, in March, 1913, that he hoped the suffragettes starved to death in jail.

And, yet, there were many women on the Board of the M.S.A. who greatly admired Mrs. Pankhurst and the militant suffragettes, mostly in secret.

Some of these women admired the militants A LOT, like author Frances Fenwick Williams, Press Secretary, and Mrs. Kathleen Weller, Literature Committee, the wife of a prominent 'transport and electricity' man, who appeased the fear-mongers and mounted a successful suffrage exhibit in Montreal in February 1913, by making it all about red valentines and sweet suffragette chocolates and sunny jonquils.

On the surface, anyway. In the basement you could hear debates and find the latest feminist literature for your personal library.

It was Frances Fenwick Williams who put on the suffrage play "How The Vote Was Won" using the St. Lambert Players. The Gazette claimed the acting was very good.


That was my clue.

Annie Kenney's older sister, Nell,  a former British suffragette, lived in St. Lambert with her husband. Frank Randall Clarke of the Montreal Witness.

How The Vote was Won was just the kind of play the clergymen on the MSA board were afraid of!



But it was put on as a fundraiser for the Patriotic Fund right at the beginning of WWI, so, I guess, they hardly could complain.


Above: A character speaks for the anti-suffragists in How The Vote Was Won. Below: A woman speaks her side. (from Hathitrust.org where you can read the whole thing.)


I know, for a fact, because it is in the minutes of the MSA, that the production was planned before the declaration of War in Europe, in February, 1914 by a group called the Fidelis Players, who wanted the MSA to back it, but the Executive refused. That society was run by Miss Brittain, a spinster teacher member of the M.S.A. but not on the executive.

I suspect if war hadn't broken out, Montreal might have had a genuine militant suffrage movement. Maybe.