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British North America
Canadian Women of the Time and the Women Movement


By A. C. FORSTER BOULTON, F.R.G.S.
(Member of the English and Canadian Bar)

The early history of Canada is a record of wars, geographical enterprise, the clearance of the land, and the gradual establishment of a self-governing colony, possessing the fullest measure of constitutional freedom. In all this women had their share, but it was for the most part a silent one. The early struggles of the colonists were, in the first place, for security of life and property, and later on for the right to govern themselves. In those stormy days women’s rights, in a political sense, were unknown. But as Canada grew and expanded into a young and vigorous nationality, an agitation arose for the more perfect intellectual development of women. The education—the higher education—of women once obtained, their emancipation speedily followed, and now Canada is second to no other country in the world in the organisation of its women. The pent-up talent and vigour of the past has broken out into a freshness and mental strength which seems to carry all before it, and the advocates of women’s rights in Canada are among the foremost in eloquence and knowledge in the various women’s societies on the continent of America. And it is right that it should be so. For Canada is second to no other country in all movements ot' a progressive nature. Her educational system is probably superior to any in the world, and it is therefore fit and proper, in a country where social reforms are ever uppermost in the thoughts of the people, that women should be especially interested in the progress of their sex. It is recognised on all sides that the great changes which have swept over the country during the last hundred years, transforming politics, business, social and religious life, must necessarily have had their effect in modifying greatly the condition of women. It is allowed even by the lovers of the “good old times,” that to acquiesce, even though it be reluctantly, in the changes wrought by the ballot-box, the railway, and the factory, and at the same time to declaim vehemently against the entrance of women into political and industrial life, is illogical and absurd. We have done with the days of the mail-coach, the shilling postage, the crinoline, and the poke bonnet. We have done with the days when gentlemen were not thought disgraced by nightly drunkenness, and rioting and corruption were the accepted methods of elections, and the empire was but a name. Those days are past and gone, and with them has passed away the idea of the subjection of women. In Canada the woman movement once begun has had little to retard it; and in the free air of the greatest colony of the empire the intellectual development of all classes has stimulated the growth, as it has shown the necessity, of a movement in favour of women taking a greater share in the social and industrial life of the country. The growth of the towns, the increase in manufactures and the accumulation of wealth have brought in their train much the same social problems which have existed for generations in England. Fortunately for Canada the class distinctions which so often interfere with English social reforms are practically unknown, and all classes work together for the common good. In such a community the liquor interest has not the same support as it has in England, and public opinion would not tolerate the III M existence of barmaids. Nor do women frequent the public-house as they do in England, and it is a rare thin" to see a woman in the bar of a licensed house.

These facts are not the outcome of the women’s movement. They are perhaps to be traced in the origin of the Colony. Canada, it must not be forgotten, was founded by men of a more or less puritanical mould, descendants of Covenanters and English Nonconformists, and apart from this the fact that in the early history of Canada, as in all colonies, women were in a minority, has from the earliest times caused them to be held in the highest respect, and a homage paid to them which is to this day unknown in England. But if public opinion would not tolerate the lowering of women to the extent of permitting them to serve or drink in a public-house, it had no such scruple in regard to the sterner sex, and consequently with the growth of the population, while the old ideas regarding women have remained unchanged, the drink question has become one of the great problems of the day. Drunkenness among men must bring misery into the home, and women have, therefore, a very real interest in meeting the question, and facing it with a strong determination to stamp out the drink traffic altogether, or at any rate so limit it as to do away with the evil effects of intoxication. Hence the foundation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, one of the largest of the many women’s organisations of Canada, and one which has its branches all over the country. This Union it was which set in motion the prohibition agitation some seven or eight years ago, and although it has in concert with kindred societies so far failed in securing a general prohibitory law, it has none the less done splendid work in restricting the consumption of strong drink and increasing the number of total abstainers. Foremost in this work has been a Toronto lady, Mrs. Aimie 0. Rutherford, who combines a knowledge of organisation and the energy of an ardent temperance worker with the gift of high eloquence. In no social work more than temperance is this great gift more needed, and on the platform both in Canada and the United States Mrs. Rutherford has won many disciples to the cause she advocates, as well as shown her ability as a Canadian woman to hold her own with the women advocates of the great neighbouring Republic.

Another Toronto lady who has been an active temperance worker with Sirs. Rutherford is Mrs. Baseom, and it is to the joint exertions of these two earnest women that the present strong position of women’s temperance work in the Queen City is largely due. In Ottawa, Winnipeg, Halifax and other centres, there are branch organisations of the Womens Christian Temperance Union, which bids fair to take the largest share in the temperance work of the country. Toronto as the greatest English-speaking community in Canada naturally includes the head-quarters of many other movements, and among them may be mentioned the Deaconesses’ Training1 School. The school building on Jarvis Street is one of the many architectural features of the city, and cost over £25,000, the money being left for the purpose by the late H. M. Massey. The objects of the Deaconesses’ Institution is to afford opportunities for Bible study, and impart an elementary medical knowledge. With these two powerful aids in hand, the deaconesses then go forth to minister to the needy, nurse the sick, and afford consolation to all who may require it. Miss E. J. Scott is the well-known head of this essentially women’s work. Other institutions whose head-quarters are in Toronto are the Young Women’s Christian Guild, which is the centre or rallying place for women coming to seek employment, and of which Miss Bainbridge is the leading spirit, and the Christian Endeavour movement, which seeks under the presidency of Miss Lottie Williams to create a deeper sense of spiritual life in young people, and to bring about a greater amount of personal work as the outcome of this feeling. In Ottawa the Women’s Humane Society has done noble work in the establishment of a City Ambulance, and most of all in its work among children and young girls. By its exertions a Bill was passed through the Legislature for the prevention of cruelty to, and the better protection of, children, and now the law can be successfully appealed to, to prevent cruelty being done to those who are helpless by reason of their infancy to resist. All of these organisations and many others, such as the Rescue Work, Children’s Aid Societies, Guilds, &c., have for the most part branches in every town and city in Canada. Many of them have been established for years past; some of them are the creation of quite recent times. They show that the women’s movement is wide, and that its ramifications extend into all quarters of the nation’s life. It is, however, in a comparatively recent period that the more perfect organisation of women’s work has been brought about. The foundation of a society which should confine within its borders all the different spheres of woman’s work was the act of the Countess of Aberdeen, who marked her husband’s period of administration as Governor-General with the inauguration of the National Council of Women of Canada.

This great Council was founded, as its preamble implies, because its founders believed that the best good of the home and the nation would be advanced by greater unity of thought, sympathy, and purpose of the women of Canada, and that an organised movement of women would best conserve the highest good of the family and the state. The Council is organised in the interests of no one propaganda, and has no power over the organisations which constitute it beyond that of suggestion and sympathy, and no Society entering the Council renders itself liable to be interfered with in respect of its complete organic unity, independence, or methods of work, or committed to any principle or method of any other Society, or to any act or utterance of the Council itself, beyond compliance with the terms of its constitution. The officers of this National Council are a President, Hon. Vice-Presidents (the wives of Lieutenant-Governors), two Vice-Presidents at large (elected by ballot), a Vice-President for each province, ex-officio Vice-Presidents (the Presidents of all local Councils, and all federating Societies that are nationally organised), a Corresponding Secretary, a Recording Secretary, and a Treasurer, and these officers constitute the Executive Committee to control and provide for the general interest of the Council. The members of this National Council of Women consist of Local Councils formed of Federations or Associations of Women, and Societies of Women nationally organised, who may have by then- own vote expressed the wish to join, and who have been approved by the Executive Committee. The National Council has recommended a constitution for local Councils, and owing to the suggestion, numerous branches of the National Council of Women now exist in different parts of the country. The preamble of other local Councils, which has been drawn up by women most experienced in all branches of women’s work, reveals the breadth and character of this work. It states that, as the more intimate knowledge of one another’s work will result in larger sympathy and greater unity of thought, and therefore in more effective action, certain Associations of women interested in philanthropy, religion, education, literature, art, and social reform have determined to organise local Councils. It will be seen from the foregoing reference and remarks that the National Council of Women of Canada is an organisation capable of bringing into close touch the women of the East with those of the west, and making each understand the needs and endeavours of the others whose common citizenship with herself had been hardly realised before except in name. It also enables women in one Province to find out beneficial laws in force in another, and then work for their adoption in their own section of the Dominion ; it enables them to study through Council work all needed reforms, and plans and methods for benefiting those who in various ways need help and encouragement; and further it bands together women of different races and creeds and of varied interests in one national life. Prominent amongst the matters of importance which have engaged the attention of the local Councils and National Societies, have been the establishment of the Victorian Order of Nurses, the housing of the aged and respectable poor, an inquiry into the number of feeble-minded women in the country and not in institutions, the problem of finding work for the unemployed, and the regulations concerning the appointment of women on School Boards.

The scheme for the foundation of the Victorian Order of Nurses is a counterpart of the movement in Great Britain for establishing the Queen’s Jubilee Nurses, under the special patronage of Her Majesty. To carry out this scheme, which will place efficiently-trained, skilful, certified nurses within the reach of all classes of the population, it is estimated that a considerable sum will be required, averaging five hundred dollars per annum for every nurse enrolled. The scheme has been warmly endorsed at public meetings held in all the principal cities of the Dominion, and has now become an accomplished fact, branches of the order being established in all the principal cities and towns in the Dominion; even Klondyke in the far northwest having its local branch, with nurses sent to it from the older provinces.

The Countess of Aberdeen, who was the founder of the National Council, and whose steady work has done so much for its development, is so well known in the British Empire that it is scarcely necessary to refer to her personality. It is however not too much to say that she possesses rare executive ability and great capacity for work. Before going to Canada she was for years connected with several women’s associations in Great Britain, and was therefore able to give Canadians the benefit of a large and varied experience, and in a variety of ways she has contributed materially in assisting her husband in his work of national unification. Not the least of her Excellency’s gifts are those which have made her so widely known as a writer, and her series of descriptive sketches entitled “Through Canada with a Kodak” has done much to make the Dominion more popularly and widely known. In acknowledgment of her public services, her Ex-cellency in 1897 received from Queen’s University, Kingston, the honorary degree of LL.D. In the United States she has been elected president of the International Women’s Health Protective League, and she is also president of the International Council of Women. To quote the words of a Canadian journalist, Faith Fenton, in the Home Journal:—

“Ridoau Hall has seen fair mistresses who have filled well their high office in social obligations and gracious courtesies, but none have come so closely in touch with the people as her Excellency has done. By travel through our broad-stretching land, by sojourn in its cities, by gathering the women together, and by counsel concerning their needs, by cordial recognition of all who are working for national progress, by the little personal word of encouragement to the struggler or the troubled, by the kindly act that tells of the kindlier thought, by all that tact can suggest and quick sympathy offer, the Countess of Aberdeen has reached to the very heart of Canadian womanhood, and stands to-day one with us in our needs, our strivings, and our fulfilments.”

Lady Laurier is one of the vice-presidents at large of the National Council of Women of Canada. She has been described as a woman of “tact, judgment, and enthusiasm,” and as one born to share with her distinguished husband in the honours of the exalted position to which he has been called.

Canadian women have through the establishment of the National Council placed the women’s movement on a permanent footing, and their work in the years to come cannot fail to have a great influence for good in the progressive life of the Canadian people. The literature of the young Dominion is also being enriched by many charming lady writers, who by their pen are doing much to awaken the national life. Space is too short to refer even in brief to more than a few, but the writings of Agnes Maule Machar, Faith Fenton, Lady Edgar, and Lady MacDonald call for more than passing notice.

Miss Fenton, who was born and educated in Toronto, early developed a talent for writing (inherited from her grandfather, who was a skilful song-writer and dramatist), which soon led her to find her true vocation. She came into notice more particularly as a miscellaneous writer during the existence of the Toronto Empire, her descriptions of public men and the running comments in that paper being publicly read and admired. After the fusion of the Empire with the Mail she wrote for a brief period for the New York Sun, and was afterwards editor-in-chief of the Canadian Home Journal, established in September 1895. She writes equally well in prose or verse, and has been placed by well-known English critics at the head of the lady journalists in Toronto.

Lady Edgar, who is an active member of the Women’s Canadian Historical Association, is Vice President of the United Empire Loyalist Association, and has gained distinction in the literary field as author of “Ten Years of Upper Canada in Peace and War,” 1805-1815 (Toronto, 1895), a volume that has received and earned the special commendation of Mr. Gladstone, and the principal English and Canadian reviews.

Baroness Earnscliffe, or to give her the more well-known title, Lady MacDonald, has contributed much that will live in the literature of her country. Her position for so many years as the wife of the prime minister and by far the greatest man in Canadian political life, has given her a unique knowledge of Canadian politics and society. Miss Agnes Maule Machar has written much that is interesting, but her historical contribution, “Stories of New Franco,” at once places her in the forefront of Canadians, who are both chroniclers of their national history and writers of note.

No sketch of Canadian women could be complete without a reference to Miss Martin, the first woman who was admitted to the practice of the law.

Miss Clara Brett Martin is a native of Ontario, and was educated at Trinity University, Toronto (B.A. 1890, B.C.L. 1897). She was articled first with Messrs. Mulock, Miller, Crowther & Montgomery, and afterwards with Messrs. Blake, Lash & Cassels, and was called to the bar 1897. It required two special enactments of the Legislature to permit of her enrolment as a solicitor and barrister. Special regulations were framed by the Law Society of Upper Canada. Under these regulations every woman admitted to practise as a barrister-at-law shall pay the same fees as those paid by other students-at-law. She shall become subject, to the statutes, rules, and provisions of the society as in other cases. And upon appearing before convocation upon the occasion of her being admitted to practise, shall appear in a barrister’s gown, worn over a black dress, wearing a white necktie, and with her head uncovered. She was an unsuccessful candidate for school trustee in Toronto, 1894, but afterwards became a member of the Collegiate Institute Board.


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