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TimeLinks: Francis Marion Beynon

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Portrait of F.M. Beynon Francis Marion Beynon, the daughter of Ontario immigrant farmers, came to prominence as a social reformer and a suffragist in the first three decades of the century.

Beynon spent most of her childhood on a farm near Hartney. Following the death of her father, she moved with her family to Winnipeg in 1896. Although trained as a teacher and employed as a catalogue writer for the T. Eaton Company, she moved in literary and intellectual circles, and in 1908 she joined her older sister Lillian Beynon in forming the Quill Club, a group of intellectuals and journalists who gathered to discuss social and other issues, in 1908.

In 1912, Beynon left the Eaton's Catalogue to become editor of the Women's Page of the Grain Growers Guide. There she became a prominent voice for the rights of rural women, working for improved divorce, child custody and property rights for women.

She used her column to provide a forum for the discussion of the social and political problems of rural women, and she brought the debate about the rights of women to households scattered across the prairies. She published letters and essays which told the stories of women who had been abused and abandoned, and who had no legal right to their farms or custody of their children. She also supported labour reform, Prohibition, and better treatment for recent immigrants to Canada.

In the same year, Beynon joined a number of other educated middle class women, including Nellie McClung, E. Cora Hind, Winona Flett (Mrs. F.J. Dixon), Dr. Amelia Yeomans, Dr. Mary Crawford, and her sister, to form the Political Equality League. While the Political Equality League was principally concerned with suffrage and temperance, Beynon and others with wide social perspectives ensured that it addressed issues as diverse as direct legislation, tariff issues, factory inspection, and labour standards.

Although not as prominent as Nellie McClung or her sister Lillian, Beynon played an important role in the suffrage movement leading up to the granting of the vote in January of 1916. After that, Beynon continued to speak out in middle class circles, calling on her contemporaries to address the real issues of poverty and exploitation, not only of women, but of industrial workers and immigrants. She urged the other middle class women with whom she worked:

We have too long been contented with the kind of motherhood that can look out the window and see the little children toiling incredible hours in factories or in canning sheds over the way, until their heads grow dizzy and their little fingers are bruised and bleeding and say calmly "Thank God it isn't my children...

Eventually, Beynon's defense of foreigners put her in public conflict with many of her former political allies, including Nellie McClung, who was one of the architects of the disenfranchisement of foreign-born women during the First World War. By the 1920s she was more closely allied with J.S. Woodsworth and other political mavericks than the more traditional middle class reformers with whom she had previously been associated.

Page revised: 23 August 2009

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