Monday, July 31, 2017

Cannibalism, Conscription and Mme Defarge-like Clicks


Toronto Suffragists March in Washington in 1913. 
Constance Hamilton, the leader of a provincial assocation, walked behind Mrs. Flora Macdonald Denison and Dr. Stowe-Gullen of the Canadian Suffrage Association.  Hamilton soon mounted a coup against Denison and started her own National Equal Franchise Union, that didn't do much during the War, but in 1917 she used her position to act as a spokesperson for Canadian women.


Well, in 1916, a year before he was forced to call the infamous Conscription Election, Premier Borden of Canada called for 500,000 new recruits.

The population of Canada in 1917 was 8,000,000.

I did the math, looking at the Census figures, and, yes, 500,000 men would have meant about every able-bodied man from 14 to 35 living in the country.

And if you figure they weren't allowing foreign born or people of colour into the forces, well...

In very early August, 1917, the P.M. Borden's Government  held a rowdy Win-the-War meeting in Toronto,  where the key women's societies were invited, but with only two days notice, apparently.

The newspaper accounts of the event make it sound very much like a religious-revival meeting, with testimonials and tears and no shortage of hysteria. Did you know Prussians were cannibals?

Torontonian Constance Hamilton, of the National Equal Franchise Union, a national suffrage organization she started just before the war and which never really got going, used her position to give a keynote speech, saying she didn't want an election.

But, she was all for conscription.  All the women of Canada were for conscription she said, perhaps overstating her authority to say so.

According to the Toronto Star report, you could hear the Mme Defarge-like sound of knitting needles clicking all through the meeting. (Women knitted socks for the men at the Front.)

I used this scene in  Service and Disservice,  my ebook about the iffy involvement of the Canadian Suffragists in the Conscription election of 1917.

It's the follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Suffagettes to Canada in 1912/13.

The fact is, the female leadership of Canada demanded Conscription even before P. M. Borden and the Canadian Government.


Constance Hamilton

They gathered some 2,000 ladies at this Toronto Win-the-War meeting, some accompanied by their limbless husbands and sons, to make a point: we (Protestants) have suffered enough. Forget recruiting: conscript other people's sons.

Oddly, at the very same time, the Premier of Ontario took out a half page ad in the newspapers saying he needed 100,000 men to bring in the crop in Ontario.

(A little problem, here, obviously.)

Constance Hamilton tried to figure it all out by starting a women's agriculture committee on the National Council of Women.

She had previously been head of the Immigration Committee, a subject she got interested in when she lived in BC and in Winnipeg with her husband, L.A. Hamilton, a legendary surveyor who had a street in Vancouver named after him.

They had no children together. She had no one fighting in the war.

I have to wonder what Mrs. Hamilton thought about the 'cannibal' accusation. She was a from a wealthy Yorkshire family and had spent time in Leipzig studying music and piano.

She even started a Bach Society in Toronto.

The day before thisWin-the-War meeting, Premier Borden sent a telegram to Mrs. Hamilton and to the leaders of I.O.D.E. and the National Council of Women asking them to poll their national memberships to this out: if women were allowed to vote, would his coalition party win an election.

At the August 2 meeting, Mrs. Hamilton met held a powwow with the ladies in the company (perhaps) of Arthur Meighen, Borden's right hand man, to seal this rather undemocratic deal.

Telegrams were sent out and the answer came back: "NO, You would not win the election if all women had the vote." So, in the 1917 election, Borden ended up giving the vote only women with close relatives fighting in the War,  with his highly-controversial War Time Elections Act.

Constance Hamilton loudly and proudly defended the War Time Elections Act in the Press. The President of the other (more legitimate) Canadian Suffrage Organization, Dr Margaret Gordon, called it a "Disenfranchise Act" in the press.

Gordon wondered in the Press why women with men in the war were so keen on seeing other women send their men to die in war.

It was a good question, and it was answered by a mother of soldiers giving a speech at the Win-the- War meeting.

"If more men went to war it would improve the chances of our own men coming back," she said.