Ever since her famous 1813 trek, Laura Secord has been admired as a model of bravery, courage, and determination. But though the story has broad appeal, Laura Secord's accomplishments were perhaps most meaningful and symbolic to women historians and feminists of the 19th century – and to none more than Sarah Anne Curzon, a forward-thinking and progressive early feminist author who immortalized the Secord story in 1887.
In their struggle for recognition, validation, equality and universal suffrage during an era of female repression, Sarah Curzon and her female colleagues found in Laura Secord the embodiment of many modern feminist values. And by researching, popularizing and promoting her story, these early feminists contributed immeasurably to our understanding of the historical events of the era. They also helped make Laura Secord's name a household word, inspiring generations of Canadian women to rise beyond the limitations imposed by repressive elements in Canadian society.
Sarah Anne Vincent was an author, journalist, poet and playwright who came to Canada from England in 1862. Born to prosperous parents in 1833 near Birmingham, England, and educated by tutors and at a Birmingham girl's school, she showed an early talent for writing, and published short fiction and poetry in various English periodicals. After marrying Robert Curzon of Norfolk in 1858, she emigrated with him to Toronto in 1862. Soon after her arrival, she resumed her literary career, contributing articles to several Canadian periodicals. She eventually becoming an assistant editor and regular columnist on women's' issues in the Canadian Citizen, which she used to speak out strongly for women's rights, including the right to attend university and the right to vote. She was a witness to Canada's Confederation in 1867, and perhaps due to her fresh perspectives as a recent immigrant, she became fascinated with Canadian history and wrote numerous articles on Canadian historical themes.
In the late 1800s, literature and history were closely linked disciplines, with much historical research being presented as historical epics and narratives. And with the characteristically sexist social perspectives of the era, literature and history were also seen as disciplines which did not require the so-called "masculine" intellect required for science or politics, and thus were acceptable pursuits for women. As a result, these literary forms were increasingly being used by women to explore their social roles, share their ideas, and promote their ideologies.Unfortunately, women interested in history were often barred access to male-dominated 'professional' historical societies of the time, so they often had to form their own – which they did, with enduring results.
Curzon also laid much of the groundwork for elevating Laura Secord from a quaint historical footnote to a legitimate Canadian heroine, and in the process, as a role model and icon for Canadian feminists seeking social reform for women of the era.
Because it was written using the heavily stylized literary conventions of the day, Curzon's closet drama is a bit of a difficult slog for contemporary readers, and like much Victorian literary drama, it has been dismissed by many modern critics as stylistically ponderous and intellectually inconsequential. But as feminist researcher Celeste Derksen points out, unpacking the contents of Sarah Curzon's Laura Secord closet epic actually provides a very important historical overview of how the ideologies of gender and nationhood were woven together in the early days of Canadian feminism. It also reveals Sarah Curzon to be a strong, progressive, and forward-thinking idealist who, inspired by her heroine Laura Secord, spent much of her lifetime advancing the role of women in Canadian society.
During her lifetime, Sarah Curzon was an original founding member of the Toronto Woman's Literary Club, the city's first suffrage organization established in 1876. She supported the establishment of the Women's Medical College in 1883, and also founded the Women's Canadian Historical Society in 1896. At the time of her death, Curzon had achieved broader recognition amongst historians of both genders, and was an honorary member of the Lundy's Lane Historical Association, the York Pioneer and Historical Society, and the Women's Art Association of Canada.
Curzon, Sarah Anne. 1887. Laura Secord, the heroine of 1812 : a drama, and other poems. C. Blackett Robinson, 5 Jordan Street, Toronto.
Curzon, Sarah Anne. 1891. The story of Laura Secord, 1813.
First edition published 25th July, 1891 by Williamson and Co, Publishers, Toronto, under the auspices of the Lunday's Lane Historical Society. Brough & Caswell, Printers - Bay Street, Toronto. 16 pages.
Second edition published 1898 by Telegraph Print in Welland [Ont.], under the direction of the Lundy's Lane Historical Society. 16 pages.
Mosquin, Alexandra. 2002. Submission Report [ for a Person of Historic Interest - Laura Secord]. Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada [Parks Canada], pp. 487-511.