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The Past is not a Foreign Country

 

Yesterday I visited the Quebec Archives. They are housed in this beautiful building on Viger.

I brought my camera but forgot to take an outside pic and couldn't take an inside pic (was afraid to) but the place is gorgeous inside too. And I had it pretty much to myself!

I went to look up material relating to the Montreal Council of Women in 1908-1913. This building, once an academy of higher learning, was built in 1910 (Beaux Arts style) so it all  fit together very nicely.

I am making a documentary about the early suffrage movement in Quebec to complement my ebook Threshold Girl.

Now, I knew the Archives contained the fonds of the Montreal Council of Women. But a few years ago, when I visited, for some reason they couldn't find them for me.

Yesterday I had better luck, but apparently they have upgraded their system since then.

A receptionist made me a library card and guided me through the steps to 'order' what I wanted.

Oddly, I didn't see anything that interesting in the fonds in the list online, for instance, no report on the Suffrage Exhibit of 1913, so I merely chose the minutes for 1908-1913.

I assumed they would be on microfilm but they weren't: these were the original minutes in one  dilapidated volume!

I would have loved to have taken a picture of it (but I couldn't) so just imagine a dusty old ledger book about 10 by 8, with a black cover that has become detached, and about 200 bloated pages, for there are many documents inserted between the pages, and rather sloppy minutes, penned in many different hands.

How lucky!

These minutes aren't of the short and sweet, tight-lipped variety. They are kind of stream of consciousness and quite candid in parts.

And I'm glad I didn't read them 4 years ago. I wouldn't have understood what is going on. Yesterday, after 4 years of research, I was all too familiar with all the names and all the business arising, as they say at Board Meetings.

(* caption...Marion Nicholson, my husband's grandmother. She was a teacher in the city in 1908-12...and her letters reveal she had a HELL of a time finding a place to stay. The 1908-1913 minutes of the Montreal Council reflect this reality, with many business and reform people trying to set up Women's Hotels.

I write about it in Diary of a Confirmed Spinster. Oddly, Mr. Molson was an interested party, and yet the Women's Christian Temperance Union was a powerful faction in the Local Council. The Local Council was all for curbing alcohol sales in restaurants and hotels. And they wanted saloons kept a distance from schools, colleges, parks, you name it! What was a drinking man to do???

Here's a snippet from a meeting with Dr. Symonds, influential pastor of Christ Church Cathedral:

" Dr. Symonds pointed out the need of wholesome recreation for the army of women - regretting for them the lack of opportunity of self-improvement or that intercourse (sic) which was best for their social development. 

It is clear that no existing organization could meet with the need caused by the tremendous growth of our city and the thousands of women-workers to be considered....

(The message here. No one bothered to ask the young women involved what they wanted. Marion in my story is peeved at this fact!)

No, nothing in the minutes surprised me, but it was all too interesting.

Where to begin:

1) Yes, the the Council hated my grandpapa  who is the subject of my other ebook Milk and Water. Well, they disapproved of his faction (which, ironically, included Thérese Forget Casgrain's people.)

I already knew that the council worked hard for the Reform Candidates in the 1910 municipal election. But these minutes also happen to contain many pages of notes describing the Council's elation at the positive results. (Dr. Guerin, their candidate got in and this, with the help of women voters, the spinsters who had the municipal vote.)

In fact, a line is drawn across these pages, because someone decided the recorder had taken too many notes and they were irrelevant.

Here's  a bit on the elections:

"Congratulations (to all our volunteers on the elections) and to the Federation Nationale and the WCTU. The work was magnificent! No one society could have done it alone. But working together with a united front and securing the cooperation of the Federation Nationale SJB (St. Jean Baptiste).. In the lats week a call came from the Citizen's Association asking for help of six or ten women to send (unknown word) ballots and these women worked all day, Wed. Thurs. and Friday...So it was the women of Montreal who thus worked together, representatives of the various organizations, the Local Council, the Federation, the WCTU, the Women's Canadian Club, all involved? in a great national work."

2) In the Montreal Council of Women 21st Anniversary Volume, which I read the other day, it is mentioned that, early in the century, the Council worked to promote homemaking classes to girls. I found this odd when I read it because I have been led to believe, from newspaper articles, that the Council (and Carrie Derick) was all for Technical Schools for Women.

Well, the minutes for 1908-1913 prove I am right, and emphatically too. The Council did not want women to work as domestics (which was the aim of the Royal Commission on Industrial Training and Technical Education.) So the scene in Threshold Girl, where I have Flora take on Mr. Robertson over technical schools, is OK. Phew..

The Council held an emergency meeting in 1910, because new labour laws were being proposed that would lump women in with children as regards length of workday.

This would only make women seem inferior, the Council believed  and "would force labour into the homes where conditions are much worse than in factories!"

Authorities like the Royal Commission were cited to show that the tendency would be to suppress women's labour in machine work and relegate them to manual labour.  Further discrimination would force women to be replace by boys. Women would become the unskilled class of worker.

Hmm. So although Miss Derick and the Council gave a deposition to the Royal Commission re: working women in Montreal, (in 1912 I believe) they did not agree with the Commission's core beliefs. Funny, in the description of Derick's deposition, as written up in the Royal Commission Final Report Book,  the council's point of view regarding domestic work  vs factory work is not mentioned (as far as I remember.)  Did they avoid bringing it up to Robertson, or was it censored in the Commission's Report?

Here's a bit from a newsclipping Edith cut out in 1910

Away from Nature

 

 Margaret's Clipping
Likely from Montreal Witness, circa 1910. 

 
If men and women lived a less artificial life it is probable no such question as the decline of the birthrate would exist.  But every day takes us deeper into a state of living farther removed from Nature; every day sees a new invention, something to save time, labor and money.  The large factories of today did not spring into existence in a night. They had small beginnings.  But they grow enormously and who benefits whereby?  Some would arbitrarily say the owner reaps it all. Some would claim the world benefits.  It is a problem that remains to be solved.  Whoever is the gainer of the factory system, great is the suffering entailed to bring about that benefit.  For of the many ills mankind is afflicted with, the factory is responsible for a large number.  Built in crowded districts, ill ventilated, unsanitary, they are far from desirable places for young children and girls, and it is that portion of the population that mostly finds employment in them.  For it is long hours and low wages that the factory thrives on, and it is the younger generation that must be fed to it.  But then, how can a people be healthy and vigorous when it is bred under such conditions?  The factory is here to stay.  But laws should be passed, and carried out, that would do much to mitigate the evils.  There are progressive factories where it is a pleasure to work, and they are paying concerns.  But factory legislation and an impartial administration of it is badly needed.