BARNARD, FRANCES MATHILDE (Tessier) (she sometimes signed Fannie M. Barnard), social reformer; b. 29 May 1859 in Albany, N.Y., daughter of Edmund Barnard, a lawyer, and Ellen King Austin; m. 27 June 1882 Jules Tessier in the parish of Notre-Dame in Montreal; they had no children; d. 3 March 1938 in Quebec City and was buried 5 March in Notre-Dame de Belmont cemetery in Sainte-Foy (Quebec City).
Originally from New England (Deerfield, Mass.), where they had settled in the 17th century, the loyalist Barnard family had seen several of their sons move to the province of Quebec as the War of American Independence drew closer. Frances Mathilde Barnard’s paternal great-grandfather, James, had emigrated to Quebec in 1774 and joined his brothers in the region that would later be called the Eastern Townships. Her grandfather Edward, a Roman Catholic convert, was a lawyer, a member of the House of Assembly, and a protonotary in Trois-Rivières, as well as one of the defenders of the Patriotes [see Joseph Barnard], while her father, Edmund, who was also a lawyer, had opened an office in Montreal. Her mother, Ellen King Austin, was the only daughter of Charles Lee Austin, a lawyer and a municipal-court judge in Albany, and Frances Elliott. Her maternal grandparents had studied in religious educational institutions in Quebec in order to learn French, and they had converted to Catholicism. Frances Mathilde’s mother, who was baptized at the age of seven while staying with her family in Rome, had gone to a convent run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Laval) near Montreal.
The eldest of ten children, Frances Mathilde came from a comfortable background, where French and English cultures dwelt together. After studying at the boarding school that her mother had attended, on 27 June 1882 she married Jules Tessier, a lawyer in Quebec City, who would be the mla for Portneuf (1886–1903), the speaker of the Legislative Assembly (1897–1901), and a senator (1903–34). A Quebecer by marriage, she divided her time between the social obligations attendant on her husband’s political career and cultural and charitable works to which she devoted herself all the more because she was childless. In 1891, with other women of Quebec City’s francophone and anglophone elite, she founded the Quebec Ladies Morning Musical Club. The first official season opened in the fall of 1895, the date often attributed to the early endeavours of the group. (It was still in existence at the outset of the 21st century under the name Club Musical de Québec.) On the program were a dozen matinee concerts, which were held in the parlour of the Young Men’s Christian Association, two featuring Mme Tessier. She would also be the club’s second president (it is impossible to establish the exact dates of her term).
In addition to devoting her energies to musical appreciation, in April 1915 she set up Gouttes de Lait. Created to combat infant mortality through free distribution of wholesome milk, medical supervision of babies’ health, and counselling for mothers, the Gouttes de Lait (or similar clinics) existed at the time in most large western cities. The founding meeting of this public-health organization, which took place at Quebec City’s municipal hall with Alice Gouin, the wife of Premier Sir Lomer Gouin*, as honorary president, brought together 32 francophone and anglophone women from local high society, who elected Mme Tessier as chair of the Board of Directors. Her tenure was marked by the opening of a dozen clinics, mainly in the capital’s poorest neighbourhoods, and by the growing professionalism of the services offered (from 1924 the Provincial Bureau of Health required that nurses be hired in exchange for funding). Financial difficulties, as well as a sometimes fierce power struggle with the physicians who sought to be paid for their work at the clinics and to have greater control over their management, also characterized these years. Mme Tessier gave up her post in 1932 for health reasons, but she nevertheless retained her interest in the charity’s fortunes. Gouttes de Lait was active until 1970, when Quebec City authorities finally decided to assume responsibility for this public-health service.
Frances Mathilde Tessier’s interest in the cause of mothers and children, an area in which middle-class women were particularly active at the beginning of the 20th century, was not confined to Gouttes de Lait. In 1919 she lent her support to the creation of Assistance Maternelle de Québec, a charity that provided medical and material aid to impoverished pregnant women and that had existed in Montreal since 1912. The following year she became secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare, an organization run by the social worker Charlotte Elizabeth Hazeltyne Whitton*, which brought together representatives of various public and private social agencies concerned about the well-being of children across Canada. She left this position in 1935 when deteriorating health no longer permitted her to pursue these activities.
Frances Mathilde Tessier died in 1938 at the age of 78 from the effects of paralysis, four years after the death of her husband on 6 Jan. 1934. Anna P. Girouard, who wrote her eulogy in Le Journal on 10 March 1938, described her as a “national figure” whose “love for others, [and] good-heartedness,… established her as an … admirable woman of action.”
Frances Mathilde Barnard’s birth and baptismal certificates have not been found despite research efforts. The earliest records held by the Vital Statistics office in Albany, N.Y., begin with 1 September 1870.
BANQ-CAM, CE601-S51, 27 juin 1882. BANQ-Q, P49. Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture (Ottawa), P32. Private arch., Serge Masson (Québec), Doc. sur le Club musical de Québec. L’Événement, 3 mars 1938. Le Journal (Québec), 10 mars 1938. Le Soleil, 3 mars 1938. Denyse Baillargeon, Un Québec en mal d’enfants: la médicalisation de la maternité, 1910–1970 (Montréal, 2004). De La Broquerie Fortier, Au service de l’enfance: l’Association québécoise de la Goutte de lait, 1915–1965 (Québec, 1966); “Les ‘Gouttes de lait’ à Québec, 1905–1970,” Cap-aux-Diamants (Québec), no.28 (hiver 1992): 52–55. Madeleine [A.‑M.] Gleason-Huguenin, Portraits de femmes ([Montréal], 1938), 256–57. Historica Canada, “The Canadian encyclopedia”: www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca (consulted 18 Aug. 2015). Que., National Assembly, “Québec dictionary of parliamentary biography, from 1792 to the present”: www.assnat.qc.ca/en/membres/notices/index.html (consulted 14 Nov. 2014).