A new historical novel, Votes, Love and War by Ruth Latta, will be published in Fall 2019. It focusses on Winnipeg journalists and sisters Lillian Beynon Thomas and Francis Marion Beynon and their participation in the Manitoba women’s suffrage movement. Through a fictional narrator, Latta shows the warmth and vigor of the women’s suffrage movement and the influence of the WWI until Manitoba women obtained the vote in 1916.
Latta is the author of two other novels related to women’s history, Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa, Baico, 2017) and Grace in Love: A Novel about Grace Woodsworth (Ottawa, Baico, 2018).
We asked Latta about her interest in historical novels and the research she conducts for them:
OWHN: What made you interested in writing historical fiction?
Latta: I have always been interested in the past and its impact on the present, starting when my mother told me bedtime stories about her young years. Growing up, I liked historical novels like John F. Hayes’ young adult novel, Rebels Ride at Night, which won the 1951 Governor General’s Award. This interest led me to study history at university (Queen’s, M.A., 1973, Ruth Olson.) More recently, after co-authoring a biography of the late Grace (Woodsworth) MacInnis, a Canadian feminist and democratic socialist M.P., whom I found fascinating, I saw that several phases of her life would make vivid, compelling fiction, so I wrote Grace and the Secret Vault, published 2017, and Grace in Love, 2018. My soon-to-be published novel, Votes, Love and War, about the Manitoba women’s suffrage movement and the First World War, focuses on two women journalists who were active suffragists.
OWHN: How did you do the research for your books?
Latta: In researching the non-fiction book about Grace, called Grace MacInnis, A Woman to Remember (Xlibris, 2000) my co-author and I read secondary works about progressive political movements in early 20th century Canada and biographies, such as Grace’s biography of her father, J.S. Woodsworth. We combed through Grace MacInnis’s files from her Parliamentary years in Library and Archives Canada here in Ottawa. My co-author Joy Trott and I travelled to the University of British Columbia to look at archival materials about Grace and Angus MacInnis and the Woodsworth family, and also interviewed people who had known Grace.
Having done all that work back in the 1990s, I had enough knowledge and background information to write Grace and the Secret Vault and Grace in Love. In the case of Grace in Love, I learned that Woodsworth family letters had recently been donated to Simon Fraser University and was able to get copies of some sent to me electronically. Technology has certainly made it easier for historians, and I hope that more archival materials will be digitized in future.
Regarding Votes, Love and War, I first heard of Lillian Beynon Thomas and Francis Marion Beynon, two journalist sisters active in the Manitoba suffrage campaign, while researching Grace Woodsworth Macinnis. (Lillian’s husband, the journalist A.V. Thomas, was a friend of Grace’s father, J.S. Woodsworth.) To find out more about these sister suffragists for Votes, Love and War, I read the existing scholarly articles about them, and also read up on progressive politics in Winnipeg in the early twentieth century, and books on World War I – among other things. I read electronically Francis Marion Beynon’s writings in the Grain Growers’ Guide via peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers.GGG. I also read her semi-autobiographical novel, Aleta Dey, first published in 1919, republished more recently by Virago.
OWHN: Which sources were most helpful?
Latta: Regarding Votes, Love and War, I found Francis Marion Beynon’s Country Homemaker pages in the Grain Growers’ Guide extremely interesting. Her editorials, on everything from women’s fashions to the folly of World War I, gave me a sense of her personality. As editor of this women’s page she published letters, articles, recipes, patterns and information about booklets of potential interest to women. Reading these pages I grasped some of the concerns of western women in that era.