suffragettes of toronto


December 2015

Fact and fiction in film

Perhaps it was somewhat well-timed that the British film Suffragette hit theatres earlier this year, to mostly positive reviews and some backlash about its misguided promotional campaign. This Newsstand magazine article provides a slightly more nuanced review, examining various perspectives on the movement in Britain.

But what was Canada like? Although Canada does not have the same history of the slave trade (like the US) or the vast tradition of imperialism like many European countries, it was still a nation that was founded on colonialism, the destruction of indigenous populations, and the disenfranchisement of ‘unwanted’ minorities. Until the mid-20th century, women of Aboriginal descent, Asian descent, black/African-American heritage, and East European descent were classified as second-rate citizens. Indigenous women were the last to receive the vote, in 1960. So how do we take the lessons we learned from Suffragette, with its neglectful lack of portraying suffragettes of colour? Could that story still have been told with cameo appearances by Sophia Duleep Singh as well as Emmeline Pankhurst?

It’s a question we must ask ourselves repeatedly.


Freedom or Death

Part 1 transcript of the famous speech given in Hartford, CT, by Emmeline Pankhurst on November 13, 1913.

Emmeline Pankhurst in Toronto

The larger-than-life famed British suffragette drew a crowd of over 5000 at Massey Hall when she spoke there in 1911.

Source: The Toronto Star.

See also: Emmeline Pankhurst, written by Paula Bartley.

Profile: Laura Hughes

Niece of Sam Hughes, Canada’s Minister for Militia and Defence during WWI, and two prominent educators and reformists in Toronto, Laura Hughes (Lunde after marrying Erling Lunde in 1917) was destined for greatness.

From Barbara Roberts’ essay, “Why Do Women Do Nothing To End The War? Canadian Feminist-Pacifists and the Great War“, 1985.

Profile: Dame Ethel Smyth


Scandal or Retr0-Scandal

Given a 21st-century lens, many assumptions and assertions made over a century ago can easily be misconstrued. One article, based on findings to be published in a book by Martin Pugh, nearly glamourizes the so-called lesbian trysts of the British suffragettes, notably Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters. Meanwhile, a counter-argument suggests that such titles are merely sensationalizing and catering to a click-bait audience, and that friendships between women in the Edwardian era were referred to differently than today. Even the phrase “sleeping with” another person was taken much more literally rather than inferring a sexual relationship.

Although some famous feminists (Christabel Pankhurst and Dame Ethel Smyth, I’m looking at you) were very ‘out’ about their sexuality, and the sexual repression of the Victorian era was somewhat relaxing by the 1910s, it was still considerably taboo to discuss female sexuality, let alone same-sex attraction. Perhaps we will never truly know the exact parameters of the relationships of these women in their utmost intimacy.

“White-Washing” History

There were also members of the suffragette movement who resisted this. Earlier, in the 1880s, a suffragette named Catherine Impey founded Anti-Caste, sometimes described as Britain’s first anti-racist journal, which attempted to speak “with” rather than “about” people of colour, highlighting racism in the US and the British Empire. Continue reading ““White-Washing” History”

Insert Rimshot [here]

The War and Suffrage

Clips of newspaper articles:

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