Gertrude Richardson (nee Twilley) was an English-born pacifist, feminist and socialist who was prominent in the fight for women’s rights in Manitoba, before the First World War.
In 1911, Richardson and her mother moved to Canada to stay with her brother Fred on his homestead in the Roaring River district of Manitoba, south of Swan River, where Richardson began to publish verse[s] and articles in the Swan River Star. She married Robert Richardson, a successful local farmer.
The Manitoba Grain Growers’ Association supported suffrage from 1911. The Roaring River Suffrage Association was founded in March 1912, with both men and women as members. Gertrude Twilley was president, and her sister Fannie Livesey was secretary. They believed they were the first suffrage group in Manitoba.
Gertrude Richardson became involved in the local Missionary Society, and eventually became its president. She also co-founded a Home Economics Society, at which women in the region exchanged recipes and learned about trade so they could understand and influence their husbands’ business dealings. She was invited to contribute to Woman’s Century, published by the National Council of Women of Canada. Her main interest was the Suffrage Association. This was closely associated with the Grain Growers, which held meetings in the local schoolhouse. (Nellie McClung came to Swan River and stayed with the Richardsons. She addressed a women’s meeting in the afternoon and a packed meeting of both sexes in the evening.)
Richardson actively opposed the First World War (1914–18). She was against conscription and in favour of an early end to the war with a just peace settlement. She believed there was a natural link between pacifism and maternal feminism. She wrote that “war and militarism are the bitterest of all foes of womanhood, wifehood, motherhood and the home.”
In 1915, the Roaring River Suffrage Association became a branch of the Manitoba Political Equality League. Richardson helped organize sections of the league in other Swan River valley communities. In February 1915, she attended the Political Equality League’s convention in Winnipeg and joined a deputation that confronted the Tory Premier Rodmond Roblin. Richardson was elected first vice-president with responsibility for organizing equality groups throughout Manitoba.
Richardson later became disillusioned with the women’s movement, which failed to represent “women’s traditional values of peace and nurture,” and with some leaders supporting the war. She abandoned the suffrage movement, and organized religion, taking up Marxism. She called on Canadian women to “arise and save our men,” and blamed the war on “the blood-stained Capitalists of the world.”
After the war, Richardson tried to help the civilians in the defeated countries, now suffering from an embargo. She fell ill and showed signs of mental stress, suffering from aural and visual hallucinations. She was hospitalized in Winnipeg in 1921 and periodically thereafter. In 1930, she was admitted to the Hospital for Mental Diseases in Brandon, remaining there until her death from heart failure in 1946.