Elizabeth Smith Shortt was one of the first three women to obtain a medical degree in Canada, and her husband, Adam Shortt, enjoyed a successful career as a professor of politics and economics at Queen's University in Kingston. In 1908 Adam Shortt relocated his family to Ottawa to take up a commission to oversee civil service reform under Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier. There he convinced his superiors that an onsite investigation of four European countries would expedite his effort to improve Canada's bureaucracy, and in June 1911 he and Elizabeth embarked on their trip. This book chronicles their Atlantic crossing and extended visit to England, as well as trips to Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands. The Shortts were generally pleased with England and its values, but Elizabeth was sharply critical of the behaviour of British nurses. Her diaries and letters, here reprinted, critiqued the lands and peoples she visited in Europe. Leading foreign feminists such as Lady Chichester and Mrs. Maud of the Mothers' Union in England sought her advice, as did Alice Salomon in Germany, the corresponding secretary of the International Council of Women. The diaries and letters presented in this volume reveal the multifaceted nature of Adam and Elizabeth Shortt, from public figures to difficult employers to a couple who couldn't help but live beyond their means. Peter E. Paul Dembski's introduction paints a picture of a couple who lived as moderate liberals with occasional conservative or radical views, and who blended science and an adherence to Protestant Christianity into their thinking. Their travel experiences, during a period of building political upheaval, provide a valuable snapshot of pre-First World War European society and culture.
Prelude to a Journey, the Crossing to England, and Near Tragedy
Elizabeth's Decision to Go
Adam Shortt had been authorized by the Canadian government in 1911 to study the public bureaucracies in England, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany as a foundation for possible reforms in the Dominion. The prospective trip caused Elizabeth Shortt to think of joining her husband for practical reasons (31 March), but more importantly as an escape from the dual role of a busy middle-class housewife and social feminist in the nation's capital (28 May and 12 June).
As we know, the second responsibility had expanded after the Shortts moved to Ottawa in 1908. A letter presented here documents this point. To quote Elizabeth: "When I came here I thought I would take life easier & not worry about other people, but I am more in demand than ever & I must say I feel I am more use doing & talking for others than in just calling & going to teas." For this conscientious activist even her expected attendance at the purely social teas in Ottawa had assumed a political significance. "Of course both in calling & teas there are chances of interesting other people in public affairs" (24 February). By 1911, Mrs. Shortt was a considerable force in the feminist movement within Ottawa. That year, she was elected president of the local council of the NCWC, the most significant organization fighting for women's rights on the national level. Elizabeth had acquired a power base, which she used skilfully to advance her feminist agenda down to 1918.1 At this juncture, both Mr. And Mrs. Shortt were major figures in the federal capital.
30 January Elizabeth to "Mother and Gertrude" (Smith)2
You will be surprised when I tell you we (Adam & I) have taken berths to sail on June 28th, but I do not know at all whether I can go, for I have no arrangement in hand for the children. George3 will be just ready for his exams then I suppose. However I am just trusting that some scheme will come into the range of possible by that time. If Violet4 were only not so far away.
1 February Elizabeth to "Mother"5
I have been very gay lately going to luncheons & dinners & meetings. Last evg. we were at a very elegant affair at Mrs. Ami's6 across the way. I wore a new dress I had made in London this summer & felt very fine-like a peacock. Lots of shell pink satin underdress with pale grey chiffon overdress & trimmed with silver and pearl lace and fringe & I had my hair done up its nicest best.
24 February Elizabeth to "Mother and Sister" (Gertrude)7
It is amazing what a lot of calls come to me from all sorts of societies to be patroness of the Orpheus Musical club, to preside at a prayer meeting, to belong to this & to that & to do this & to do that. When I came here I thought I would take life easier & not worry about other people, but I am more in demand than ever & I must say I feel I am more use doing & talking for others than in just calling & going to teas. Of course both in calling & teas there are chances of interesting other people in public affairs. This last week there were two teas on Wed., two on Thurs. & two on Friday, tho. I could only get to one each day-& there was also one on Tues..
I have not solved the question of what I can do with the children in the summer yet. George will have to be here till about the middle of July for his exams. It is very lovely of you Gertrude to ask them to stay with you. We will see how things turn out later. We would like to take Muriel8 with us, if we could do it..
31 March Elizabeth to "Gertrude"9
If we do go as we suppose we will on 27 of June I would not be able to get up this summer & perhaps not very soon after our return. You see it is much cheaper for me to go with Adam (because I share his room) or I would send Muriel & go to keep house with you & mother. For awhile we talked of taking Muriel & then when Lorraine10 looked so frail after her illness it all came over me that I could not take Muriel & leave Lorraine on this side. So we talked it over again & think we will let Muriel go next summer with friends. May Chown & her Aunt, Miss Arming, are going for a trip next summer & Muriel could go with them.
I do not know yet what plans we can make. Possibly Mr. & Mrs. Cowley may take our house for the summer & then Muriel can pay her cousins visits as she is anxious to do before the girl cousins get scattered. Lorraine's heart is set on spending part of the summer in Kingston with Marjory & Mrs. Garnoley has kindly written to ask her to. I think I could let her stay safely there for some wks. if Mrs. G. will let me make some return. I do not yet know, as I say. If the Cowleys do not want the house perhaps Muriel & George will have to stay & keep it open for the summer. The plants are here to take care of as usual-something to necessitate keeping house.
28 May Elizabeth to "Mother" and Gertrude"11
I feel rather crowded because there are a lot of things to do, if I am really going to Eng. in a few wks.. Things look as tho. we would [sic] not be able to rent the house & that probably Muriel will stay & keep house with the servant but that may all change before four weeks go over.. Sometimes I think I will chuck the Old Country trip & go & stay a month with you and yet it seems so hard to let Adam go so far away, & for so long & stay behind. And I do want to get away from [preparing] three meals a day & have good meals & freedom from care. I feel so in need of it and I fear that if I just kept on the same round here till winter that I would not be as ready for the winter's duties. I am not entirely set on anything tho. our passage is taken for 28th June. I hate to leave the children on this side of the ocean & yet I would never go if I waited to take them all.. Of course I am not getting any clothes to go over with, as I hope to get them there & save some toward the expense of the journey.
12 June Elizabeth to "Mother"12
Much keeps going on here & hardly a night that someone doesn't turn up. Tonight since I began this letter Prof. Mathieson & Rev. Mr. Kidd have been in most of the evg.. Sat. night Principal Murray of Saskatoon13 & Rev. Mr. Rowand of Stratford. Tomorrow George Wilson (Mary's brother) is coming to lunch & Assembly people [from the NCWC] are in occasionally. Principal Gordon14 was in to dinner on Sunday. Prof. Andrew Tearoson from California was in one evg.-two evgs. I think-last wk. & yesterday Dr. Doughty15 & Dr. Hewitt16 & Mr. McGillivary from Halifax. Tomorrow night is a Queen's dinner. They want me to speak at it to the women graduates &c.. I do not know till morning whether I shall be physically fit but I don't feel like it now & wish they didn't want me to do it.
I am firmly convinced of this-that I must get away from every care & responsibility for awhile. I am not sure that a trip to England is the very best, but as Adam is going anyway, I can try it. I have weighed & considered all sorts of alternatives & I feel I cannot go on doing & thinking as I have been or I will not live very long. I have never felt the broken feeling, the prostration I have this last time of being down.
I would like to come & stay a month with you, if I were just that little bit stronger that I could be sure of being able to do things everyday but I might fail some days & be no good..
Martha & Mary each write urging us to let George visit them but then as I do not want to rent the house & there are a lot of plants to be kept & moths to see after-it seems as if it were best to keep the house open. Muriel does not mind staying. If George stays here all summer (he will not be through his exams till 11th July), he wants to go camping for two weeks after school closes & then Adam says he will give him something to do in the archives..
25 June Elizabeth to "Mother"17
We finally got matters settled & Muriel is going to keep house & George is going to do work for his father in the Archives and get paid for it by his father. He will not be through his exams till the middle of July. Lorraine is to go to Kingston with Miss Stewart about the 18th & pay a visit to Marjory & then come back & stay with Muriel the rest of the time. The servant is to sleep [here] too. I think I will ask Sara Gibson to stay August with M. (Muriel). Miss Gibson (Sara) has no place she calls home & she might stay here a month, for I think Muriel does not like the idea of being without someone, tho. she says he [sic] wants to do some literary work & she thinks Miss Gibson would amuse...