The only M. P. who can— Bake, churn cook, milk, sew, hitch, teach, talk —and do 'em all well!
GERTRUDE E. S. PRINGLEJanuary151922
The only M. P. who can— Bake, churn cook, milk, sew, hitch, teach, talk —and do 'em all well!
GERTRUDE E. S. PRINGLE
CANADA, for the first time in her history, has elected a woman to Parliament. When it is considered that Miss Agnes Macphail is only thirty-one, a farmer’s daughter and a country school teacher, and that one of her opponents was a former member of Parliament with a record of ten years’ service—an able speaker and a manufacturer of wide and honorable reputation—her sweeping victory, resulting lin a majority of more than 2,500 votes, is all the more remarkable. What steps led up to this event? What lay behind her triumphant victory at the polls?
To understand these questions it is necessary to start at the beginning. Picture a low-lying, swampy farm, and a threeroomed log house where Agnes Macphail, the eldest child of a poor fanner, first saw the light of day. Her parents were Canadian born, their people on both sides having come from Scotland. Agnes’ father started married life with $800 given him by his father, and with this small capital he bought the farm, a team of oxen, some second-hand implements and a few poor sticks of furniture.
Ontario winters used to be much longer and more severe than they are now. They could not but impress themselves forcibly upon the mind of a certain little girl ambitious to learn but obliged by reason of the mile and a half of bad roads, to miss from two to three months’ schooling every winter. So when the snow was piled up in deep drifts, or melting slush and icy pools lay along the road, she used to gather together such little companions as were within reach, and console herself by playing school.
She was always the teacher, for, from her earliest school days, she knew that teaching was to be her vocation.
Apart from her delight in school—in which she says every day spent there was a perfect day to her, and a keen disappointment when unable to attend—a vivid memory of her childhood is the misery of wash day. The smell of suds, the damp vapor, the frequent opening of the kitchen door to hand out the things, the line of wet flannels near the stove, the meals to get and dishes to wash, imposing back-breaking toil—all produced the very acme of physical discomfort. Agnes will never forget those days, and how, inwardly rebelling, she used to ask herself why women could not be relieved of such drudgery. In time she is hopeful of finding an answer to this problem.
Sad to be a Farmer’s Girl
BY THE time Agnes was fourteen and had passed her entrance to High j School the family fortunes had somewhat I improved. Mrs. Macphail, born Campbell, had inherited a few thousand dollars, and the Macphails were able to buy a better farm, moving to one in the township of Artemesia, Grey County.
At sixteen she went to Owen Sound Collegiate, and discovered to her pained amazement that a farmer’s daughter was not accorded any social standing. Although in class she was the equal of any student, at social gatherings she found she had no sta-
Of this period of her life, when she frankly describes herself as “a tall,gawky girl, plainly but respectably dressed,” she confesses: “In a dumb, hurt, way, I mulled this over and over in my mind.”
Why a farmer’s daughter should be looked upon as beyond the pale socially was a question that ever rankled in her j brain. She could find no adequate reason. I
The capital invested by a farmer in his farm, she reasoned, far exceeded the amount necessary toputamanthrough as a lawyer or a doctor. Farmers, she considered, were most of them thoughtful men who read diligently the one or two papers they subscribed for and pondered them well. Then, too, the problems of farm life, both its routine and emergency duties, called for minds of no inferior cast. Why then this prejudice, this standing aloof from those who were the backbone of the country, the real producers and prosperity-makers?
The subject haunted her throughout her
Collegiate and Normal course, and even after she had been given her first little school, a one-room rural school, she longed to find the reason for such a state of affairs. To understand this evident social inequality between town and country people she began to read books on economics and found the subject of surpassing interest.
Eliminate Farm Drudgery
’ I 'HE books told her that the rural popu^ lation was the salvation of Canada, and that our national prosperity depended on the farmers, and yet she could see that the younger generation was drifting from the farms to the cities, leaving on them only men between fifty and seventy. When these men died, what would become of the farms? By the side of this problem was its solution: make the farm so attractive that the young people will stay on it. But how to arrive at this end? There was but one way, and that the securing adequately remunerative markets for the farm products. When this came to pass farming would pay, and farmers could afford to have some comforts in their homes and labor-saving appliances that would minimize drudgery.
Some few years later the conclusion Miss Macphail came to, as she has expressed in her speeches was: “If we have to hold all our products here until we get remunerative market in Canada, they will be rotten with age!”
It was at the time of the by-election 1919, while teaching in North York, that Miss Macphail was asked to speak in favor of the United Farmer candidate, S. Foote. Her maiden speech at Mount Albert was about ten minutes in length and given without previous preparation. She merely outlined conditions as she saw them and advised the farmers to stick together to solve them.
Agnes now began to study the tariff question very closely believing it to be the root of the matter. She had at this time the advantage of constant intercourse with a family, farmers in a large way, who were well informed on economic questions. Many an hour they all passed together, debating how rural Canada could best meet the adverse conditions with which was faced, and change them so that pros-
perity could be brought to the farmer. And always the question led back to the finding of further markets for farm products.
After her initial excursion into the realm of public speaking she was not allowed to withdraw, but was constantly asked to address gatherings. She also wrote articles for the Farmers' Sun. For two years the United Farmers of Ontario watched her closely. Then South Grey farmers chose her to be their official candidate, and on September 26, 1921, nominated her for this historic constituency. Last December when the election returns came
in, Agnes Macphail was found to have more votes than the Conservative and Liberal candidates got together.
She Really Knows Farm Life
A/IISS MACPHAIL has avowed that
her highest ambition is to be what her constituents want her to beA She desires to arouse rural Canada to its possibilities, and then she believes urban Canada will also be benefited. As the new member for South Grey can bake, churn, cook, sew, milk a cow and hitch a horse, it will be conceded that she knows farm life from the inside, and is competent¿to judge of its conditions.
Canada’s first woman representative in the Federal House approaches her task in no spirit of cocksure self-confidence. She has labelled Parliament as the “House of Temptation,” where other and better people than herself have gone down to defeat. She has even stated she will not say much in the House. However, should she be lured from contemplative aloofness to take part in any of the debates, it is certain that no member will drowse when she has the floor. Agnes Macphail is a spirited speaker, witty and original, peppery at times and possessed of a frankness of utterenee that is surprising.
Already in her public addresses she has given vent to forcible and trenchant criticism that has aroused her audiences and made good copy for the newspapers. She wrathfully demands the taxing of watered stocks, and says satirically that if the water were let out of them it would form another set of Great Lakes. She advocates making public the names of the shareholders in the daily newspapers, which organs she declares represent only personal opinion, and have had a very great deal to do with the subjection of the masses. She slaps at the middleman, and craves co-operation between the producer and the consumer. She even takes note of fashionable city women who dress for North Pole weather from the knees up, and for equatorial weather from the knees
When speaking in public her strong contralto voice makes itself easily heard throughout the auditorium, and she has a habit of swaying her body in unison with
her words. She uses plain, homely language, but there is meat in everything she says. She has the force that comes from strong convictions, and from the determination expressed in her face one would judge she would not be easily turned aside from any purpose she formed.
H. of P. vs. H. of R.
f T ER picture gives the impression of a mature woman with heavy features. Inrealityshe looks no more than her thirtyone years and has regular features, her forehead being decidedly of an intellectual type, her skin clear, fine and colorless. She is serious-looking—possibly because her life has been one of stern realities—inclined to be brusque, and so far has not been noticeable for any remarkable graciousness of manner. But when she smiles*—which is not too often—her face becomes radiant and animated. One great asset she possesses is her sense of humor which overflows in her speeches and tinctures her conversation. Speaking to a friend about her sensible blue serge dress, she remarked: “I must say this dress has had quite a career. It is my campaign dress for I have never worn another. It had to take me either to the House of Parliament-or to the House of Refuge.”
It is interesting to note that the campaign expenses of Canada’s first woman M.P. did not exceed $600, although it is said to have cost Mayor Church in North Toronto about $3,000. Even more interesting is the way the electoral riding of South Grey was organized. Within this riding, which includes nine townships, two towns, and five villages, and which is more than fifty miles long at one point, were thirtyseven clubs and one labor union. Each of the nine townships had a supervisor, and an organization was established in every polling sub-division. Then the name and address of each chairman or chairwoman of such committees were sent to Miss Macphail, and she organized the villages and the towns. To keep in close touch with all the proceedings Miss Macphail had at hand indexed information giving the names and addresses of the leading workers of the new Progressive party, whose candidate she was. She also had the assistance of an expert stenographer.
Every week she advertised her platform in each of the nine local newspapers of the
riding. She got in touch with people by telephone, and arranged a programme of meetings. With scarcely any outside help, depending on local speakers, the meetings were made interesting, musical talent also being called upon to assist. Miss Macphail herself addressed forty-seven meetings in that riding, and eight outside of it, and her speeches were never less than an hour in length.
The necessary funds were raised by one dollar subscriptions which made the subscribers members of the United Fanners’ organization. This body paid twothirds of the campaign expenses, and Miss Macphail the other third. She motored over part of the riding, and one pitchblack night when returning from a meeting the car broke down, and she and her companion had to walk a distance of more than four and a half miles to her destination, arriving there at nearly four o’clock in the morning, to learn that search parties had been out looking for her.
Agnes Macphail, M.P., believes earnestly that the ‘‘big interests” are the enemies of the farmer, and that they will have to be overcome before the farm home can come into its own. In its defence, like a modern Jeanne d’Arc, she is ready to draw her sword and give battle. Whether she will be able to influence legislation to any extent remains to be seen. In the House there are sixty-seven Independents, so she should have support. However, contact with a great variety of types, rubbing up against keen, highly-trained minds in the House, and confronted with other national problems than the one she stands for, will insistently bring home to her that the issue at stake is not a simple demanding of tariff reform and getting it. Out of the endless maze of conflicting interests can a way be found that will give the farmers markets to the south of us without working injustice to other investors, or will it become a fight of the “masses against the classes,” one section of Canada against another?
As the first woman Parliamentarian in Canada she will be closely watched here and in other countries. Will historians in days to come put her down as a social reformer who achieved what she set out to do, or will she just become submerged in the personnel of the House and let events take their course? The future alone will tell.
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