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Looking for Bermuda descendants of prominent Newfoundland suffragette

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On the research trail: Canadian historian Margot Duley at a horse trough in St John’s, Newfoundland, donated by suffragette Harriet Armine Gosling, the wife of a Bermudian (Photograph supplied)

Next April, Newfoundland, Canada will mark the 100th anniversary of the vote for women.

A theatre group in the island’s capital city of St John’s, want to erect a statue of a Bermudian by marriage, to mark the occasion.

“Women’s suffrage was a mass effort,” said Canadian historian Margaret Duley. “However, Harriet Armine Gosling was a driving force behind it in Newfoundland.”

Mrs Gosling, called by her middle name, Armine, was married to Bermudian William Gilbert Gosling, from Strawberry Hill, Paget.

Bermuda connection: a maquette of the bronze statue of Harriet Armine Gosling, a prominent suffragette in Newfoundland, which is being created by artist and welder Sheila Coultas (Photograph supplied)

Mrs Gosling’s statue will be the first of a woman erected in the city, other than the Virgin Mary. The bronze statue is being created by Canadian artist and welder Sheila Coultas.

Dr Duley is anxious to connect with Mrs Gosling’s relatives in Bermuda.

“We have found some of her descendants in the United Kingdom,” Canadian historian Margot Duley said. “We know she also has descendants living in Bermuda and we are anxious to connect with them.”

Mrs Gosling’s daughters Armine Gosling and Frances Kennedy, were the founders of the Irish Linen Shop, which in more recent years was called Torwood.

“I did interview her grandson Edward Kennedy, who was living in Northern Ireland,” Dr Duley said.

Mr Kennedy remembered that when his grandmother travelled by horse and carriage in Bermuda in the Thirties and Forties, she would make her family get out and walk up hills, to give her horse a break. She had a big heart for anyone less fortunate, including animals.

Mrs Gosling was born in Waterloo, Quebec, Canada, in 1863.

“Her mother, Harriet Nutting, was a typical, hard working mother of the 19th century who held the family together,” Dr Duley said.

Mrs Gosling’s father, Vesputin Nutting, however, was unreliable.

Driving force: in 1928, Canadian suffragette Harriet Armine Gosling moved with her Bermudian husband, Gilbert, to Bermuda, where she joined the Women’s Suffrage Society, but died in 1942, two years before women property owners were granted the right to vote (Photograph supplied)

“He was a harness maker and a shoemaker, both declining industries, and he drank too much,” Dr Duley said. “So Armine had a very modest upbringing. Fortunately, her mother strongly believed in education, and that was her way out.”

Mrs Gosling studied teaching, and eventually went to St John’s, Newfoundland, to work in a girl’s school. It was in St John’s that she met Mr Gosling, known as Gilbert.

He was the eldest child of Charles Gray Gosling of Strawberry Hill, Paget.

In 1880, at age 17, he moved to St John’s to work as a clerk at Harvey & Co, a firm owned by a Bermudian, eventually becoming a director there.

He and Mrs Gosling married in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1888, then returned to Newfoundland.

They had four children who survived to adulthood: Ambrose, Armine, Frances, and Arthur.

“They were the power couple of St John’s,” Dr Duley said. “They really were remarkable.”

Known for his progressive ideas, Mr Gosling was mayor of St John’s from 1916 to 1920.

“He was interested in housing and health issues,” Dr Duly said. “He supported Armine’s career.”

The couple were very concerned about child welfare, possibly due to having lost two children in infancy.

Mrs Gosling was one of the founders of the Girl Guides in the city, and also helped to modernise the local orphanage.

Because many social clubs in St John’s were men only, Mrs Gosling helped to form the Ladies Reading Room in 1909.

It gave women a space to discuss current affairs and women’s suffrage, and to read international journals and newspapers.

Suffrage activities in St John’s quietened down during the First World War, but heated up again when it ended.

In 1920, Mrs Gosling and two other women formed the Newfoundland Women’s Franchise League, with one goal, votes for women.

“She had a tremendous impact in Newfoundland,” Dr Duley said. “She lead the women's suffrage movement, and suffer all the slings and arrows of negativity that issued from that.

“Women’s rights were considered very radical, at the time. She really was a woman, out there, ahead of others, taking a lot of criticism.”

In 1925, women in Newfoundland won the right to vote and run for political office.

However, the Goslings’ activities were curtailed when Mr Gosling developed heart disease.

They retired back to Bermuda in 1928, hoping he would recover his health in his own climate.

The couple spent the rest of their lives living at Step-Aside in Paget. Mr Gosling died in 1930 and Mrs Gosling in 1942.

Dr Duley is originally from St John’s, but spent part of her career working in the United States.

She is Professor Emerita of History at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and Dean Emerita, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the University of Illinois, in Springfield, Illinois.

She has written books such as the Cross-Cultural Study of Women (1986) and Where Once Our Mothers Stood We Stand: Women's Suffrage in Newfoundland 1890-1925, and articles about Mrs Gosling.

Dr Duley said she has been studying Mrs Gosling’s life for more years than she can remember.

“It has been quite a challenge,” she said. “It is common for documents about women’s history to get lost, no matter where you are in the world.”

However, information about Mrs Gosling could be found in places such as the records of the International Alliance, a group that published a suffragette newspaper.

During her research, Dr Duley was surprised that so little was available about the couple’s life in Bermuda.

“Gilbert Gosling wrote a number of books that were quite important to Newfoundland history,” Dr Duley said. “When I contacted the Bermuda library, some years ago, they did not seem to have copies of them.”

When Mrs Gosling arrived in Bermuda she joined the Women’s Suffrage Society led by Gladys Misick Morrell.

However, Bermudian women of property, would not receive the vote until 1944, two years after Mrs Gosling’s death.

The PerSIStence Theatre Group has commissioned a play about Mrs Gosling’s life called The Mirror.

“It was about the relationship between Gilbert, Armine, and her sister Adelaide Nutting,” Dr Duley said.

Ms Nutting was a trailblazer in her own right. Living in New York City, she campaigned for public nursing, and helped to form the Henry Street Settlement, in Manhattan.

“That was an interracial group of women who tried to break down the barriers between European immigrant women and African American women,” Dr Duley said.

One of the questions the play poses is which sister ultimately had the more impact on society.

Dr Duley said it would be wonderful if the play could be brought to a theatre company in Bermuda.

To contact Margaret Duly, e-mail miduley@gmail.com

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Published June 18, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated June 19, 2024 at 8:16 am)

Looking for Bermuda descendants of prominent Newfoundland suffragette

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