Page images
PDF

stance from the average political knowledge and experience open to men, would weaken the central governing forces of the State, and be fraught with peril to the country. Women who hold these views must now organize in their support. 6. We appeal, therefore, to those who disapprove the present suffrage agitation, to join our League, and to support it by every means in their power.

The woman suffrage movement can be defeated—it must be defeated—and by women themselves.

Women of England! We appeal to your patriotism, and your common sense.

Upon this text the following speech was delivered:

"The first part of the foregoing Manifesto dwells on the urgency of the situation. As to that there can, i think, be no doubt. When a Women's Enfranchisement Bill has passed its second reading in the House of Commons by a large majority; when we have a militant Society, amply supplied with money, and served by women who seem to give their whole time to its promotion; when we have before us the spectacle of marchings and counter-marchings, alarums and excursions, on behalf of the Suffrage cause, in all parts of England; when Ministers' houses are attacked and political meetings broken up; when besides the pennyworth of argument, added to an intolerable deal of noise, with which the Women's Social and Political Union provide us, we have the serious and impressive sight of Mrs. Fawcett's procession of a month ago—then, indeed, it seems to be time that those women who, with no less seriousness, with, l hope, no less tenacity, and with certainly as much public spirit as Mrs. Fawcett and her supporters, hold the view that Woman Suffrage would be a disaster for England, and first and foremost for women themselves—that they should bestir themselves, that they should take coun

sel, that they should organize opposition, and prepare to see it through. For the fight will be a tough and a long one. We shall want work, we shall want money, we shall want enthusiasm. No member joining this League should be an idle member. Time, money, zeal—we ask you for all these-and if this newly formed League is not prepared to give them, we might as well not organize it at all. We want an efficient Central Office, and an efficient Executive Committee; we want a good and active Publication Committee; we want branches throughout the country, who will take up with energy the work of local persuasion, of interviewing members and candidates for Parliament, and of meeting the tactics and arguments of the Suffragists with counter-tactics and counter-arguments. Not that we intend to meet lawlessness with lawlessness; far from it. This League cannot, in my opinion, uphold too strongly the old English standards of fair-play and courtesy in debate, of law-abiding and constitutional methods. The Suffragists, indeed, are already inviting us to go to prison for our opinions. We in return can only marvel at the logic of Miss Beatrice Harraden, for instance, who maintains in the Times, that because a small body of women whose 'blood is up,' to use Miss Harraden's expression, choose to invite imprisonment by violent methods, choose to subject themselves to discomforts in prison from which they could free themselves at a word, that therefore—therefore— this 'dear land of England,' this old and complex State, is to capitulate at once to a doctrine which, ln on? belief, the great majority of its inhabitants disapprove and condemn, is to change its ancient use and custom, and is to embark alone of civilized States of the first rank, on the strange seas of Woman Suffrage. The considerations are not equal! and what is practically a revolution is not going to be bought so cheap!

"Let us, then, meet energy with energy, and in a spirit of hope. There is nothing in this movement which cannot be defeated, as this Manifesto points out. l have ventured lately to draw English attention to the state of things in America, where, after half a century of agitation, the Woman Suffrage movement is obviously declining, put down by the common sense of women themselves. They certainly could have got it if they had ultimately determined upon it; and in the sixties and seventies, when Women's Clubs were spreading all over the States, with the avowed object of securing Woman Suffrage, when great meetings were perpetually being held, :.nd petitions presented to the State Legislatures, or to Congress, it looked as though the movement would and must succeed. Four States had granted the Suffrage; other States were being pressed to grant it. Then, in the eighties, the tide turned. The opinion of women themselves set against it. Women's Anti-Suffrage Societies sprang up; led in many cases by the women most actively concerned in social and philanthropic work; appeals to State Legislatures were met by counter-appeals, ably argued, a vast amount of literature was distributed: and now, not even Mrs. Cobden Sanderson can deny that the movement is receding, or. ns Mrs. Fnwcett prefers to put it, is 'less advanced' than in England. Mr. Zangwlll, indeed, announces that he is 'bored' by facts drawn from Wyoming and Oregon. But l am afraid this is only when they are used against him! The Society for which he writes is never tired of quoting the four Suffrage States, when it suits them to do so, and of printing a number of highly doubtful statements about them. One of their recent pamphlets deals entirely with tLe no

ble example of Wyoming and Colorado, LUin and ldaho. But when someone points out that there is a great deal to be said of another kind about these four States, and that the State of Oregon, which has for neighbors these very Suffrage States, has just defeated a Woman's Suffrage amendment by 20,000 votes, as against 10,000 last time, and 1,800 the time before—then Mr. Zangwill is 'bored.'

"We must fight then, and fight with hope.

"As to the reasons for the fight, we nre probably all pretty much agreed in this room. Women are 'not undeveloped men but diverse,' and the more complex the development of any State, the more diverse. Difference, not inferiority—it is on that we take our stand. The modern State depends for its very existence—and no juggling with facts can get rid of the truth—on the physical force of men, combined with the trained and specialized knowledge which men alone are able to get, because women, on whom the childbearing and child-rearing of the world rest, have no time and no opportunity to get it. The difference in these respects between even the educated man and the educated woman—exceptions apart—is evident to us all. Speaking generally, the man's mere dally life as breadwinner, as merchant, engineer, official, or manufacturer, gives him a practical training that is not open to the woman. The pursuit of advanced science, the constantly developing applications of science to industry and life, the great system of the world's commerce and finance, the fundamental activities of railways and shipping, the hard physical drudgery, in fact, of the world, day by day—not to speak of naval and military affairs, and of that diplomacy which protects us and our children from war—theso are male, conceived and executed by men. The work of Parliament turns upon them, assumes them at every turn. That so many ignorant male voters have to be called into the nation's councils upon them, is the penalty we pay for what on the whole are the great goods of democracy. But this ignorance-vote is large enough in all conscience, when one considers the risks of the modern State; and to add to it yet another, where the ignorance is imposed by nature and irreparable-the vote of women who in the vast majority of cases are debarred by their mere sex from that practical political experience which is at least always open to men—could any proceeding be more dangerous, more unreasonable? The women who ask it—able, honorable, noble women though they be—are not surely true patriots, in so far as they ask it. There is a greatness in self-restraint as well as in self-assertion; and to embarrass the difficult work of men, in matters where men's experience alone provides the materials for judgment, is not to help women. On the contrary. We are mothers, wives, and sisters of men, and we know that our interests are bound up with the best interests of men, and that to claim to do their work as well as our own is to injure both.

"But we shall be told there is a vast field where men and women are equally concerned—the field of industrial and domestic legislation—and that women here ought to have an equal voice. And if there were any practical possibility of dividing up the work of Parliament, so that women should vote on only those matters where they are equally concerned with men, there would be a great deal to be said for a special franchise of the kind. But there is no such possibility. Mr. Gladstone tried something like it when in the case of the first Home Rule Bill he endeavored to draw a line between certain subjects and others, in the case of the Irish members. We all know

that he failed. The work of Parliament is one and indivisible. The handling of every subject bears on the handling of every other, and the vote, once given, can only carry with it the whole range of parliamentary power.

"But what then? Are women without power over the subjects that specially concern them, because they are and, as we hope, will remain without the parliamentary vote?

"By no means. They have first of all the power which will always belong, vote or no vote, to knowledge and experience wherever they are to be found. During the last half-century, as the education of women has advanced, and as their experience has been enlarged, their influence upon public men and upon legislation has steadily increased. Not a single Bill is now passed bearing on the special interests of women and children, but women are anxiously consulted. When the Special Schools for defective children were constituted throughout the country, the influence of women shaped the law at every successive stage; when the Midwives Act was passed, it was not, as Mrs. Pankhurst says', 'passed by men without consulting women'—it was, as I happened to know, mainly the work of a group of energetic and clear-headed women, who proved their point and achieved their reform, even against a strong masculine opposition. The Probation of Offenders Act of last year was framed throughout in consultation with women possessed of expert knowledge and experience; and as for the Children's Bill of this Session, this children's charter, which does Mr. Samuel such honor, it could not have been drawn up without the advice and help of women, which it has had, throughout. Women, moreover, are now placed on Royal Commissions, and we may be very sure that the influence of Mrs. Sidney Webb on the Poor Law Commission is at least equal to that of any man upon it.

"But this is not all. Women have not only the influence given them by special knowledge and ability, knowledge which enables them now in all fields to represent and speak for their sex; they have also freely open to them, whether as electors or elected, the immense field of local government. They have had the municipal vote for thirty-seven years; they have long been eligible as Poor Law Guardians, as parish or district councillors, and they have now been made eligible as county and borough councillors. lf anyone will take up any competent book on local government and look at the powers of county and borough councils, he will ask himself, l think, how long will it be before women overtake or fill the immense sphere which has been here opened to them? They have not, indeed, shown any great zeal to fill it. The women's vote has been extremely small, except when some exciting cause has intervened—not unlike the men, however, in this! But all the time, if the vote were really the talisman that the Suffragists proclaim, what women might have done in local government! —what they still might do!

"'lf we get the vote.' says one of the Suffragist leaflets, 'more attention would be given to the condition of the children, to the care of the sick and aged, to education,' and so on. But meanwhile all sorts of powers are lying unused under the hands of women. There has been much talk, for lustance, of the evils of street trading for children of school age. But this is a matter which depends entirely upon the County Council; and if the women's vote in London, which they have now )Mvssessed for thirty years and more, had been properly used and directed, street trading could have been made impossible. Organized playgrounds again for children throughout London

could have been established, as they have been established in Boston and New York; a hundred things could have been done for children, if voters and organizers had so willed it. Meanwhile, the need for women school managers of a capable sort throughout London is really urgent. ln the Cripple Schools with which l have been specially connected, we cannot get women enough to do the work which urgently wants doing for these delicate and helpless children. And meanwhile good brains and skilled hands are being diverted from women's real tasks to this barren agitation for equal rights with men, in men's own field, this sexrivalry, which has too often masqueraded as reform.

"Two arguments often used in the controversy are not touched in the .Manifesto, which had of necessity to be short. But they have had remarkable influence upon the working population of the north. l mean (1) the argument that the possession of the vote would raise the wages of women to an equality with those of men; (2) that hygienic regulation of the employment of women—married women especially— should not be imposed on women without their consent, expressed through the vote.

"Heavy indeed is the responsibility of those who are teaching an excitable factory population that the possession of a vote will raise their wages! lf this were even remotely true, would the average wage of the agricultural laborer, twenty-four years after his political enfranchisement, be still 15*. or 16«. a week? Would all that mass of low-paid male labor disclosed by Mr. Rowntree's book on York, or Mr. Booth's London, still exist—if the vote could remedy it?

"The reasons why women's wage is generally lower than that of men are partly economic, partly physical. There are more women than men; men are stronger than women; there is far more competition for men's labor; marriage and the expectation of marriage affect the industrial value of women's work unfavorably; and above all the organization of women's labor is still backward and weak.

"Many causes now in operation will, we hope, tend in time to the better payment of women; the more even spread of the world's population, better training, better organization, and so on. But to teach the laboring women of England that a parliamentary vote is of itself to raise wages and bring them the economic millenninm, is, as it seems to me, to poison the wells of thought and action among them, and to increase instead of lightening the burdens on our sex.

"As to factory regulations, the opinion of women in the matter, trained and experienced women, has been of increasing importance with the Government for many years past . l believe l am not wrong in saying that a very large proportion of the recent reforms in factory legislation for women and children are due to the reports of women inspectors, in dally contact with the people, and bringing their trained knowledge to bear. But let us ask a further question. ls the work of married women in factories the concern only of women? Not at all. lt is the concern of the nation as a whole, who are the trustees for and the guardians of the coming generation.

"Whether the legitimate influence of women on legislation could be carried further, on the lines of responsible advice, and co-operation with Government departments, is a matter to which some of us have given anxious thought. You will find a reference to this in the Manifesto. We have no hard and fast plan. We throw out the suggestion to show that we are far from admitting that everything is for the best in the best of worlds. We know that there

are grievances of women, just as there are grievances of men, awaiting redress. But let us not throw out the child with the bath water. Let us not in pushing the claims and demands of women forget that the interests of the whole—of the great country to which we all belong—must come first. As one reads the Suffragist literature, Macaulay's lines come ringing in one's head:—

When all were for a party,
And none were for the State.

"The party of sex may be the worst of all parties. And there is too much of it in the Suffrage agitation.

"Practically, then, our new League meets the Suffragist demand by a direct negative, and by the strong assertion that women's true sphere is already secured to her, both in the home and the State, and what she has to do now is to fill and possess it. For the brutalities and wrongs that remain, force, political force, is no remedy. The task, alack, is harder than that.

"Finally, outside the political machinery necessary to the maintenance of the modern, civilized State, there is a world of thought and action common to both men and women alike, in perfect equality, a world more readily open to ideas than the world of party politics, a world where all reforms begin, and which provides the force which ultimately carries them. Every capacity of women can find, if we will, free scope in that world, and within it women's influence and women's power depend entirely upon what women are themselves.

"Well, now, we have to give practical effect to this belief. We have to carry the organization of the League throughout the country; we have to provide good and adequate literature; we have, above all, to break down the 420 pledges that have been given to Woman Suffrage in this Parliament;

« PreviousContinue »