Welsford's Gert Harding remembered as women's suffrage pioneer
Wednesday marked 100th anniversary of the introduction of voting for women in Canada
When the British government finally granted women a partial vote in 1918, a New Brunswick woman was one of the highest ranking activists in the women's suffrage movement.
Gert Harding was born on a Welsford farm in 1889, and ended up as a member of the militant British group known as the Women's Social and Political Union.
Her great-niece, Gretchen Kelbaugh, wrote a biography on Harding's career as a suffragette, titled With All Her Might; the Life of Gertrude Harding, Militant Suffragette.
Wednesday marked the 100th anniversary of the introduction of voting for women in Canada, and the United Kingdom followed two years later, enfranchising women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications.
In 1912, at age 23, Harding was invited to go to London with relatives, where her brother-in-law had business interests.
Within days she witnessed her first poster parade of women carrying signs with slogans the read 'Votes for Women' and `No Taxation Without Representation.'
"As soon as she saw her first poster parade of militants and thought about the injustice of women not voting, it totally flipped her way of thinking and she was a hard core member from then on," said Kelbaugh.
Drawn to the cause that was growing more violent, Harding was soon a paid Women's Social and Political Union organizer, and moved out on her own.
In a funny way we didn't have a lot of time for each other [when she was alive.] I wasn't interested in her the way I would be today.- Gretchen Kelbaugh, author
Her first assignment was to break in to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew and do as much damage to rare orchids as possible before getting caught.
"It was a unique form of violence, it was violence to property only," Kelbaugh said.
"Although they were terrorists … they were not to harm so much as a canary in a cage, so they never set fire to buildings or bombs that had people, or even animals in them."
Harding moved up the ranks quickly and became private secretary to Christabel Pankhurst, co-founder of the organization.
She also headed up the secret bodyguard of women assigned to protect women's suffrage movement leader, Emmeline Pankhurst.
Disguises and decoys
"They got beaten up a lot [by Scotland Yard] as they tried to protect Mrs. Pankhurst," said Kelbaugh.
"So they started to outwit them. I like to think Aunt Gert was the head of it, having had years of trying to outwit her older, stronger brothers. I like to think she had some part in it."
The women would use disguises and decoys to avoid the arrest of their leader, she said.
Harding failed to win support for the cause from her family, who pressured her to quit.
"'Horrid Mrs. Pankhurst,' as my grandmother said, had too much control over those young girls who were militants," Kelbeaugh said of her family's opposition.
"I guess in a way she was a bit of a black sheep."
Harding moved back to Canada in 1920 to live in a cottage on Hammond River. She soon moved to New Jersey to work, and Kelbaugh remembers visits from "Auntie Gert" at the camp.
"I remember her sitting there dressed snappily. She was smart … and very funny, but I didn't realize that until I read her memoirs," she said.
Kelbaugh was 21 when her aunt died in 1977. Harding had given her mother a scrapbook of typed memoirs, sketches and photographs, which was later passed down to her.
"That's how I got to know her, was when I first read her memoirs, which are included in the book," Kelbaugh said.
"In a funny way we didn't have a lot of time for each other [when she was alive.] I wasn't interested in her the way I would be today.
"I'd have a million questions for her."