MAHONY, FRANCES (Jeffers; Lovering), social activist; b. c. 1863 or 1 Nov. 1868 in New York City, daughter of Daniel Mahony and Frances Higgins; m. first 22 Nov. 1886 Charles (Jeffers) in Toronto; m. there secondly 21 Oct. 1896 William Henry Lovering; she had no children; d. 26 March 1926 in Hamilton, Ont.
Frances Higgins, who had immigrated from Ireland to the United States in 1837, married Daniel Mahony and they had four children. Their only daughter, Frances (Fannie), was born shortly before her father’s death. By 1874 the young girl and her mother had come to Toronto, where they lived with an uncle, Patrick Higgins, a shoemaker. Frances attended Loretto Abbey, a Catholic school for girls that offered a curriculum in both English and French. She graduated with a gold medal in 1884 and two years later married Charles Jeffers, a business clerk, who died of pneumonia in 1889. After studying at a Toronto business college, she worked for Brown Brothers Company, nurserymen, where she eventually became office manager. In 1896 she married a lawyer, William Henry Lovering, and went to live in Hamilton. An active member of St Joseph’s and St Mary’s parish churches, she continued, as a member of Hamilton’s Alliance Française and a pianist in the Duet Club, interests initiated by her early education.
World War I was the catalyst for Frances Lovering’s involvement in public life, and henceforth her activities would be devoted mainly to patriotic work, social welfare, and Catholicism. Fluently bilingual, in 1915 she led a committee of local French Canadians and members of the Alliance Française to form a branch of the Secours National. Its president until 1923, she was the prime mover behind extensive efforts to “assist needy persons in France.” Hamiltonians could subscribe to adopt French children as “godsons” or send help to Mont-Saint-Eloi, the community’s adopted town in France. Among the fundraising events, the “entertainment” at Niagara Falls in 1916, where Sarah Bernhardt appeared, netted $300 in one evening. By the end of 1919 Hamilton’s Secours National had sent $42,839 to France in addition to 10 trucks and 3,097 cases of food, clothing, and hospital supplies.
During the war Lovering worked with her husband for the Canadian Patriotic Fund and, through St Mary’s Benevolent Society, she mobilized the women of St Mary’s parish to send aid to Canadian soldiers overseas. In 1917, perhaps in answer to a perceived need for a Catholic organization for women who wanted to contribute religious as well as patriotic work, she helped found the Catholic Women’s Guild of Hamilton. Three years later a national association, the Catholic Women’s League of Canada, was organized under the presidency of Bellelle Guerin, with Lovering as honorary treasurer. A vice-president in 1922, in charge of social welfare, Lovering was elected president at the league’s convention in Halifax in 1923 and at Edmonton in 1924. By her retirement the following year, the CWL had 40,000 members.
For Lovering the CWL provided a coordinated public voice on matters that affected all women, and Catholics in particular. Catholic women, she predicted, would use their recently acquired voting rights to influence beneficial legislation and discourage laws antithetical to Catholicism. Lovering applauded, for instance, the steps that Ontario had taken to amend the Separate Schools Act to allow for the surgical treatment of pupils at public expense (health officials in public schools already had authority to act in cases of tonsillitis and other afflictions). She viewed with alarm the federal government’s proposed relaxation of divorce law, advising CWL members to use the power of public opinion to continue its delay. In 1921, at the CWL’s first annual convention, she praised such initiatives in Ontario as the Mothers’ Allowance Act, the Minimum Wage Board, and new regulations for film censorship, all undertaken by the government of Ernest Charles Drury*. Among the other issues of social welfare that concerned the league were the care and training of “mental defectives,” the condition of pregnant women in prisons, and venereal disease. At the local level members visited hospitals and homes of refuge and for the aged, bringing food, magazines, and religious articles, and each October Catholic families were canvassed on behalf of the Orphanage Guild in Hamilton.
Lovering advocated a revitalized Catholicism as expressed in the ideas of the Catholic Truth Society, of which she was a vice-president from 1923 to 1925. Addressing a CWL convention in Montreal in 1924, she called on Catholic women “to restore men to discipline and self-control and to reconcile women to home and its duties.” She warned against a society seemingly “discontented with life, and mad with the unrestricted love of pleasure.” In her valedictory speech of 11 June 1925 at the league’s annual convention in Hamilton, she based her remarks on biblical text. Women, she said, had had no place in society until they had been emancipated by Christ’s words: “Son, behold your mother.” Christianity had therefore freed women, making them their husbands’ “partners” instead of “toys and slaves.” Marriage was the basis of society, and Catholic women should resist easier divorce, birth control, the desire for political office, and theories of “ultra-feminism” that would “make a woman sexless, with none of the natural charms of womanhood.”
As part of her league-related activities in the 1920s, Lovering served as vice-chair of the National Travellers’ Aid Committee for Ontario, which looked after – with some moral overtone – Catholic women in transit or away from home. As well, she was a director of the Central Bureau of Social Agencies, sat on the Canadian Council on Child Welfare with Charlotte Elizabeth Hazeltyne Whitton* and other pioneers in this field, and was active in both the Social Hygiene Council for Canada and the Big Sisters Association of Canada.
Early in 1926, following her return with her husband from a Big Brothers and Big Sisters convention in Chicago, Lovering fell ill and died; she was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Burlington, Ont. Her life of service had often been recognized. For her work on behalf of the Secours National the French government awarded her the Medaille d’Honneur (1917) and the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Française (1921); for her religious work the papacy gave her La Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (1925) and La Medaglia Benemerenti (1926). Shortly after her death she was made a chevalier of France’s Legion of Honour, the only woman in Canada to have been granted this tribute.
In the early years of the 20th century, Frances Lovering and others like her in Catholic women’s organizations, such as the CWL, reflected a general sense of nationalism and the newly found public voice of feminism and suffragism. Specifically they addressed the need to redefine and reaffirm the place of Catholicism in an increasingly secularized environment.
AO, RG 80-5-0-156, no.13781; RG 80-5-0-241, no.15755; RG 80-8-0-136, no.16301. Hamilton Public Library, Special Coll. Dept. (Hamilton, Ont.), Clipping files, Hamilton biog.; Hamilton – organizations and societies – Secours National; Scrapbooks, Herald, vol.W2. Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary North America Arch., Loretto Abbey (Toronto), “Memorandum re: Frances Mahony Lovering”; Student reg. NA, RG 31, C1, 1901, Hamilton, Ward 1, div.2: 5. TRL, SC, Biog. scrapbooks, vol.16. Hamilton Spectator, 24 May 1915; 8 Nov. 1916; 20, 27 Oct. 1917; 20 Nov. 1918; 2, 4 July 1921; 27 March 1926. News (Toronto), 24 Nov. 1886. World (Toronto), 3 May 1889. Canadian League (Toronto), 4 (August 1924), 5 (July 1925). Cathedral Magazine (Hamilton), March 1917; October 1919; July, September 1920; November 1921; January 1922; December 1925; February, May 1926 (copies in Cathedral of Christ the King Arch., Hamilton). DHB, vol.3. Directories, Hamilton, 1900–1; Toronto, 1866–95. Hamilton Local Council of Women, Fifty years of activity, 1893–1943; commemorating the golden anniversary of Hamilton Local Council of Women ([Hamilton, 1944]). J. E. Middleton and Fred Landon, The province of Ontario: a history, 1615–1927 (5v., Toronto, 1927–), 4: 347–48.