In Search of Ella Hatheway, Social Reformer in Early 20th Century Saint John, New Brunswick

By:Susan McAdam

Who was Ella Hatheway? What we know of her is that she lived from 1853 to 1931. We know she was a suffragette who also worked on several other social reform projects. She has been included in scholarship about the Canadian and local suffrage movement and other reform activities. She was married to Frank Hatheway, a prominent leader in labour and social reform in Saint John. They had two daughters, at least one of whom followed in her parents’ footsteps of engagement in social reform. In her days as a suffragette and later, she has been described as “unobtrusive,” and a “pet” with a good natured sense of humour. [1] Her daughter has fondly reminisced that  her “hair was medium brown, eyes a lovely clear blue – her colour fair; and her mind and spirit about a hundred years ahead of her time.”[2]

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries industrialization led to rapid urban expansion and population growth in North America. In response to social problems that arose from these circumstances, social reform groups popped up throughout the continent. Many women’s groups concerned with temperance, enfranchisement, public health, labour reform, child welfare, and other urban problems organized in major cities in Canada. There were many men’s groups that also addressed these issues, and often husbands and wives worked on the same issues.[3] Saint John was no exception. Several women’s organizations existed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,[4] as did several men’s organizations, for the purpose of improving social conditions for city dwellers. As Janice Cook explains,

The Saint John men and women who campaigned for factory legislation, child labour law and other causes knew that they were participating in a national and international movement for social change. They were knowledgeable of the writings of well-known social critics, including Edward Bellamy and Henry George; they attended meetings and conferences which had social and labour reforms on the agenda; and they read newspapers which kept them apprised of such developments in other parts of the globe. Based upon these and other sources, they designed a reform programme suited to the needs of their community.[5]

The socialist movement that Ella and Frank belonged to differed greatly from the radical socialism of the Socialist Party of Canada, in Fredericton, and other class conscious pockets of radicalism in the Maritimes.[6] This was largely due to the influence of Frank Hatheway and his intellectual approach of consistently working within the system. His socialist ideas permeated his work as a businessman and expanded into the fabric of the city by way of his activism in social reform groups and as a legislator. The Fabian League, which he founded, reflected these ideals of working within the system.  Meanwhile, during this time he wrote and published on a variety of local and national socialist concerns. His work has been widely written about, discussed in graduate theses and in books. In his own time he was listed in Canadian Men and Women of the Time. He is included in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and on a website devoted to The W. Franklin Hatheway Labour Exhibit Centre in Saint John.[7] Ella and Frank Hatheway fit the typical description of a reform couple for their time as members of the Anglo-Saxon merchant/middle class.[8]  Ella belonged to the Dominion Women`s Enfranchisement Association among other groups, while Frank was a founding member of the Saint John Fortnightly Club—a literary club—and a member of other groups. Together they worked on several reform projects for the people of Saint John. Frank has been acknowledged for this work; Ella not so much.[9]

Whether it was due to lack of acknowledgement or a combination of absences, Ella is a figure who is both tangible and elusive. For example, her handwriting fills much of the pages of the Women’s Enfranchisement Association minutebooks, yet she left no personal diary. She was noted to have presented good essays at their meetings, yet despite discussion of publishing at least one, none apparently were. To further frustrate the researcher, a gap of about six months exists in the WEA minutebook directly after the entry regarding publishing her essay. At that point the tone of the WEA activity had changed and one can only wonder what became of the essay. These gaps have been consistently noted by those who have used these books as sources.

Ella Hatheway was first written about in the graduate thesis and subsequent 1950 book by Catherine Cleverdon entitled The Woman Suffrage Movement in Canada. Ella is mentioned as a member of a stalwart group of four women who repeatedly petitioned the legislature for women’s suffrage.[10]  She further emerged as a figure in the social reform movement through two master’s theses. A thesis on the WEA written by Mary Eileen Clarke in 1979 includes discussion of both Ella and Frank’s contribution to the association. Janice Cook’s thesis about child labour reform in Saint John expands on the climate of the era while contextualizing the port city within a larger, continental climate of urban social response. Cook’s research illuminates the rich level of political, intellectual, and social engagement in which Frank Hatheway was a central figure, and less obtrusively, Ella. All three of these authors have noted there are pages missing from the WEA minutebooks and speculated on the significance of their absence. Cleverdon, through correspondence with Ella Hatheway’s daughter, has left little insight into this mystery. Indeed Miriam Hatheway Wood’s own wavering memory about the books and certain events has only added to it. Along with these resources, newspaper articles—including one written by Ella—supply the evidence to illuminate her character and place within the Canadian left.

Ella Hatheway was a member of the first wave of feminism, which was both a local and global phenomenon in which women sought the right to vote. In Canadian history she was of the generation of the first formation of the left as identified by Ian McKay.[11] Active from the mid-1880s to at least the mid-1920s, Hatheway was a middle to upper class woman influenced by the intellectual socialist ideas of the day.[12] She and Frank were both Anglo-Saxon Protestants with the financial means and class position to influence change, and often worked together to accomplish social reform. [13] Inspired by Edward Bellamy’s ideas, and greatly aware of the necessity for women to contribute to social welfare through political participation, Ella Hatheway worked sedulously to gain the vote for women in New Brunswick.

Ella was born in Saint John to Eliza Georgiana MacKaskey and Silas William Marvin, a bookkeeper from Saint John (of no distinguished ancestry), on 4 January 1853.[14] She married Warren Franklin Hatheway on 19 February 1883 in an Anglican ceremony at Grace Church on Main Street in Saint John.[15] This was her first marriage at the age of 30, and his second at the age of 33. They then had two daughters, Miriam Dorothea Merwyn, born 23 February 1884, and Grace Hamilton, born 25 August 1885.

Frank Hatheway rose to prominence in Saint John. Although he was from a prestigious family, of Loyalist descent, by the time he turned thirteen they had become impoverished and he went off to work. Through that early work he gained admiration for the working class but went on to become a self-taught intellectual. He served time in the militia and sang in a local church. By the time he was 27, he embarked on his own business career with partner James Harding as a grocer and importer. By the time he married Ella he was a successful businessman and dissolved his business partnership four years after his marriage to venture on his own. Socially minded from the days of his early working career, Frank soon set up his company as a model of profit-sharing.  Adding his political leanings to his sense of social responsibility, Frank also wrote prolifically on many social and political issues and published books of essays and poems on Canadian national identity, the reciprocity agreement, injustice, education for farmers and labourers, and foreign trade, to name a few.[16] He also brought his ideas to social groups—political, socialist and literary—being a founding member of the Saint John Fortnightly Club in the 1890s and the Fabian Social League in 1901 for which he acted as president.[17] Frank ran as a Conservative Labour candidate for a seat in the provincial legislature in spring 1903, but lost.[18] He was elected in 1908 as a Conservative and attempted in 1909, while sitting in the legislature, to enact an enfranchisement bill for widows and spinsters owning property.

And in 1910 Frank worked on having a female factory inspector appointed. His work for women, Gerald Allaby claims, stemmed from his “desire for a greater voice for women in government circles.”[19] Allaby, in a thesis chapter devoted to Frank’s leftist activities, claims that Ella “rarely entered the controversy surrounding her husband.” He mentions only that she worked on a committee with him to establish free kindergarten in Saint John.[20] Other scholarship proves this to be untrue. Ella worked on several reform projects that her husband was also involved in (and in sharp contrast to Allaby’s statements, Ella’s activities in the DWEA alone created a great deal of controversy).

Free kindergarten for the children of working mothers of Saint John was just one of the joint efforts for social welfare that Ella and Frank shared. The couple also worked toward factory reform for health and safety, and child labour reform. They worked to create a position for a female factory health and safety inspector and for suffrage for widows and unmarried female property owners, as well as for suffrage for all women in New Brunswick.[21] As David Frank points out, much of the work Frank Hatheway undertook to implement workers’ compensation was for the benefit of the widows, wives and children of labourers.[22] In the spring of 1912, Frank Hatheway addressed the attendees of an initial meeting who wished to form a Federation of Labour in New Brunswick.[23] The timing of this fledgling amalgamation coincided with another strong push to bring a suffrage bill forward in the legislature, and it coincided with one of the boldest public statements Ella made for that cause. Two years later, in 1914,  it was Ella who presented the case for suffrage to the Trades and Labour Congress when they met in Saint John. In response to her “written appeal” they decided to pass a resolution in favour of women’s suffrage.[24]

It was through the Saint John branch of the Women’s Enfranchisement Association that Ella achieved the bulk of her aspirations. The women worked for 25 years, from the group’s inception to the achievement, finally, of legislation, for women’s right to vote in New Brunswick. At its beginning in March 1894, eighteen women, members of the pre-existing Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, met to examine forming a group focussed on women’s suffrage. [25] Hatheway, who was 41 at this time, took on the role of secretary treasurer and soon after corresponding secretary. She would hold those roles for twenty years.  In those early days during the 1890s Hatheway was involved with the WEA’s efforts to present two large petitions to the legislature for “full parliamentary franchise” for women.[26] Ten thousand signatures were collected, initiating two bills—one for full female enfranchisement, and one for unmarried women. A further eighteen petitions were forwarded to the legislature, and yet both bills were defeated.[27] In a change of tactics the WEA engineered a letter-writing campaign. In 1897 while a bill to enfranchise unmarried women was before the House, each member was asked to vote in the women’s favour, and also how he would vote. As corresponding secretary, Hatheway might be considered the one to have drafted these letters herself. Of the 39 members contacted, only fourteen responded, with a split of six for, six against, and two undecided.[28]  The bill did not even go to debate. By 1898 a sympathetic premier, H. R. Emmerson was elected, rousing hopes in the members of the WEA. He was promptly approached to introduce a new bill, as the WCTU launched another petitioning campaign. The numbers must have been astronomical in comparison to previous campaigns, as sources indicate the WEA alone had collected 4,000 signatures.[29] A bill and resolution were introduced. After the resolution was rejected by a 34 to 7 vote, the bill lapsed.[30] After this final defeat of the 1890s, a shift occurred in the WEA. Although achieving suffrage had been the intent of the club, a change of focus to other social reform proved to be more pra