I finally got to Montreal City Hall and their archives yesterday and sat under a framed 1947 photo of Camelien Houde, the Mayor who fired my grandfather from City Hall in 1930, and flipped through the files belonging to the Ligue des Droits de la Femme.
Except the original name of the organization was not this one. It was called the Provincial Committee for Feminine (Woman) Suffrage..
I've spent a lot of time investigating the Montreal Suffrage Association and written about it on this blog (and in an upcoming article for Quebec Heritage News).
Just like Britain's much more illustrious WSPU, the Montreal Suffrage Association (1913-1919) tried to control its own legacy.
All that's left of this organization is newspaper articles of the World War I era and a box of documents including their minutes, which were deposited with this Ligue des Droits de la Femme by Carrie Derick (the MSA's President) in the 1930's.
The story goes (because Derick created the story) the MSA disbanded in 1919 because their mission was accomplished, federally when Canadian women got the vote in 1918 - and because a new bilingual entity was needed to fight for woman suffrage at the provincial level.
But I found a letter to the editor in 1919 from a former member of the Montreal Suffrage Association claiming that the disbandment was done unilaterally by a few leaders, at a meeting no one attended.
Hmm. So I'm skeptical.
The MSA had never been a democratic organization, as I've written about here. It was mostly Carrie Derick's baby, even if the story goes (again) that she only RELUCTANTLY agreed to be that organization's President.
(I found a bizarre little news clipping just lately showing that one year later in 1914, Derick (with Julia Parker Drummond) tried to start a National Organization, (yet another one.) the National Union of Canadian Woman's Suffrage Societies..)
So, it comes as no surprised to me that this new Provincial Committee has only 3 former members of the Montreal Council/Montreal Suffrage Association: Derick, Ritchie England (both England and Derick were former Presidents of the Montreal Council of Women, the organization that 'spun off' the Montreal Suffrage Association in 1912 ) and Mrs. Walter Lyman, (Reverend Schrimger's daughter) who was active with the Montreal Council, too.
Derick and Richie England sign in at the first meeting of the Suffrage Committee. Therese Casgrain wrote in her 1971 autobiography that she deeply respected Ritchie England. (Ritchie England opposed conscription in 1917 and actively supported Laurier and so she almost got impeached by the Montreal Council of Women for disloyalty. Derick, a cagey politician, managed to steer clear of controversy, often using double-speak. Two reporters, from the Herald and La Presse also attended)
In other words, they kept the head and chopped off the rest.
They got rid of the Temperance types and the Ministers of the Cloth and the silly old English spinster school teachers :) (All this has been forgotten.)
That's why the MSA had to disband, to get rid of the racist element that was so prominent in the organization.
The Ligue des Droits de la Femme, however, is heralded in history here in Quebec because that organization finally won Quebec women the vote under Therese Casgrain in the late 1940's.
My job, now, is to read more of the minutes from the early days of the Ligue or Committee (not many available from the early days) and to compare them to the minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association.
I can already see the two governing styles are very different..
The Montreal Suffrage Association, made up entirely of members of the Montreal Council of Women, tried to keep 'official style' minutes, of their official-style board meetings, with motions and 'in favours' and first and seconding and such.
These first minutes of the new bilingual suffrage Committee are very informal, and seem to be written by Gerin-Lajoie, the head of the new organization and not by a 'secretary' a few days after the fact.
Carrie Derick appears to have taken a back seat here on the Committee, to Lajoie..
And Mrs. Pierre Casgrain was a member from the start in 1922.. that would be Therese. (I hadn't thought so.)
The members of this new Committee appear to be businessmen, Birks and Sam Bronfman and even a Mr. Frederick Hague, Mountain Street, who is the father-in-law of the Mrs. Hague I met researching my British grandmother's story at Changi. (Looking for Mrs. Peel.) Small world. I know he was a banker.
Guerin-Lajoie's fonds are in the Quebec archives, around the corner on Viger.
I've checked them out a couple of times last year and these fonds are truly delightful, full of fun documents revealing that Mrs. Gerin Lajoie was a gifted writer and a very pious Roman Catholic, determined to reconcile her religion with her feminism. (She wrote letters to all kinds of religious leaders all over Europe for support.)
In the end, in 1926, she had to give up the suffrage advocacy. Monsigneur Roy told her to. Therese Casgrain took up the fight - and successfully.
I am related to both Monsigneur Roy and Therese Casgrain, I believe. How bizarre.
Gerin-Lajoie was President of La Federation St. Jean Baptiste, a French Canadian Social Group that split off from the Montreal Council of Women in the early years of the 1900's.
It's a complicated business...Below, Margaret Nicholson of Tighsolas, Threshold Girl Votes for the first time in 1921.. This was the first full election after the Act to Confer the Electoral Franchise on Women of 1918.
Margaret lived to a ripe old age, but she never lived to vote in Provincial Elections. She died in 1944.Well, maybe she did, once.