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Original title:  Mrs. Willoughby Cummings (Emily McCausland Cummings) Toronto corresponding secretary of the National Council of Women of Canada. Credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-057336.  Restrictions on use: Nil. Copyright: Expired. Accession number: 1950-030. Item number: 3214496.

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SHORTT, EMILY ANN McCAUSLAND (Cummings), journalist, publicist, social reformer, and office holder; b. 11 May 1851 in Port Hope, Upper Canada, daughter of Isabel Julia Harper and the Reverend Jonathan Shortt*; m. there 27 Sept. 1871 Willoughby Cummings, and they had one daughter; d. 1 Nov. 1930 in Toronto.

As the daughter of the rector of St John the Evangelist, Port Hope, Emily Shortt was born into a life of service to church and community. After her early schooling in Port Hope, she attended Mrs Lucy Simpson’s seminary for young ladies in Montreal. In 1871 she married Willoughby Cummings, a Toronto barrister; as a prominent young matron, she would become a leader in Toronto’s emerging women’s club movement.

Missionary societies were among the most powerful of the first Canadian women’s clubs, and Emily Cummings was in the forefront of Anglican missionary outreach as a founding member in 1886 of the Toronto diocesan branch of the Woman’s Auxiliary to the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada [see Roberta Elizabeth Odell]. She would hold office in this organization, as recording secretary, corresponding secretary, or vice-president, until her death. In 1890, on behalf of mission work, she made a tour of Indian reservations in British Columbia, Manitoba, and the North-West Territories, which she publicized in a series of articles entitled “Our Indian wards” for the Toronto Empire in July and August that year and “A trip through our mission fields” for the Canadian Church Magazine and Mission News (Hamilton, Ont.) from November 1890 to June 1891.

Representing Canadian clubwomen, Cummings had gone to Washington in 1888 for the founding meeting of the International Council of Women. Although Cummings was urged to launch a women’s council in Canada, the time was not auspicious. In October 1893, however, she assisted the dynamic Lady Aberdeen [Marjoribanks*], wife of Lord Aberdeen [Hamilton-Gordon*], Canada’s governor general, in founding the National Council of Women of Canada. Lady Aberdeen had just been elected president of the International Council when it met at the Columbian exposition in Chicago that summer. Cummings was present as special correspondent for the Toronto Globe and the Manitoba Morning Free Press (Winnipeg). The Chicago fair brought together the three elements, journalism, the National Council, and Lady Aberdeen, that would define the next chapters of Cummings’s life.

Her husband’s death on 14 Sept. 1892 had jolted Emily out of the conventional life of wife, mother, and volunteer activist; she now needed to earn a living. Her impeccable social connections and her journalistic experience ideally situated her to become the Globe’s first society reporter, a position she assumed in 1893 during the editorship of John Stephen Willison. As long-time editor Melvin Ormond Hammond would later observe, at first there were “wry faces against such ‘horrid and vulgar stuff,’” but Cummings managed the role with sufficient professionalism to establish herself in the editorial department of the Globe, the first woman to win such recognition on a Canadian daily. Discretion was crucial; in order to separate her private from her public identity, Cummings adopted the pseudonym Sama, the Japanese word for lady, and might even note in Sama’s accounts of society functions that Mrs Willoughby Cummings was among the guests. She occasionally took the opportunity to tilt at the dictates of style, commenting in 1893 that tight lacing for women was worse than footbinding. “One can live without walking,” she noted, “but it is still necessary and fashionable to breathe.” She would remain with the Globe until 1903.

Her career required frequent visits to Ottawa to cover the formal social events of the capital. As a house guest of Lord and Lady Aberdeen and working for a Liberal newspaper, Cummings was the ideal go-between when Lady Aberdeen connived in 1896 to meddle surreptitiously in Canadian politics by encouraging Wilfrid Laurier*’s ambition to become prime minister. Lady Aberdeen rejoiced in Cummings’s suitability for the role: “As she is always in communication with me about the Council, her comings & goings will not be considered unnatural & it is well at such a juncture to have some means of communication with the leader of the Opposition.”

In common with other women journalists in the heyday of women’s clubs, Cummings was both observer and activist. She continued her central role in the National Council of Women, where she served almost continuously as corresponding or recording secretary from 1894 to 1917 and as vice-president from 1910 to 1930. She was active as well in the Toronto Local Council. In 1896 she represented Lady Aberdeen at the International Congress of Women in Boston. When in 1909 Toronto was the setting for the international meeting, Cummings was both organizer and publicist, using her press connections to ensure public attention.

Emily Cummings’s career in journalism expanded in 1900 when she became editor of “Woman’s Sphere” in the Canadian Magazine (Toronto). In the magazine format she was able to branch out into more general social commentary, particularly focusing on questions relating to the education of women. Although she was a member of the British Society of Women Journalists, she was not among the pioneers, such as Katherine Angelina Hughes and Catherine Coleman [Ferguson*], who founded the Canadian Women’s Press Club in 1904 and she did not join until after World War I. Philanthropic rather than professional clubs continued to consume her. She was an original member of the ladies’ committee of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (Canadian National Exhibition) when it began in 1901 and was particularly proud of the Babies’ Rest which she established in 1919 to allow mothers to tour the exhibits while their infants were watched by trained nurses. Cummings was also on the executives of the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Toronto [see Sara Mickle], the ladies’ committee of the Toronto Technical School, and the Victorian Order of Nurses.

Cummings’s labour on behalf of women and social reform was accorded national recognition in 1910. On 1 April the dominion government made her field secretary in the women’s department of the old age annuities branch of the Department of Trade and Commerce, at a salary of $1,200. That same year she became the first Canadian woman to receive an honorary degree when King’s College in Windsor, N.S., made her a dcl.

When the Great War broke out Cummings, then in her sixties, became chairwoman of the Toronto Women’s Patriotic League. For a time she represented the National Council of Women on the National Service Committee, a clearing house for patriotic work, and she was president of the Toronto branch of the Woman’s Emergency Corps of Military District No.2, whose aim was to aid recruiting by registering women capable of doing the work of men eligible for active service. In 1918 she was nominated by the dominion government to represent the interests of Canadian women at the Ottawa war conference.

She never abandoned her early involvement with missionary work: she was frequently a delegate to international pan-Anglican conferences; she edited the official newsletter of the Woman’s Auxiliary from 1903 until her death, expanding and modernizing it, and for a time she was associate editor of the Mission World (Toronto); and around 1919 she became organizing secretary of the women’s department of the Anglican “Forward Movement.” In the last years of her life Cummings wrote the history of the Woman’s Auxiliary: Our story.

An exemplary clergyman’s daughter to the last, Emily Cummings elevated conventional feminine duties into new public roles in journalism, social reform, and government service. She died in Toronto on 1 Nov. 1930.

Marjory Lang

In addition to her articles in newspapers and magazines, Emily Shortt Cummings wrote Our story: some pages from the history of the Woman’s Auxiliary to the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada, 1885 to 1929 (Toronto, [1929?]).

AO, F 1075-3, [M. O. Hammond], “Ninety years of the Globe” (typescript, [1934]), 196; F 1104, Mrs Willoughby Cummings to Mary Bouchier Sanford, 17 Nov. 1897; RG 80-5-0-14: 222. Globe, 22 April 1893. Barbara Freeman, “Laced in and let down: women’s fashion features in the Canadian dailies of the 1890s” (paper presented at the annual CHA meeting, Victoria, 1990). Sandra Gwyn, The private capital: ambition and love in the age of Macdonald and Laurier (Toronto, 1984). Marjory Lang, Women who made the news: female journalists in Canada, 1880-1945 (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1999). [I. M. Marjoribanks Hamilton-Gordon, Marchioness of] Aberdeen [and Temair], The Canadian journal of Lady Aberdeen, 1893-1898, ed. J. T. Saywell (Toronto, 1960). National Council of Women of Canada, Year book (Ottawa; Toronto), 1894-1930. Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell). V. J. Strong-Boag, The parliament of women: the National Council of Women of Canada, 1893-1929 (Ottawa, 1976). These fifty years, 1886-1936: Woman’s Auxiliary to the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada, and to diocesan missions ([Toronto, 1936?]).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Marjory Lang, “SHORTT, EMILY ANN McCAUSLAND (Cummings),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/shortt_emily_ann_mccausland_15E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/shortt_emily_ann_mccausland_15E.html
Author of Article:   Marjory Lang
Title of Article:   SHORTT, EMILY ANN McCAUSLAND (Cummings)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   June 8, 2023