- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Nov 1930, p. 293-299
- Wilson, Honourable Cairine M., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Ladies Day
Giving credit to the members of the female sex, who have struggled so long and courageously for the privileges which are accepted naturally today. A look at women in various societies and cultures throughout the past centuries; their status, position, education, and self-worth. Employment historically open to women. Reasons which brought about the militant measures to which women in England were driven. The fight for the franchise over 65 years. The first petition for votes in 1866. The effect of such agitation and Florence Nightingale's splendid work in the Crimean War upon the imagination of the public, and the strength of women's cause. Claiming the right to vote. The married Women's Property Act. The Guardianship of Infants Act. The long period of struggle between 1866 and 1906. The heroism and sacrifice of the suffragettes. Mrs. Pankhurst's 14 imprisonments. The beneficial result of the incarceration of the suffragettes in that prison conditions were investigated, found to be appalling, and long overdue reforms were finally instituted. The chance that war gave women to prove their capability. The formation and work of the Scottish Women's Hospital. Urging every woman to use her ballot to the best of her ability. New avenues open to women.
- Date of Original
- 20 Nov 1930
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- Full Text
- WOMEN 1830 AND 1930
AN ADDRESS BY HON. CAIRINE M. WILSON, CANADA'S FIRST LADY SENATOR.
20th November, 1930, (Ladies' Day)
MR. WILLIAM TYRRELL, Vice-President, introduced the speaker, who was received by the audience rising and loudly applauding. She said: For some weeks I have been marvelling at the temerity with which I agreed to come before the members of the Empire Club, for, I confess, I was completely overwhelmed when the list of previous speakers was shown to me. Until your invitation was conveyed to me the day preceding my introduction into the Senate of Canada, I did not quite realize that from a position of obscurity I had suddenly emerged into prominence.
My promotion has come to me so easily that I feel I should like to give the credit to the members of my sex, who have struggled so long and courageously for those privileges which we accept naturally today. History has shown many isolated instances of famous women, but these took no part in bringing forward their sisters. At the close of the 17th Century, women were brought up with the idea that they were physically and mentally incapable of rising to the level of the men.
Our native Indian must have had a different conception of women, for Samuel Hearne, who left the first record of exploration from Fort Prince of Wales (now Fort Churchill), tells of his conversation with the Chief Matonabbee. Hearne's first two attempts to reach the Coppermine River, toward which he had been lured by stories of copper treasure, failed, and Matonabbee gives this reason:
"In an expedition of this kind, when all men are so heavily laden that they can neither hunt nor travel to any distance, should they meet with success in hunting, who is to carry the produce of their labour? Women are made for labour. One of them can carry or haul as much as two men. They also pitch our tents; make or mend our clothing; keep us warm at night. In fact, there is no such thing as travelling any length of time in this country without them; and yet, though they do everything, they are maintained at a trifling expense, for, as they always act the cook, the very licking of their fingers is sufficient for their subsistence." (Laughter.) Hearne's third expedition, when he was accompanied not only by Matonabbee, but by the Chief's two youngest and, presumably, most attractive wives, was successful, and on his return trip he arrived at Great Slave Lake on Christmas Eve, 1771.
For thousands of years we have been obliged to accept a man-made estimate of our capabilities, and to rely for recognition upon his favour. Is it any wonder that each woman strove to supplant the other, and we were accused of jealousy and strife? This is now past, and those of us who have attained to a certain position must strive to show ourselves worthy.
In 1775, Elizabeth Montague proposed to found and endow a college for the higher education of women, but, offering the post of Superintendent to Mrs. Barbauld, was crushed by the dictum of that monument of respectability--"Young ladies, who ought only to have such a general tincture of knowledge as to make them agreeable companions to a man of sense, and to enable them to find rational entertainment for a solitary hour, should gain these accomplishments in a more quiet and unostentatious manner-subject to a regulation like that of the ancient Spartans. The thefts of knowledge in our sex are only connived at while carefully concealed, and, if displayed, punished with disgrace."
This opinion was endorsed by Dr. Gregory with a certain irony in 1784 in his "Legacy to his Daughters"--"If you happen to have any learning, keep it a profound secret."
Mary Somerville, the earliest woman scientist, whose name is perpetuated by the first women's college founded at Oxford, writing of her first experiences at school at the age of ten (in 1790) relates: "A few days after my arrival, although perfectly straight and well made, I was enclosed in stiff stays with a steel busk in front, while above my frock bands drew my shoulders back till the shoulder blades met. Then a steel rod with a semicircle under the chin was clasped to the steel busk in my stays. In this constrained state I and most of the younger girls had to prepare our lessons. The chief thing I had to do was to learn by heart a page of Johnson's Dictionary. From my earliest years, my mind revolted against the oppression and tyranny, and I resented the injustice of the world in denying all those privileges of education to my sex which were so lavishly bestowed on men." It must be confessed, however, that these restraints were largely inflicted by the women themselves, although the underlying motive was probably to please the male. Mary Somerville did not in any way conform to the popular conception of the blue stocking; she was a lovely girl, known as the Rose of Jedwood, and kept her beauty to the last day of her long life. She loved dancing, music and plays, made all her own dresses even for balls, and was fully capable of taking her part in the work of the house. Nor was she averse to marriage, for at 32 years of age she married her third husband, Dr. William Somerville, who was proud of his wife's researches and stimulated her efforts.
The education of women did not receive much more consideration in the United States in 1830, for at this time Margaret Fuller decidedly upset the conventions of the staid City of Boston by sitting down at a table in the Public Library to read a book.
In 1833, Oberlin College in Ohio was opened, and there boys and girls, both black and white, were admitted on equal terms. It was the first college in the world to admit women in this way, but even the coloured boys shared the common view of women, and, when not able to pass the entrance examinations, objected to being coached by Lucy Stone.
Teaching was practically the only employment open to women of the middle classes in the first half of the 19th Century, and many attempted to teach who had received no education themselves; it was only women with exceptional powers who tried to surmount the difficulties of obtaining instruction. Tennyson's Princess appeared in 1847 with its suggestive words:
"I would build far off from men a college like a man's, And I would teach them all that men are taught".
The very distinguished former principal of Cheltenham College, Miss Lillian Faithfull, held a position on the Royal Holloway College, when first opened in 1886, and there the founder had made such careful provision to prevent the intrusion of the male that Tennyson's words might have been written over the gateway, "Let no man enter in on pain of death".
The women in Ontario have never suffered to the same extent from discriminatory laws as in other parts of the world, and must study to understand the reasons which brought about the militant measures to which our sisters were driven in England. The fight for the franchise lasted for sixty-five years, and you may be surprised that the help and co-operation of women were welcomed as far back as in the days of the Anti-Corn Law League, which prided itself on its band of women workers. Cobden expressed a wish that the women could vote, at one of their big meetings in 1845. In 1866, Miss Emily Davis, a quiet, gentle little woman, who helped at a later date to found Girton in Cambridge and was its first principal, came to John Stuart Mill with the first petition for votes for women, and among the names inscribed upon it were those of Mary Somerville and Mrs. Henry Fawcett. The latter never ceased the struggle until the final victory sixty-two years later.
This agitation and Florence Nightingale's splendid work in the Crimean War had an effect upon the imagination of the public, and strengthened the women's cause. It is difficult for us now to realize that when Florence Nightingale began her great work there were loud cries that she was stepping beyond women's sphere.
The following year, 6,000 women householders, led by Miss Lydia Becker, claimed the right to vote, and four cases were selected and argued before the Court of Common Pleas on November 7th, 1868. Sir John Coleridge and Dr. Pankhurst pleaded for the women, but the verdict was given against them, the judge deciding that, although the word "man" must be held to include women, this did not apply to privileges granted by the State.
A report of the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage put it: "The same words in the same Act of Parliament shall for the purpose of voting apply only to men, but for the purpose of taxation shall include women."
The first Statute of importance which affected the civil position of women was the Married Women's Property Act, drafted by Dr. Pankhurst and passed in 1882, after an agitation of nearly thirty years. This ensured that any real or personal property belonging to a married woman or acquired by her should be hers to hold and dispose of in any manner she saw fit. (Do you know that today in Italy a bride's property passes to the husband on marriage, and she can neither have a bank account nor sign a cheque?) In 1886, by the Guardianship of Infants Act, a mother was allowed to act as guardian to her own children. In earlier days the father had the control over the persons, education and conduct of his children until they were 21. In one case a father, having left his wife for another woman, insisted on his right to take the three children of his marriage, all under five, away from their mother to live with him and his mistress.
From 1866 to 1906 marks a long period of struggle. On February 1st, 1906, Mrs. Fawcett organized a procession of suffragettes, one half-mile long, which marched in the rain to Exeter Hall through such mud that it was afterwards known as the "Mud March". Zangwill, speaking at Exeter Hall, said: "They are unwomanly-and therein consists the martyrdom of the pioneer . . . they have to be unwomanly to promote the cause of womanhood .... For fifty years now, woman has stood crying: 'I stand for justice-answer-shall I have it?' Today she cries: 'I fight for justice and I answer that I will have it."'
We all have read of the heroism and sacrifice of these suffragettes, and how they were ready to suffer any abuse or indignity for the cause which they held dear. Those of us who had the privilege of meeting and listening to Mrs. Pankhurst found it difficult to believe that this quiet, gentle, motherly woman who spoke with such eloquence could be the fiery apostle of whom we had heard so much. Mrs. Pankhurst was imprisoned no less than fourteen times. One beneficial result of the incarceration of the suffragettes was that prison conditions were investigated, found to be appalling, and long overdue reforms were finally instituted.
The War gave the women the chance to prove their capacity, and they rose to the emergency with extraordinary ease. No job was too hard, too difficult, too laborious or too tedious for them, and their desire to help seemed to gather momentum as the weary years went by. When the munition question became acute, it was to Mrs. Pankhurst that Lloyd George turned in the hour of the nation's great need, and well did the suffragettes justify the trust reposed in them. Three women doctors, who had in the first instance been forced to fight to be allowed to study medicine, organized a splendidly equipped hospital unit, but when Dr. Inglis offered to place it at the disposal of the R.A.M.C. she met with a rebuff: "Dear Lady, go home and keep quiet." This did not deter the women, for they offered themselves to the French Red Cross, and their unit later developed into the Scottish Women's Hospital. Their work drew at length from the army authorities the admission that they were worth their weight in diamonds.
Early in 1918 a Bill was introduced in the British House of Commons granting a measure of Woman's Suffrage to those whose husbands were on the register, and with an age limit of 30. The voting showed a majority of 7 to 1, and on the third reading was practically unanimous. The long-looked-for triumph had come. Finally, in 1928, the so-called "Flappers' Bill" gave to the women the right to vote on the same terms as the men.
We, in Canada, have obtained the vote with so little difficulty that I fear we do not sometimes value it as we should, and I should like to urge every woman to use her ballot to the best of her ability. With many questions we have a more intimate acquaintance than men, and already women's influence has brought about some much-needed social reforms.
All kinds of new avenues have been opened for us, and the woman with no financial means is no longer compelled to live the dreary life of an unappreciated drudge. I scarcely think, however, that the more highly specialized professions need fear a serious encroachment upon our part, for in the heart of every woman is the longing for husband and children, and the words of Jesus are still true today: "A woman: when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come, but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembers no more the anguish for joy that a man is born into the world."
The speaker resumed her seat amid loud applause, which was renewed when the Chairman presented her with a large bouquet of Crysanthemums, which she acknowledged with thanks.
MRS. VANKOUGHNET conveyed the thanks of the Club to the speaker in a gracious speech.