suffragettes of toronto



by Jonathan Mandell

The US presidential candidate in It Can’t Happen Here, the prescient 1936 play by Sinclair Lewis, doesn’t childishly insult his rivals nor boast about the size of his penis. He doesn’t deride Mexicans as rapists and women as fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals. He doesn’t call for a ban on all Muslims, or explicitly advocate the use of torture and the murder of terrorists’ families.

But Buzz Windrip does encourage violence among his supporters; proclaim “the people sick to death of political chatter…It’s time to act”; promise to “keep our dollars at home and reduce taxes.” And he does declare his intent to “build a wall…” That line got a laugh when actor Michael Sean McGuinness said it as part of the staged reading of the play by the Peccadillo Theater Company one night late last month at the National Arts Club.

He had paused before finishing the line in the script, which reads as a whole: “We intend to build a wall of steel against European dictatorship.”

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Anti-Suffrage Arguments

From Ann Coulter to the (American) National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage, here are a handful of ludicrous reasons why women, bless their uteruses, should not vote: Continue reading “Anti-Suffrage Arguments”

The darker side of first-wave feminism

Eugenic feminist ideas in Canada as elsewhere crossed a broad spectrum, from birth control to sexual sterilization of the so-called “unfit,” but all these ideas were represented with reference to the “natural” disposition of women to have the best interests of the society at heart: not self-preservation but “race” preservation; not personal advancement but the advancement of the “race.” (Cecily Devereux;

Continue reading “The darker side of first-wave feminism”

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.

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