BEYNON WAS BORN IN 1874 in southern Ontario, and at the age of fifteen,
moved with her parents to a farm near Hartney. She remained in Hartney
until 1896, when she moved with her family to Winnipeg. There she
attended Normal School, and went on to teach for nine years in several
rural communities. As a teacher she became aware of the isolation,
poverty and abuse faced by many farm women, an experience that was to
influence her later political life.
In 1905 she joined the Manitoba Weekly Free Press, where she became
editor of the Women's Page. Her column "Home Loving Hearts" which she
wrote under the pseudonym "Lillian Laurie" provided a forum for the
discussion of the problems of rural women, and brought the debate about
the rights of women to households across the prairies. The letters she
published told the stories of women who had been abused and abandoned,
and who had no legal right to their farms or custody of their children.
She used these columns to lobby for new divorce and child-custody laws,
for the protection of unwed mothers, for the property rights of farm
women, and for legislation to prohibit the sale of liquor, which she
saw as a cause of much of the misery and hardship.
Beynon came to prominence as a leader of the suffrage movement. Much
like her sister, Francis Marion Beynon, editor of the Women's Page of
the Grain Growers Guide, she began to use her columns for the spread of
suffragist views and ideas. Together, the Beynon sisters were
responsible for changing much rural opinion on the suffrage issue.
In 1912, Beynon Thomas (she changed her name on marriage in 1911)
joined a number of other educated middle class women, including Nellie
McClung, E. Cora Hind, Winona Flett (Mrs. F.J. Dixon), Dr. Mary
Crawford, Dr. Amelia Yeomans and her sister in forming the Political
Equality League. She was its first president and remained active in the
League for six years through the provincial election of 1914, where the
Liberal allies of the suffragists were defeated by the Roblin
Conservatives. The Roblin government collapsed in scandal towards the
end of 1915, and by January of 1916, the Liberal Government of T.A
Norris had passed legislation granting the vote to all Manitoba women.
On this occasion, "Lillian Laurie" wrote in her column in the Weekly
It is all over now, even the shouting. The women of Manitoba are now
citizens, persons, human beings, who have groped politically out of the
class of criminals, children, idiots and lunatics.
Beynon Thomas moved to New York in 1917, after her husband, A. Vernon
Thomas was fired as the legislative reporter of the Free Press for his
public opposition to conscription. She returned to Winnipeg in the
1920s, where she established herself as an author, playwright and
social commentator. She remained in the province until her death in
Hartney boasts two more famous people who grew up here. Lawrence Fry
was a major Federal civil servant, an Assistant Deputy Minister of
Health and Deputy Receiver-General of Canada; in this latter post his
signature appeared on all Federal cheques. Frances Marion Beynon was,
like her sister Lillian, a noted activist and suffragette.
Lawrence Fry (right) as a boy in Hartney.
Frances Beynon Thomas.