Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Margaret Bayne, 1865-1946
By Alastair Glegg, retired professor, University of Victoria, Faculty of Education
"Self-made women, who through hardships and sacrifice have smoothed the rugged paths for multitudes about them, and earned a virtuous independence for themselves" - Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Margaret Bayne was born in 1865 in what was then known as Upper Canada. She and her sisters grew up in a family which took great interest in politics and current affairs and encouraged the girls to do the same. As a teenager she was influenced by a recently published book, Eminent Women of the Age, which described the life and work not only of celebrities like Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but also of pioneers in the campaign for women's rights and suffrage.
She was a bright student with a gift for memorization, and in 1884 she passed her basic teacher's exams and taught in a school at Princeton before enrolling in the Toronto Normal School in 1888. She also learned the new skills of typing and shorthand, recognizing their potential for women's advancement and employment. Two years later she became one of the first women to study at the University of Toronto where she met Augusta Stowe-Gullen, Canada's first woman doctor, and became formally involved in the suffrage movement. She founded the university's first Women's Literary Society (the accepted euphemism for a suffrage group) and in 1893 went to Chicago for the World's Fair and a major Women's Congress. She did not return to university, but used her teaching qualifications as a passport for travel: between 1893 and 1899 she held nine teaching positions at rural elementary schools in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Washington State.
She then took over an educational book supply business while studying school law for her Washington diploma, and in 1900 founded a school newspaper sent to all teachers in King County. In 1903 she attended the National Education Association meeting in Boston where she again met with Dr. Stowe-Gullen, and on her return founded her own suffrage club in Kirkland. She was delighted when "Susan B. and all the old war horses" attended the National Suffrage Convention in Portland in 1905, and a year later she resigned her teaching position and was appointed Secretary of the Washington State Suffrage Association, responsible for fundraising, and meetings. She was concerned, however, about internal factional disputes: "Instead of meetings being a pleasure and an inspiration we were torn with dissention and strife": for some delegates it was "a revelation to see so many decent women sipping wine". In 1910 she raised $2,000 on a month-long trip to Chicago and back, and later that year Washington became the first state to give women the vote.
She had always been a shrewd business woman and made use of her inside knowledge of the travel plans of teachers and delegates by passing it on to a friend of hers, a passenger agent for the Canadian Pacific Railway, presumably to their mutual advantage. Timber speculation next attracted her attention: "Surely the way to get rich was to acquire some of the accumulated wealth as cheaply as possible", and in 1912 she personally staked claims in the Coast Range, north-east of Seattle, and later in the Caribou region of British Columbia where prospectors were searching for gold. By 1914 she was "ready for another land adventure" and moved to Calgary where she took a teaching position, and dabbled in the grain market until the outbreak of the First World War. She volunteered with the Red Cross, and showed a continuing interest in women's suffrage. She met Nellie McClung in 1917, the year of the first federal election in Canada where some women - military nurses, and relatives of serving military personnel - were allowed to vote. The next year all women who were British subjects aged 21 and over were given the right to vote.
In 1917 she returned to the west coast and was appointed Superintendent of the Vancouver Girls' Industrial School, which she described as not a school "but simply a place of detention and punishment". She undertook the new challenge in a typically deliberate manner, studying similar institutions and their methods, and insisted on having full control, including the hiring and firing of staff. Her approach was straightforward: delinquent girls needed "training in morals and in the manual arts together with physical renovation and development", and for 12 years she tried to implement this philosophy, with (as she herself admitted) only partial success. She maintained her interest in women's issues, and among the guest speakers she invited to the school were Nellie McClung and Mrs. Pankhurst- "the greatest woman in the British Empire".
By now a sociological approach to problems of childhood and youth was replacing her more traditional moral emphasis, and furthermore a change of government had removed her support in high places and with it her treasured autonomy. In 1929 she took her "honourable retirement" and moved to a cottage overlooking the sea, writing her memoirs, occasionally speaking at meetings, and enjoying her books and her garden. She died in 1946 at the age of 81.
British Columbia Archives. MS2808. Margaret Bayne. Roses in December. (Unpublished autobiography) Direct quotations are taken from the handwritten copy.
Glegg, A. (2006). Margaret Bayne and the Vancouver Girls' Industrial School. Historical Studies in Education, 18 (2), 201-223.
Parton, J. et al (1869). Eminent women of the age. Hartford, Conn: S. M. Betts.
Women and the vote in Canada: A Timeline. Toronto Reference Library Blog. (Accessed February 2, 2020.)