Emma Sophia Fiske
Emma Sophia (Skinner) Fiske was a linguist, a suffragist, an activist, a professor, and a public speaker. There is confusion about the year of her birth, though agreement that she died in Saint John in 1914 (Registration Division). Critic Janice Cook suggests that Fiske may have been born in 1852, indicating that she died at age sixty-two (“Skinner, Emma Sophia”). Fiske was the daughter of Phoebe Sherwood Golding, a homemaker, and Samuel Skinner, a carriage maker (Cook, “Skinner”). There is little evidence about the education she received in her youth, but the consensus posits in the criticism that she received a standard education from local schools and became a skilled linguist who taught French, German, and Italian, as well as English literature (Cook, “Skinner”).
In addition to her career as a linguist, Fiske was also a public speaker and diarist, though none of her diaries have surfaced (Cook, “Interview with Author”). The only known document containing Fiske’s writing is the first minutebook of the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association of New Brunswick (DWEA Minutebook 1). Fiske was the second president of the DWEA. She was elected in 1898 and she maintained her position until she died of cancer in 1914 (Cook, “Skinner”). Because there are few primary sources of Fiske’s work available, she is largely unknown by the Canadian public; however, the lack of a written record does not render her irrelevant. She travelled to various parts of New Brunswick in order to spread information on gender equality and she organized local suffrage clubs in some of those areas. She also worked with other suffragists. Notably, she appeared with British suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst in front of a Saint John audience (Cook, “Skinner”).
In addition to Fiske’s contribution to the suffragist movement of Saint John, she played a prominent role in the establishment of the Factories Act of 1905, which founded laws in New Brunswick on child labour and on health and safety (Cook, “Child Labour”). Following her death, two funds were formed in her honour. The Woman Suffrage Society of Saint John first founded the Emma S. Fiske Memorial Suffrage Fund in 1914 (“Help for the Needy at Home”). This fund was used to provide warm clothes for young children in need. In 1921, proceeds were collected to establish an Emma Fiske Memorial Scholarship, which provided funds to accomplished grade eleven students (“Not First Year for Fiske Prize”).
Although she was inspired by other suffragists such as Pankhurst, Fiske initially set out on her career as a linguist and as a suffragist because of the death of her husband. John Mackenzie Campbell Fiske was a dentist in Saint John (“Removal”). The two married in 1876 (“Married”) and were together for a single year before John died in 1877 as a result of injuries sustained in the Great Fire of Saint John (Cook, “Interview with Author”). Fiske began her career as a linguist and professor in order to provide for herself (Cook, “Skinner”). All records of her involvement in clubs, in lecturing, and in public speaking are dated after the death of her husband. Her status as a widow inspired her to become a suffragist because that status revealed the financial inequalities between men and women. As well as the DWEA, Fiske became involved in the Saint John Arts Club (“Lecture by Mrs. Fiske”), the Saint John Trades and Labour Council, the Fabian League (Cook, “Child Labour”), the Natural History Society of New Brunswick, the Associated Charities of Saint John, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Red Cross Society (Cook, “Skinner”).
Although Fiske did not leave much of a written record, she has been the subject of study. Two dissertations that discuss her impact were written at the University of New Brunswick, one covering the work of the DWEA (Clarke, “The Saint John Women’s Enfranchisement Association”) and one covering the work of Fiske and others against child labour in New Brunswick (Cook, “Child Labour”). The latter was written by Janice M. Cook, who describes Fiske as a smart, well-read woman who did not “suffer fools gladly” (Cook, “Interview with Author”).
Delaney Crawford, Spring 2019
St. Thomas University
Bibliography of Primary Sources
DWEA Minutebook 1. Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association of New Brunswick. New Brunswick Museum Archives, Saint John.
Bibliography of Secondary Sources
Clarke, Mary Eileen. “The Saint John Women's Enfranchisement Association, 1894–1919.” Diss. U of New Brunswick, 1980.
Cook, Janice. “Child Labour in Saint John, New Brunswick and the Campaign for Factory Legislation, 1880–1905.” Diss. U of New Brunswick, 1994.
---. Interview With Author. 25 Feb. 2019.
---. “Skinner, Emma Sophia.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 14. Toronto, ON: U of Toronto P, 1998. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 2003. U of Toronto/U Laval. 25 Feb. 2019
“The French Club.” Daily Telegraph and The Sun [Saint John] 3 Mar. 1921. Telegraph-Journal Archives. Web. 25 Feb. 2019.
“Help for the Needy at Home.” Daily Telegraph and The Sun [Saint John] 7 Dec. 1914. Telegraph-Journal Archives. Web. 25 Feb. 2019.
“Lecture by Mrs. Fiske.” Daily Telegraph [Saint John] 28 Jan. 1913. Telegraph-Journal Archives. Web. 25 Feb. 2019.
“Married.” The Daily Telegraph and The Sun [Saint John] 16 Jun. 1876: 7.
“Mrs. Fiske’s Lecture.” Daily Telegraph [Saint John] 28 Nov. 1907. Telegraph-Journal Archives. Web. 25 Feb. 2019.
“Not First Year for Fiske Prize.” Daily Telegraph and The Sun [Saint John] 22 Aug. 1922. Telegraph-Journal Archives. Web. 25 Feb. 2019.
Registration Division of Saint John City and County. Death Certificate. RS141C4. Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, Fredericton. 2 Apr. 2019
“Removal.” Daily Telegraph [Saint John] 2 Mar. 1877. Telegraph-Journal Archives. Web. 25 Feb. 2019.