- The Last Suffragist Standing: The Life and Times of Laura Marshall Jamieson by Veronica Strong-Boag
It is thanks in large part to Veronica Strong-Boag’s efforts that the histories of women’s suffrage in Canada are being revisited, revised, and revitalized. One of her important projects in this respect is her general editorship of the ubc Press series Women’s Suffrage and the Struggle for Democracy, a seven-volume collection that includes fresh analysis of the suffrage movement from national and regional perspectives as well as from the perspective of Indigenous women. This much-needed series considers not only the fight for the vote but also how the women’s suffrage movement was entangled in complex ways with patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and settler colonialism. Strong-Boag has authored many essential texts that help us understand the history of the women’s movement; The Last Suffragist Standing is her latest contribution to this increasingly nuanced field, which considers suffrage as part of the larger movement to extend democracy and human rights.
At its core, The Last Suffragist Standing is a biography of Laura Marshall Jamieson. Born in 1882 in Bruce County, Ontario, Laura (as Strong-Boag refers [End Page 131] to her) moved to Vancouver in 1900 and, aside from her years at the University of Toronto and a short period as a social worker in southern Ontario, devoted most of the remainder of her life to social movements and political engagement in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. Strong-Boag traces Laura’s path as a suffrage activist, Juvenile Court judge (making her British Columbia’s second female magistrate), community organizer, peace activist, Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (ccf) member of the legislative assembly, and Vancouver city councillor – though this is far from an exhaustive list of everything that Laura dedicated herself to throughout her life – all the while managing the responsibilities of being a widowed mother of three children. The absence of personal papers means that Strong-Boag does not spend much time dwelling on Laura’s “innermost thoughts” and personal relationships (9). Instead, she offers a rich portrait of Laura’s political life, drawn from her extensive writings as well as archival records of the clubs, organizations, and institutions of which she was a part.
It is perhaps easy to be wary of another biography of a white suffragist whose life was in many ways defined by her middle-class respectability. But Strong-Boag’s study is far from a celebratory account of a suffrage heroine. It is a deeply contextualized and critical analysis of the worlds in which Laura lived and worked. With Laura’s activism and political engagement as the through line, Strong-Boag opens up the many intersecting histories of bc feminism, socialism, and electoral politics. As we come to appreciate Laura’s significant achievements within these movements, there is also an acknowledgement that her fight for social justice was “incomplete” (4). Strong-Boag, though, does not simply take account of the “good” parts of Laura’s activism and acknowledge what was left to be desired. Her study shows us how Laura was constrained within, resisted, and yet also reinforced and benefited from the unequal structures of gender, class, and race that shaped her life.
Take, for example, the racial politics of the women’s movement. As Strong-Boag points out, Laura did not spend much time acknowledging that she “reaped the benefits” of settler colonialism and Indigenous dispossession (14). Strong-Boag is careful not to recreate such silences and pauses often to reflect on how Laura benefited from her racial privilege, beginning with her upbringing in rural Ontario and moving through her suffrage politics and beyond. Readers will appreciate the way that Strong-Boag avoids the debate about how to “judge” a historical actor’s politics and, instead, uses Laura’s story as a way to carefully examine whose voices resonated in the political sphere and why.
One of the central themes that Strong-Boag unravels as she traces Laura’s life...