Women in Journalism Part II: Katherine Hughes
By Keltie MacKenzie
In continuation of our series of Women in Journalism, we move from Gertrude Balmer-Watt to her friend and colleague, Katherine Hughes. Hughes would go on to be a highly controversial figure in the politics of the British Empire, though she had rather humble beginnings. Born in P.E.I. in 1876, daughter of an Irish Catholic merchant, Hughes’ journey across Canada and the world spanned across not only the land of our vast nation, but also across massive political and social changes. She graduated with a first-class Teacher’s Licence in 1892, after which she spent time at schools on reserves, and later went on to found the Catholic Indian Association. The Catholic Indian Association sought to help First Nations peoples find employment off the reserve and assimilate them, which reflected contemporary views.
Hughes left teaching in 1902, in pursuit of a literary career, and began working for the Montreal Daily Star. While there, Hughes was sent to St. Louis to cover the World’s Fair in 1904, where she became acquainted with several other female journalists including Gertrude Balmer-Watt and Kathleen “Kit” Coleman. While aboard the train, the women founded the Canadian Women’s Press Club (CWPC), which aimed to “maintain and improve the status of journalism as a profession for women” and eventually gave birth to chapters throughout the country. Pictured here is the Edmonton chapter of the CWPC in 1920, though Hughes was abroad when the image was taken.
Despite the CWPC’s drive for the recognition of women in journalism, some members, including Katherine Hughes, were against Women’s Suffrage. As her biographer Pádraig Ó Siadhail points out, Hughes’ life was filled with irony and despite her own experiences as a biographer, she left very little evidence as to why she did not support the movement. Thankfully however, everywhere Katherine went, she left a wake skilled writing and well-known connections.
In 1906 she moved to Edmonton to work for the Edmonton Bulletin where she was responsible for reporting on the legislature, but her time in Edmonton was spent rapidly growing her career and expanding her support of Catholic causes. In 1908, she became the first provincial archivist for the 3-year-old province, and shortly thereafter went on to work for Premier Alexander Rutherford and his successor Premier Arthur Sifton. Around this time, Katherine became acquainted with Father Albert Lacombe and published the biography, Father Lacombe: The Black Robed Voyageur, which was well received by critics and the public alike.
In 1912, Hughes founded the Catholic Women’s League of Edmonton, but left the city when she was transferred to London, England in 1913 for work.
During this time, she developed a deeper connection with her Irish roots and learned Gaelic, then becoming a vociferous supporter of Irish independence under the mentorship of Éamon de Valera (pictured left). She returned to Canada in 1915 and would continue to work on more biographies. Additionally, she would spend the next number of years floating between the U.S.A. and Canada to raise support for Irish independence. She was however carefully monitored by the RCMP who reported on her directly to her former employer Arthur Sifton, who was now federal secretary of state. Indeed, in wartime Canada, Hughes’ anti-imperialist views were not well received, and she was branded a traitor by many. She eventually went to Australia and New Zealand to raise further support for the Irish Independence at the bidding of de Valera and to escape from plagiarism issues of a biography unfairly credited with her editor as the author, rather than her.
Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, Hughes oddly saw much of her work crumble into fragments of dissension amongst Irish people across the world. She had once been a respected journalist, and was later left battling publishing and plagiarism issues. Once, she had worked as a political insider, but later she became a political outcast at the cost of a cause that abandoned her. She continued to float from country to country for much of her life, referring to herself as a “once-upon-a-time Canadian”, reflecting the rejection and loneliness she felt later in her life. She passed away of cancer in the Bronx, New York in 1925 and was buried in an unmarked grave. Her work was forgotten, or perhaps ignored, for many years after her death, though in recent years her contributions to Canadian journalism and Irish independence are once again being acknowledged. From teacher to journalist to biographer to secretary to world traveler to political exile, Katherine Hughes lived quite a life, and has left a legacy worth acknowledging, despite its notes of controversy. To find out more about Katherine Hughes or other members of the Canadian Women’s Press Club, you can “meet” them this summer at Fort Edmonton Park on 1905 street or visit The Alberta Provincial Archives.
- Fort Edmonton Park files
- Irish Canadian Conflict and the Struggle for Irish Independence, 1912-1925 By Robert McLaughlin