A WOMAN on the WARPATH
Myself, and a Certain Manitoba Election-and Other Experiences
Nellie L. McClung
IT is hard for some people to understand why a woman should take part in public matters, and particularly leave her home to do it. To them it is not seemly. There must be something wrong! She must have a grievance, a grouch, a spite at someone, and many times I have been carefully questioned on this subject. “Is your husband living?” is generally the first question; thrown off casually—but steeped in grim significance. When I tell them he is, I get a very searching glance; and I know I am expected to give further details of his activities. ‘‘Yes,” I say, “he is living—and he works—and he does not drink—neither does he beat me—he is quite all right. He brings his wages home—we are always on speaking terms, and I like him well.”
Even that does not entirely allay the .feeling that
there is something amiss. I may like him—but-
“What does he think of all this?” is then asked.
All—this—means my activity in Woman Suffrage, Temperance and other things—my absences from home and all the rest cf it. Then I try to explain, as clearly as I can, that he is rather an exceptional sport of a man, and he believes a woman has a distinct right to live her own life as she sees it, and that though he does not like to have me away from home, he believes I have a real work to do. And then I try to make them understand that I am not always away from home. About six weeks is the longest I was ever away at one time, and I have never been away more than two months out of the twelve.
They still seem rather doubtful. Woman’s place is home—is a hard and fast rule, which must apply in all proper families.
In the Heart of the Campaign AX/'HEN the political campaign of 1914 was on in ' ' Manitoba, I travelled one day with a dear old lady, whom I recognized as the mother-in-law of one of the staunch supporters of the Government. Fortunately. for our acquaintanceship, she did not know me, and we fell into very amiable conversation. I held her wool and picked up her stitches, and when she discovered that I knew the difference between Shetland floss and fingering, she felt at home with me at once.
“My dear,” she said, laying her thin little hand on mine, “I am so glad to find you are a real home-body, and I take it, from what you have just said, that you are old-fashioned enough to love your home, and leave politics alone.”
I told her I considered politics a very corrupt matter —a very misleading, dangerous, treacherous matter, a filthy mess, the Premier had called it (and he should know). I told her I did love my home and my five children.
When she heard the size of my family, she nearly wept with joy. The dear old soul had had ten in her family, and now, although past seventy, she had not a grandchild. Then we talked of the evil tendencies of the times and the inactivities of women, their fondness for bridge, and their gross ignorance respecting home-made bread, and patchwork quilts. Every minute she liked me better, and I had fallen in love with her from the first.
I knew she had often heard of me, for in her son-inlaw’s house, where she lived, I was about as popular as the smallpox. Upward went my earnest petitions that no one would come into the car and call me by name. I was enjoying a brief period of domestic popularity, and I was enjoying it too well to have it broken.
"My dear,” said the old lady, “have you ever heard of this woman who is getting herself so talked of now —this terrible person who has given poor Sir Rodmond Roblin so much annoyance?”
I feigned ignorance, in order to bring forth further information. “My son-in-law says she should be in
jail, for she’s going about the country upsetting people’s minds, until they really don’t know what to think. My daughter has met her, and once heard her speak, and really, for a while, was rather taken with her, but my son-in-law, and the rector of our church, say she is a very wicked woman. I feel sorry for her husband, he must feel humiliated to have his wife’s name so bandied about. Have you ever seen her?”
I quite honestly said I had never met her.
“Then, my dear,” said my old lady earnestly, ‘‘you are fortunate. Live on, in your happy home, in your sheltered life. Home-keeping hearts ai-e happiest.”
I told her I knew it, and the dear old saint pressed my hand.
I Reveal My Identity
\\JE had a very happy time as far as Alexander, ' ’ where I had to leave her, for I was going to speak there that night. Purposely I made my farewells very brief. I did not want to tell her who I was, for I knew the old lady liked me well, and it would be hard for her to convince her son-in-law and the rector.
I grabbed my hat, and pinned it on, just as the train came into the station. “I have had such a lovely time
with you, Mrs. -” I said, as I prepared to leave
the train, “that I nearly rode past my station.” Impulsively she drew me down and kissed me.
'“My dear—I know we’ll meet again—I would love to see you in your own home, and now tell me your name?”
I suppose I could have mumbled “McLeod” or “McClure” or something that would have done.
But I didn’t—I told her.
“McClung!” she cried. “What a remarkable coincidence, for that’s the name of the wicked woman we were speaking of. But she is no relation, is she dear? You said you never met her?”
“I never met her,” I said, “because I have always been going the same way she was—but I’ve seen her many, many times—on the street—in store windows, and in mirrors, at home and in stores—and I’ve heard her speak—I can’t get out of it, every time she says a word. I am not related to the wicked woman—I am She!”
The train was standing now, and the colored gentleman indicated his presence, and perfect willingness to be recognized, and rewarded, by saying, “This way, Lady! I have your bag.”
My old friend was speechless. “Oh, my dear,” she gasped, “I can’t believe it! I can’t! I won’t believe it!
0 I am so sorry—what did I say? Oh, I thought—I thought.”
She had followed me to the door, where I kissed her again. She was so sweet, and so distressed. “Oh,
1 don’t know what I thought.”
“Tell your son-in-law,” I said, “that there will be some people go, to jail, but not to count on me—I am not going. Aiso give my respects to the rector.”
My last vision was of her agitated face as she stood waving to me from the Observation Car platform.
I have often wondered what she said to the rector! I am afraid the son-in-law and the rector prevailed, for though I often looked for her in my audiences—I always looked in vain.
Fighting the Roblin Government
POLITICAL campaign* ing has a charm all its own, and particularly when the campaign is against the Government.
There is a Bolshevistic tendency in the human heart; we love to hear something slammed, something “lambasted.” I believe that the person who attacks anything, or any person, will always be able to get a following, which is, I suppose, just another way of saying that we unite more easily in our hates than in our loves.
When I campaigned against the Roblin Government, I found friends everywhere, and their friendship, I knew, was not so much love for me, as their dislike of the Government, or some of its members. They were willing to do anything for me, to help me on my way.
“Give it to them— blankety blank—they deserve it,” one old man said, when he came up to shake hands with me. “I worked hard for them in 1911, and never got a cent for it. Governments that act the way they do, can’t expect to stand”—
And this, after I had been trying to show the evils of the patronage system !
In the campaign of 1914 in Manitoba, I made my first criticism of the Government in a little town on the Glenboro line. The
elders of the church, many of whom were staunch Conservatives, forbade the minister to let me speak in the church, under pain of losing his position. But the minister was a North Country Irishman, who believed in free speech, and did not tell me of the elders’ ultimatum until the next day. But the President of the Ladies’ Aid—under whose auspices I was speaking, came to me as I sat in the minister’s study, waiting for the hour of beginning, and excitedly said:
“Now—don’t mention the Government—they’re bad, and all that, and they have fooled the temperance people—but don’t say anything about them. Talk temperance all you like, woman suffrage or anything, but don’t come anywhere near home, for this is a strong Conservative place, and it will break up the church. They’ve just heard that you were going to attack the Government and they’re nervous about it.” “So am I,” I said, “but I am going on. To take out what I am going to say about the GovC;
ernment would spoil everything now. It would make my speech look like an Uncle Tom’s Cabin where Eliza was not let cross the ice! We simply can’t make any changes now—It all goes.”
She was almost in tears. “Well, I won’t introduce you,” she said, “for my husband told me he would get right up and walk out if you as much as mentioned the Government, and he’ll do it.”
I told her she must not worry about that. Most likely he would go straight home. Anyway we would take the collection first.
She went angrily out of the room.
When I began, I told them of the warning that had been given me, but explained that I must say what I thought ought to be said, and I told them I would give anyone who wished to take it, a chance to reply. I said we wanted everyone to stay. Getting up and going out, slamming the door, was a poor reply to an argument. It would be much better to stay, and slam the speaker. And then, of course, no one left. Everyone stayed it out, and we had a fine time. No one was hurt, and if anyone was angry, they did not show it. And no one accepted my invitation to reply. They knew very well that what I told them was true.
That was the only time that I was really frightened.
Charges of Corruption npHE question of how much I „ was getting for opposing the Government, was a very live one.
“What does the Liberal Party pay you?” I was asked very often, at the close of my addresses.
“They don’t need to pay me,” I said one night, when this question was thrown at me in a particularly aggressive tone, by a disagreeable old fellow on the front seat, “when a generousminded, open-faced Conservative like you pays fifty cents to hear me.”
That went home, for he was a notorious tight-wad, and everyone wondered how he came to squander the half dollar.
I have a collection of anonymous letters that I prize highly, almost as highly as the collection of original poems, dedicated to me by various people. The anonymous letters were principally along one line. “If you don’t shut your mouth —I am going to tell what I know about you.” This was the prevailing line of argument in all the letters. I found them useful for my introductory remarks. Before beginning my address, I would read a few of the letters, and give time for the writer to spring his surprise. But he was either unavoidably absent, or felt unprepared, for I never had any response.
The poems are more varied. This was one of the earliest of them:—
“Hail! Prairie rose!
Sweetest flower that grows,
Winsome, winning, never sinning,
Handsome, chic, verbose!”
Rather an unkind cut in the last word; but I have tried to comfort myself that it was put there to complete the rhyme; and I suppose “never sinning” appears for the same reason.
I have another that I prize, it was written by a lady—and a dozen copies, neatly printed on gray paper with a fancy border, were sent to me, with a polite note, telling me she was sending sample copies to many of my friends, thinking they might like to order them for Christmas greeting cards! Two lines haunt my memory:—
“Nellie McClung, in the thoughts she does utter, Carries her audience utterly with her.”
Looking over the collection, I see there are many words made to rhyme with McClung. I like this one:— “She is not old, she is not young Here eye is sharp—so is her tongue,
Who do I mean? N. L. McClung!”
There are fourteen verses of this. They came to me unsigned, from British Columbia. Some of the other verses grow more personal, and would have to be censored before printed.
My Friends, the Insane
T HAVE had a heavy correspondence ever since I be* gan public speaking; from asylums, sanitariums and rest-homes. There seems to be a strong bond of sympathy between the mentally disturbed and myself. (I know what you are thinking, gentle reader—you can say it is your wish—I don’t mind) I enjoy great popularity with insane people, and I have a whole sheaf of correspondence marked, “Ponoka Letters.” If I ever really want to get into Parliament, I am going to stand for Ponoka or Battleford, or Selkirk, and if the Government will let my friends vote, my opponent will surely lose his deposit. Talk about a safe constituency! I have three of them!
One night when I spoke in Grace Church, Winnipeg, there came up to speak to me a poor chap whose roving eye proclaimed him another of my before-mentioned friends. He waited until everyone else had spoken to me, and then he drew cautiously near, and held out a phrenological chart, laboriously mapped out with pen and ink. “I doped it all out—myself”—he whispered—“for you—This is what you need. Take it—study it He came nearer, and bending down, whispered in my ear—“When you get the thing studied out—you’ll be able to tell what any politician is thinking of— just by scratching his head!’’
Continued on pape 87
A Woman on the Warpath
Continued from page 10
I have the picture! I know two or three on whom I will certainly try it, if I ever grow skilful in this way.
Wild Chairmen I Have Met
I COULD write a whole volume on chairmen. I have had all kinds. I went once to make an address at the opening of a Municipal Hall in a small Alberta town, and the chairman introduced me this way:—
“Ladies and gentlemen, you have come out in large numbers to hear Mrs. McClung. We have never seen so many people in any gathering in our town. We never knew we could get so many peopie out, but that is easily explained —Mrs. McOlung has never been here before!”
That was a fine beginning, for it put every one in good humor.
Another chairman—this was in Eastern Canada—who happened to be the mayor of the city, was a trifle nervous about what I was going to say. He was anxious that no one should hold him responsible for any of my opinions. So he introduced me like this:
“I do not know the woman—and I do not know what she is going to say. I may not agree with her, and if I don’t, I am going to make my remarks at the close of the meeting, instead of at the beginning. Now we’ll hear what she has to say!”
I congratulated His Worship the Mayor, on being able to introduce me without using the words “breezy” or “sunny.” It was the first time since I had come east of the Great Lakes, that I had not been called a “breeze from the Great West,” or a “breezy Western Orator,”—or a “Burst of Alberta Sunshine”—or something of an atmospheric character. I was grateful, I said, to find a man who cherished no such illusions. But I warned him not to count too strongly on getting the last word on me. It couldn’t be done. He was like the man who died, and his friend, meeting the bereaved son, kindly enquired: “What were father’s last words?” The boy replied': “Father—didn’t have any —mother was with him to the end!”—
Then I got along with my speech, and his Worship was “one of us” before the evening was over. He told me afterwards that he had always thought woman suffrage was another name for “Free Love.”
Under the circumstances, you can see he was a brave man to introduce me at all. His wife sat in the front row, and fixed a pair of sombre eyes upon me! Even when it was all over, she seemed to be still possessed of a few doubts.
BUT I have had some beautiful introductions, and one of the very nicest was given me in Griswold by Miss Kate Buchanan, whom I had not met until that day. She referred to that, but said she knew me well, and had known me for years, and she said that all that day she had gone about her work with pleasurable excitement, a sort of swelling pride—because when I came to town, it was just as if a well-beloved member of the family had come home.
I think that was the sweetest introduction I have ever had.
I’ve had some compliments though that have cheered my heart. One lady, from a town east of Edmonton, told me that her society was quite disappointed when I was not able to speak for them. She said: “There’s no one our people
like to hear as well as you. We just like your line of talk—it suits us— it’s not too deep or educated!”
I have been given some strange commissions, to find lost relatives, ascertain social and financial standing of people, to find out causes of estrangement, and try to remedy same. This is very complimentary, of course, but often difficult of achievement.
In a little mining town in West Virginia, where I spoke at noon, on the public square, a man and his wife came to speak to me. They were typical mountaineers, with piercing black eyes, thin faces and gentle manner. ■
“We just had to come and speak to you, when we saw on the bills that you were from Alberty,” the man said. “We never see people from out there, and were kinda interested! Well, say, Mother, this woman and her gal look all right—they sure look healthy and well fed—I guess it aint as starved out a. place as we thought it was. You see— we have a girl there—she married a fellow from there and went out there a year agone. ... I wonder if you should happen to know him—he’s lived there all his life. Mother, what’s that fellow named that married Sis? I just had it
a minute ago. . . . some common name too, but I just can’t get it this minute. But you’d know him if you ever saw him—he’s a sandy complected sort of gent, lantern-jawed and freckled—and long ga’nted and thin, and he’s a preacher, Methodist too. Well, if you should ever meet him, tell him Sis’ paw and maw was askin’ for him!”
I haven’t found him yet, and I wonder if Sis’s paw and maw have remembered his name.
IT was in West Virginia, too, that I heard a new argument against woman suffrage. Some of us have rashly said that there were no new ones, but that statement was disproved by the words of a thin, old fellow, working on the railway near Parkersburg. We had gone out to speak to the men—two' hundred or so—who were building the line, and we timed our visit so that we were there at the noon hour. The foreman graciously introduced us and we received a courteous hearing. When we were going back to the car, one of the men left his dinner to come and speak to us.
“I guess that’s all true—what you say, ma’am, and I'm sure I wouldn’t he the one to keep back anything from the women that is good for them. But I tell you I’d be scared to see them get the vote; for I’m a temperance man, and I worked hard for it, and I’d hate to lose it now, I’m scared the women would bring back the ‘booze’.”
We reasoned with him as hard as we could.
“I’m not saying anything against you, ma’am,” he said, “I guess you’re on the water-wagon all right, and I’m not saying a word against any of the women you have with you, but most of the women I know hit it up pretty hard, and the worst of it is, that they are secret drinkers. . . . secret and steady—I sure would be scared to let them vote, knowin’ them as I do!”
We decided that he had been unfortunate in his lady friends.