British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical novel, Historical photos, Historical research, Historiography, Labour history, Local heros, Research, social history, Women, women's history

Professor Lara Campbell speaking this Thursday night on zoom about The Campaign for White Woman Suffrage in BC

One of Vancouver’s most vocal and powerful advocates for labour rights and women was Helena Gutteridge, a tailor, who came to Vancouver in September 1911.

She arrived a few months too late to attend a Woman Suffrage Convention held in the city chaired by then-Mayor Taylor. But soon after, she was instrumental in the BC Suffrage League, one of the local suffrage groups affiliated with organized labour.

Helena Gutteridge speaking at a labour rally in Vancouver, 1938
Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library – Accession Number: 13333

Here, as elsewhere, groups and individuals organizing for women’s rights was like a moving kaleidoscope of collaboration, re-branding, and class distinctions.

I am loath to go into too much more detail as the history of the suffrage movement is complex but here are some bits and pieces to consider.

Some suffrage groups worked with labour. Others with temperance activists. Others folded at the start of World War I so as not to detract from the war effort.

Different jurisdictions and levels of government introduced women suffrage in different years, with a series of legislation that were passed and reversed over about thirty years.

Interestingly Vancouver has unique legal rights in the province including those pertaining to woman suffrage at the municipal level. Our legal rights are governed under the Vancouver Charter as opposed to the Municipal Act which governs other cities in the province.

In the 1910 municipal election, all white married women who owned property were eligible to the vote, a by-law passed under Mayor Taylor’s progressive influence. But the same right wasn’t extended at the provincial and federal level until later. The suffrage battles at those levels were carried out by different players under different circumstances and resulting in different dates when the franchise was extended to white women.

And to be clear, the early 20th century suffrage movements were led by and intended for extension of the franchise to white women – and did not address the lack of voting rights of First Nations people, Asians, and some others – both men and women.

The BC Political Equality League (PEL) was formed in January 1911 and later that year began to hold meetings in homes, almost daily, to acquaint women with their newly acquired civic voting rights, and to persuade them to register to vote in the upcoming election. 

The Mount Pleasant Suffrage League also existed but I haven’t been able to find out much about it other than when and where it met. A couple of the characters from my novel live in Mount Pleasant and will attend these meetings but so far, I can only surmise the content of their meetings, given the working class character of the neighbourhood and the paltry reporting of women’s political issues.

As with so much of women’s historical research, records are spotty. Reports of meetings and actions were considered un-newsworthy by the mainstream press and the retention of records was considered of lesser importance than those of men’s activities.  

I hope to learn more next Thursday night (May 28), when the Vancouver Historical Society will welcome SFU Professor Lara Campbell, who’ll be speaking about the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Vancouver. 

The VHS meetings are currently being held by zoom so please see details in the link to gain access. 

British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical research, Labour history, Local heros, Research, social history, Vancouver history

RIP – Professor Robert A.J. McDonald

Another sad loss in the local historical community this year was Professor Robert (Bob) A.J McDonald who died June 19, 2019

Photo by  Kellan Higgins

I met Bob while I worked at the City of Vancouver Archives in the 1990s while he was researching his book, Making Vancouver – Class, Status, and Social Boundaries – 1863-1913, a comprehensive social history of Vancouver’s development

He was always available and encouraging of the various historical projects I was working on including my tenure as president of the Vancouver Historical Society in the late 1990s. And one year, on International Women’s Day (IWD) he brought in an IWD button that he’d gotten in England many years before – an artifact!

Once, when my children were very young and I didn’t seem to get out much I ran into him on the street. The first thing he asked me was what (historical) project I was working on.

Bob was a great guy and as sad as his memorial service was it was also a beautiful tribute to his time with us on earth and I realized how many people he touched deeply. He led a rich life and contributed so much to our local historical knowledge – a local hero.

I’m sure he’s up here in Heaven now!

Here’s his obituary from the Legacy website, and another from the BC Historical Federation

Alexander St, Dupont St, Historical research, Local heros, Research, Vancouver history, Women

Street Names of Vancouver – available online

I can’t believe I’ve been looking at the front page of the BC historical directories for a few years and never noticed that it has a link to an electronic version Elizabeth Walker’s Street Names of Vancouver.

Elizabeth Walker
Photo by Professor Bob McDonald
both deceased 2019

Elizabeth Walker, who was the head of the Northwest History Room at the Vancouver Public Library was motivated to write this reference book because so many people asked her about how their street was named or who it was named after.

So after she retired she took on this project, spending hours at the Vancouver city archives and the Special Collections Divison of the main Vancouver Library.

Street Names of Vancouver is an immensely valuable resource that I consult at least once a week.

As well as notes on street names, arranged in alphabetical order, the book includes:

  • information on the street numbering system in Vancouver
  • notes on numbered streets and name changes
  • map of street names 1870-1899
  • map of street names 1900-1929 #
  • map of street names 1930-1999
  • bibliography including maps consulted
  • additions, omissions, and revisions since publication in 1999

# The separate municipalities of South Vancouver, Point Grey, and Vancouver amalgamated in 1929 precipitating a number of street name amalgamations and changes.

The online version is simply a pdf so to search, do “control F”.

Elizabeth Walker died earlier this year but her work lives on.

Archive Angel
Historical research, Library, Local heros, Vancouver history

Local hero – Elizabeth Walker – Author of Street Names of Vancouver

Elizabeth Walker
Image by Professor Bob McDonald
both deceased. 2019

I was filled with foreboding when I called a friend of mine tonight – a woman in her 90s who I hadn’t spoken to for many months – and her phone was out of service.

Elizabeth Walker – a pre-eminent local historian, librarian, activist, and author of the the book, Street Names of Vancouver (1999) – would not have gotten a cell phone at this stage of her life, nor engaged in any social media so hearing the recorded message tonight gave me pause.

I said a little prayer that she had moved to a seniors residence but a google search found, instead, her obituary.

I met Elizabeth while I was working at the City of Vancouver Archives in the 1990s. We shared many laughs about retrieving the South Vancouver voters’ lists almost every time she came as she checked and cross-referenced names of early settlers and voters in the higgeldy-piggeldy streets of early South Vancouver – a separate municipality until 1929.


Here’s more about Elizabeth and her rich and interesting life.

https://vancouversunandprovince.remembering.ca/obituary/elizabeth-betty-walker-1077412916


RIP Elizabeth. It was great knowing you!


(SMOC) Society for the Museum of Original Costume, Fashion history, Ivan Sayers, Local heros, Uncategorized, Vancouver history, women's history

Beauty by Impairment

factorygirl
Here she is! My protagonist, Annie (possibly without a corset and definitely without a crinoline) while still working in the woolen mill in England, before coming to Vancouver in 1885

 

Last week I wrote about trying to sort out what clothes my protagonist would wear for her wedding in 1886 Vancouver and the help I got from local costume historian Ivan Sayers.

One thing I really appreciate about Ivan – one of our local historical heros – is the empathy and insight he shares about the social history of women as reflected in the fashions of the day.  He not only knows the minutiae of fashion from the 1800s to the present, from clothes to accessories, but he also knows and shares his social political knowledge through the historical fashion shows he commentates.

Beauty by impairment – that’s what he calls the various practices over time that have had detrimental effects on women’s health and mobility.

Historical documents frequently tell of the pain, discomfort, and constraint that women endured from their clothes and underwear – conditions that were unhealthy in the short and long term, and especially so during special times like pregnancy and travel. There was a good reason women called them instruments of torture for the pinched, bruised, and made it hard to breathe.

In the west, the smaller a woman’s waist and the more it could be squeezed and shaped to fit the current ideal of beauty, the more attractive she was considered. It’s no different from women in traditional Chinese culture whose feet were bound, causing such pain that the girls whose feet were bound to confinement cried themselves to sleep and ultimately limiting their mobility and making them virtual cripples.

Before about 1800, corsets were made of the oft-mentioned whale bone and were called stays, but later, softer padded fabrics were used to contour the body as fashion demanded – either rigid and straight, or curved and flowing.

From about the mid 1800s, crinolines were de rigeur. These were made of steel that was heavy and unwieldy or else so wide that women couldn’t move from one room to another.

Later, collapsible versions allowed women to sit on the ground at picnics, while still maintaining their modesty by concealing (and denying?) their natural shape.

My protagonist Annie, wouldn’t have had the time or energy to be too concerned about getting all her layers of confinement down pat, what with having to bend and lift and carry in the course of her 12-14 hour workdays in the factory.

But once she came to Vancouver, even though she worked as a domestic in the home of the sawmill manager, she would have had more leisure and more opportunity to enslave herself to the dictates of fashion, exchanging one task-master for another some might say.

And her wedding, in the spring of 1886 would have given her the chance to go all out, to wear the most fashionable clothes and undergarments she could afford or find in the backwater that was Vancouver, and binding herself up to be acceptable to her husband and to society.  I am going to try to show some of this in the opening scene which I have been writing and re-writing off and on for several weeks!

Women are still going to extremes to fit the current standard of beauty as witnessed by breast implants, Botox, skin and teeth whitening, bulimia, anorexia….. Sadly the list goes on and women continue to feel compelled to go along with unhealthy practices in order to fit an unrealistic standard of beauty.

If you’re interested in fashion history and women’s social history, or would like to learn more about Ivan’s projects, check out SMOC, the Society for the Museum of Original Costume which he founded in 1992 to build, preserve, and study historical textiles, fashion, and traditional costumes.

His next fashion show is entitled Beastly Habits on Sept 21 and will coincide with the Beaty museum exhibit Skin and Bones which opens Sept 15 and runs until next summer.