WHY by Elizabeth Robins
Essay from the collection
Way Stations by Elizabeth Robins
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by Elizabeth Robins
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
1. WHY are women of all classes in England banding themselves together to work for political enfranchisement?
2. Why have women subscribed in a little over a year, to one society alone (the Women's Social and Political Union), £50,000 to the Cause?
3. Why will nurses, artists, librarians, writers, teachers, etc., give up congenial work to labour twice as hard, on half-pay or none, for the Suffrage?
4. Why do well-bred girls and older women sell Suffrage papers in the street--exposing themselves to the scant civility of the police and the horseplay of rowdies?
5. Why are they ready to accept the alienation of many of their friends and most of their menfolk?
6. Why, instead of petitioning for justice, are the women now demanding it?
7. Why, instead of helping to elect another "Member" to go to Parliament and support the Suffrage cause, are women going themselves in thousands "to knock at the door" of the House?
* Published in Everybody's Magazine, Dec., 1909; in Votes for Women, London; and as a pamphlet by the Women Writers' Suffrage League.
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8. Why, rather than agree to abandon a dangerous and often health-destroying agitation, have hundreds of women gone to prison?
9. Why, if these are good tactics, were they not employed before?
10. And why, after all, do women want the vote?
These are among the qustions I am told people ask. Yet, though I speak under correction, these are questions which I am convinced many persons do not wish to have answered.
Not merely the idle and brainless, but many able and busy men ask only: How shall we silence these women? Instead of seeking information at the hands of experts ready with an answer--the medical women, the nurses, the Poor Law Guardians, the teachers, the district visitors, the University Settlement folk, women factory-inspectors,--when such applicants for the vote come forward with their evidence, what happens? Where they were formerly given smooth speeches, they are now spared even that hypocrisy. They are told, in more or less direct terms, that the authorities do not want their evidence.
I do not pretend to know how much longer the practice will be pursued of refusing a hearing to reputable, public-spirited experts, when these experts 1 are guilty of being women. But I know that
1 Amongst others coming under this head, the Prime Minister has refused to received a deputation of Women Doctors and another of Head-Scholmistresses.
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only one of the two main results of that refusal is clear to the man in the street. The result that is clear is: the stone through the window of the Government office.
The other result--not clear at all and well therefore to point out--is of the same nature as that mischance which, it is whispered at London dinner tables, recently befell the King. Among the relays of guests visiting His Majesty, was a small Princess whose beauty and liveliness brought upon her the special notice of her august host. She was given (at some purely domestic luncheon) the seat of honour. Far from feeling any proper embarrassment at her elevation, she made bold to converse at her ease. That slackening of the ancient order wherein so firmly, once, did sit the dread and fear of kings--this Zeit-Tendenz would seem to be apparent even in Royal Palaces.
In the middle of an observation on the part of His Majesty, the small Princess made bold to interrupt. "When I am speaking," said the King, "you must be silent." The child, thereafter, sat obediently quiet, eating her meal. At last, the King, thinking he had been, perhaps, over-severe with his little kinswoman, patted her kindly on the shoulder: "Now we can listen to you, my dear." "Oh, it is too late, now," said the little Princess. "I was only going to tell you there was a caterpillar in your salad. But you've eaten it."
A similar experience awaits those who refuse the
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testimony of the eager eyes, and clear practical brains, of "the women who know." But the result is at times even more serious. For the caterpillar is eaten not only by those in authority who decline to be warned. It is eaten by the innocent multitude who have had no chance of being warned. Our concern is mainly for them, rather than for the comfortable minority so ready to be soothed by the Anti-Suffragist assurance that nought is amiss behind the stone-throwing, behind the thousands of orderly meetings, behind the £50,000 is mere hysteria or hooliganism. The women who say that are not all so ignorant as they give themselves out. Many of them, rather than introduce inconvenient facts, rather than break through some small social convention, will sit as still as the little Princess and see the catepillar go down with the salad. These are the "safe" tactics--warranted to ensure general approval.
Yet, I will assume that there are, as some think, persons willing to have unpalatable facts pointed out. I will answer seriatim the questions propounded at the beginning of this paper, devoting the greater portion of my space to consideration of the first, which comprehends the last.
1. To the initial question on the list (why women of all classes in England are banding themselves together to work for political enfranchisement) there seem to be three answers.
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( a ) Because women have discovered what men said they never would discover, namely; that the higher interests of all classes are the same, and that though the working-woman has the more patent and pressing need of this reform, the woman of the upper and middle classes has equal, if less obvious, need of it.
( b ) Thinking women have found that to work for the public good without working through the laws, is to salve one's soul with mere charity-mongering. It is to scratch at the surface instead of striking at the root of evil.
( c ) All sorts and conditions of women have come to realise that each class has urgent need of the support of the others for the hastening of this reform.
Now the reason the reform is urged with less unanimity and vigour in certain other countries, is because the need for it is less widely known by the women of these countries. Why is the need more widely known to English women?
Because for two hundred years "the political woman" has been a factor in English social life. 2
Because, earlier still, English women of the upper class inherited, and carried on, a tradition of the
2 Scattered up and down the Biographies of public men, in the various collections of Letters and political memorabilia, is material for a highly significant book, setting forth the extent of the power exercised (in the bad old days of indirect influence) by the political salon--swaying opinion as it undoubtedly did, distributing patronage, making and unmaking men and ministries.
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responsibility of the fortunate towards the less fortunate. The attitude of the great lady and of the vicar's wife and daughters, has been imitated by those who wished to establish their credit in the community. This survival of a feudal usage has its drawback in a tendency among the poor towards servility, and in a tendency among the rich towards condescension--but in that it brought some actual knowledge and a more human relationship between class and class, it is by so much wholesomer than indifference or blind antagonism, that it will probably save England from the more violent encounters between the Rich and the Poor. The social revolution here will come with less jar and bitterness because the door of communication between the House of Have and the Hut of Have-Not has been kept open, not as in America, either irrevocably shut or open only to the menfolk of either camp.
These two factors, then, knowledge of the forces at work and a feeling on the part of the upper-class woman that it was not permissable for her to stand altogether aloof--a feeling that, however much the times were changed, she was morally still under that old feudal obligation to look after the people about her who needed looking after--these formed the foundation upon which the present agitation is based among the more conservative English Suffragists.
We must not forget that if the Woman Suffrage Movement owes its commanding proportions to the working-class woman, the needs and views of
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these women have been given their publicity and their collective weight through the organising power of educated women. The agitation will prove itself invincible in England because behind the formerly inarticulate army of the working-women have been these leaders who learned leadership quietly, slowly, through the decades that lie behind. For forty years, or more, women of some leisure and enlightenment have been serving on School Boards, as Poor Law guardians, on Hospital and Organised Charity Boards, on Vestries. Largely then, because of this quiet work done in the past, a work that built up the will to serve at the same time that it brought widespread knowledge of women's disabilities, legal, industrial, domestic--because having been made to realise the world's need of women in public affairs (as those of us without the English tradition of responsibility yoked to practical experience have not realised it)--because, in brief, an immense number of women in England know the answers to the questions set at the head of this article, therefore it is that, among the greater nations, England is leading the world in intensity of interest in this reform.
I have given as part of the answer to the first question on our list: women's discovery of the futility of hoping to effect some amelioration without getting at the roots of evil. The roots of civic good or evil are the laws that govern the community. Now women in England are discouraged from hav-
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ing any first-hand knowledge of law. If they want to know something of the foundations whereon civilised life is built, they must go to men for information. This being so, men having said women shall have no share in framing, in administering, in interpreting, or in practising law, women might suppose men would be very careful to give the other sex a fair version of that knowledge open, in its fullness, only to men. Yet again and again men of intelligence and good repute have told us that the English law is fair to women. I have heard excellent-meaning men say the law showed women favouritism. They believed it--so blunted has become their sense of justice. Under examination, this "favouritism" they tell of, invaribly turns out to be the mere rags of survival of the old chattel-view of women, laws like that of coverture--not framed for the good of the wife, but for the convenience or greater safety of the husband, laws which a saner view of the sexes will annul. The legislator of the future will listen in vain to hear women's voices raised to advocate retention of these marks of "favouritism" upon the statute books.
One may hope that men who honestly think the English law treats women so much as fairly, will read Lady McLaren's "Women's Charter." There are few people in England occupying a better post of vantage than Lady McLaren from which to write upon the subject. With reference to the laws of inheritance this authority says:
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"As women devote so much of their time to the unpaid work of rearing children, it appears natural that special provision should be made for them out of the inherited wealth of the country. So far from this being the case, we find that it is the man who takes the greater share of the inherited property, although he is able to work for himself during the best years of his life."
Lady McLaren speaks of "the strangely penniless condition of Englishwomen, though they are citizens of the richest nation in the world." She contrasts the French custom of providing the daughter with a dot, thereby enabling her "to become a partner in marriage instead of a dependent."
But not from all men do we hear the "favouritism," or even the common fairness, of the English law maintained. In his text-book on English Law the eminent Jurist and Anti-Suffragist, Prof. Dicey, says with praiseworthy frankness: "The four Married Women's Property Acts are a record of the hesitation and dullness of Members of Parliament." He speaks of "recurring blunders which one may hope without any great confidence have been at last corrected."
"When the present Divorce Act was enacted," says Lady McLaren, "Mr. Gladstone himself declared it to be 'a gross injustice to women in favour of men,' and it would have been impossible to pass such a measure into law had the views of women been represented in the House of Commons." The
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lawyer from one of whose printed books I take some of my facts 3says with regard to the laws of inheritance as affecting women:
"The conduct of most Englishmen in this respect is nothing short of disgraceful. In France it is quite usual for one brother to take the land and to pay out the other members of the family. Each gets his or her share equally, whether they are sons or daughters. But in case the land has to be divided each still gets his or her share. This not only puts Frenchwomen in a better position as wives and mothers than any Englishwomen, except in the rare case of an only daughter of a rich man; but it also give them an interest in agriculture, and business, which is hardly to be found among Englishwomen. It further carries with it a respect towards women by the men of their own class, which is equally rare here."
We find, on looking further into the "favouritism" shown by the law, facts such as these:
"An unmarried woman who has money, or can make it, can live her own life, see her own friends and act like a free and responsible being, but with regard to a married woman the law still holds that she is 'under the control and custody of her hus-
3 Ralph Thicknesse, author of "A Digest of the Law of Husband and Wife," "The Rights and Wrongs of Women," etc.
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husband'; 'She is under his guardianship, and he is entitled to prevent her from indiscriminate intercourse with the world.' She must bring up his children as he pleases, the fact that they are her children does not count."
The wife cannot legally compel the husband to provide for her or the children out of his wages so long as husband and wife are living together. She has no means except persuasion to get even a part of her husband's earnings.
"It is sometimes said that a man is legally bound to provide for his wife and children, but this is misleading" (says Mr. Thicknesse, sometime of Lincoln's Inn). "It becomes true only if wife and children go to the workhouse." (Note that this provision is not for the relief of the women, but for the relief of the State.) "If she has friends, she may get temporary shelter, and apply to the magistrate for a separation order. Even here injustice follows her."
In England" [says this lawyer] "property comes before everything."
"The income of the married pair must be added together for the purposes of income tax, unless they are living separately" [a premium on disunion].
"The incomes of a man and a woman, unmarried, living together, are taxed separately" [a premium on illegal relations.].
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As Mr. Thickness says:
"The husband not infrequently has spent the dead, first wife's money on a second wife, and on children of a second marriage, depriving the children of the first marriage of it either partially or entirely."
A man can not only will his property away from his wife, and leave her penniless--he can even will his property away from his children, and leave them peniless charges upon a penniless widow.
In the absence of a will or a settlement a woman, married or single, can inherit land only if she has neither father nor brother living.
A married man owning
A married woman own-
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If a man owning per-
land dies intestate. Their
One of the most iniquitous of all these provisions is the following:
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Lady McLaren suggests that among reforms by the way, that of the Church Marriage Service should not be forgotten. This service was drawn up and sanctioned by Parliamentary authority in the Act of Uniformity, and is under the direct control of Parliament. It postulates the inferiority of women, and commands the woman to submit to her hisband in all things as the Church submits to God. It obliges her to take a vow of obedience to her husband which neither the Roman Catholic nor the Nonconformist bodies impose on her. "It commits the husband to the entirely false declaration that he endows his wife with all his wordly goods, when he usually neither does, nor intends to do, anything of the kind."
Many women, and I do not doubt men as well, have felt that the service abounds in expressions suited only to a more primitive age. A very proper suggestion has been made that the House of Commons should require the Bishops in Convocation to draw up a new service which would be in accordance both with womanly dignity and with legal truth.
In that home which woman is told is her "sphere" (where she is to "rule as queen") she has not only no control over any portion of the means of livelihood (unless she owns or earns it herself), nor control even over the material contents of her house--she has no legal right in her own children unless (significant exception) they are born out of wedlock. The children's mother has no legal right to
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a voice in deciding how they shall be nursed; how or where educated; what trade or profession they shall adopt; in what form of religion they shall be instructed.
A devoted Churchwoman loses her husband when her children are young. He has never expressed any opinion as to the children's religious education. His family are militant Nonconformists. After the man's death, his family are legally justified in assuming the religious up-bringing of the children, since the dead father in his youth had been a member of the grandparents' particular sect and had not publicly broken with it. The strong convictions of the mother go for nothing.
Another instance: A woman studies medicine. She becomes a convinced homoepathist. Her husband, a stockbroker, insists on subjecting his children to the rigour of old-fashioned allopathy. The mother must stand and look on, helpless, while the children she is responsible for bringing into the world are treated after a fashion she and many others believe to be pernicious.
If a father wants his child vaccinated, or if he is merely indifferent, and so does not lay an objection before the magistrate, the mother cannot prevent the child's being vaccinated. If the father wishes the child to be left unvaccinated, the mother cannot legally have it done.
A Custody of Children's Act was passed in 1891.
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It enables the parent to get back a child from the hands of a third person, but it is only the child's father who can use this law.
"There is no branch of English law," says Lady McLaren, "which more urgently needs attention than that relating to the guardianship of children--" and not because men have never had their attention called to the abouses which deface that law.
"The late Sir Horace Davey introduced a Bill which proposed that father and mother should be acknowledged equal guardians of their children. This just and logical reform secured only nineteen votes in the House of Commons. The father remains sole guardian. Even when he is dead he may still, by having taken the precaution to appoint a guardian, be able to override the wishes of the children's living mother."
She cannot, even if she is a widow, appoint anyone to act for her children after her death, if her husband has already appointed a guardian.
The mother may by deed, or will, provisionally appoint a guardian to act jointly with the father after her death. If the Court is satisfied that the father is not fitted to act as sole guardian, it may confirm the appointment.
This last wears an air of quasi-justice, but, like all other laws, it must be interpreted and applied by
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one sex only, by the sex to whom the father's interests are those that make, inevitably, their surest appeal.
I will give one instance as to how it may work out. A woman, not poor and obscure, but well known in English society, married a man who soon tired of her and transferred his attentions to a rival. I cannot remember now whether he openly went off with No. 2, but I know that after a series of humiliations and heart-breaking experiences which were the common talk of their world, the neglected wife was glad to give up the father of her child to the second woman, and to live alone, devoting herself to the education of her little girl, the only child of the marriage.
After a few years the deserted wife died. She had appointed a brother or sister, I forget which, as guardian to the child, then about ten years old. The husband promptly married his misterss, who was a woman of good birth. The man, rich, influential, belonging to a well-known family, was forgiven his peccadillos, but people hesitated for a while to accept the new wife. She, however, had set her heart on social recognition. The little girl, she saw, was a possible means of rehabilitation. She induced the father to demand the custody of the child. There was an action at law; the Court set aside the provision of the mother, took the child from its guardian, and gave it into the keeping of the woman who had wrecked the dead mother's life. The second wife
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went about parading her devotion to the child, using her as a stalking-horse. The device failed by reason of the undisguised antipathy of the little girl for her dead mother's enemy. Nothing would induce her to play up. She was silent and sullen. The second wife presently decided that the unhappy little creature was "queer." Oh, but very queer indeed not to be gay, and lively and affectionate with so desirable a stepmother! As the child continued to mope and pine, the second wife wearied of her bargain. She was a resourceful lady. She started the theory that the child was mentally deficient. To make a long and hideous story short, the woman prevailed upon the father (who was as much as ever under her influence) to put his child into an idiot asylum. The girl was there for several years. She must have been blessed with uncommonly steady wits, for, in spite of the peril of such associations, she developed no sign of mental lesion. "Paying Patient" as she was, the asylum authorities by and by refused to keep her any longer, since after the careful surveillance of years they failed to discover anything whatever amiss. They announced to the father their conclusion that the child ought never to have been placed in the asylum. She happened to be of more enduring stuff. At
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school she rapidly made up for lost time and distinguished herself in two widely different directions: by carrying off school prizes; and, as a fellow-pupil has reported, by ministering to the gaiety of the institution. In any dull moment: "Show us what the idiots did," her schoolfellows would say. And this astounding young person, of a surely unshakable mental equilibrium, would oblige amid peals of laughter.
But if the laws bear hardly on the women of education and means, do they deal more mercifully with those obviously more in need of championship--with the ignorant and the poor? Certainly many of the reasons, legal and other, that actuate women of property to demand a voice in equalising the laws, are different from the reasons that actuate the hard-driven working-woman. But, coming to the matter as those two classes do, from different points of the social compass and finding, as they most indubitably have found, a common meeting-point--they are seen to stand there shoulder to shoulder crying: "Votes for Women!"
We will examine some of the facts (I take them almost at random) which have brought the working-woman to the point of revolt.
Broadly speaking, the fact mainly responsible (as has often been pointed out) is the intrusion of the spirit of commercial exploitation into the woman's sphere. Many of the poeple who cry loudest, "Woman's sphere is the home," are men who draw
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their revenues and derive their power from this invasion of what they call Woman's Sphere. They are owners or shareholders in mills and factories where the age-old work of women, spinning, weaving, baking, brewing, soap and candle-making, etc., is done on a scale so vast and so sadly cheap that the world is flooded with shoddy wares and the beautiful handicrafts have died. What of the women who have been taken away from their homes in tens of thousands to mind machinery in the sacred cause of commerce? There is a satisfying fitness in the fact that it is the modern representatives of those dispossessed women who form the largest and most powerful group of organised women demanding the vote to-day. Capable of improvement as their condition is, they, nevertheless, get higher wages, better environment in labour, they boast a higher standard of home comfort, and more generous provision for their children and their own old age, than any other group of working-women.
Now, no one denies that thousands of of women outside the textile trades are working without let or hindrance for a starvation wage. Sweated labour is not only permitted, but even (as will be shown) is encouraged by the Government. Thousands of destitute women-workers are forced into the ranks of the unemployed, and are mercilessly neglected by the authorities, while those same authorities invent emergency work for unemployed men. The curious and instructive thing is that, with all the difficulty
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women encounter in getting decently paid work, when women have got it, the Government in the person of its President of the Local Government Board advocates taking this well-paid textile work away from women and giving it to men. It is proposed that married women-workers (a great proportion are married) be compelled to stay at home. No question of asking the women what they think about this proposal. But what they think about it may be inferred from the fact that the threat of interference with the right to work has given us 96,000 Suffragists. The manifesto of the Lancashire Textile Workers says:
"The position of the unenfranchised working-women, who are by their voteless condition shut out from all political influence, is daily becoming more precarious. They cannot hope to hold their own in industrial matters where their interests may clash with those of their enfranchised fellow-workers or employers. The one all-absorbing and vital political question for labouring women is to force an entrance into the ranks of responsible citizens, in whose hands lies the solution of the problems which are at present convulsing the industrial world." etc., etc.
A friend of mine fell into talk with a tidy, contented-looking mill-woman of thirty-odd in a tram-car the other day. The woman spoke of her home with pride. "It doesn't suffer, then, by your being
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so much away?" "Oh, no, I have a housekeeper." At my friend's evident surprise she explained: " . . . a nice oldish body who isn't up to mill-work, but keeps the house and children as neat as a pin." "Children? You think it's good for them that their mother should be so much away?" "They're away themselves a good bit. They go to school. But it is good for them that my thirty shillngs a week makes us able to feed and clothe them decent. And it's good for the housekeeper-body, who hasn't a home of her own, to have mine to work in and earn her bread honest." To have heard that woman's views on the proposed restriction of women's work might have opened the eyes of legislators. "What will you do," asked my friend, "if Mr. John Burns carries out his scheme?" "Eh," said the woman, "if he does that, I suppose we'll have to clem" (starve).
But the textile workers though, as we have seen, their privileges are threatened, form the aristrocacy of industry. What of the others, the women who work in sweat shops, and the home-workers? Let us ask Elizabeth O'Brien. Not as one of the worst off. Mrs. O'Brien is not a fur-picker, with little food to put in her stomach, and plenty of fluff to put in her lungs; not a dipping-house assistant at the potteries, losing her eyesight, suffering from finger-drop, and having "since working in the lead, one stillborn child and six miscarriages." 4 Elizabeth
4 See James Haslam: August "Gentlewoman."
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O'Brien is a tailoress, aged fifty-six, maker of uniforms for the grand new Territorial Army. It is a mere chance that we are able to elicit Mrs. O'Brien's views, for the other day she threw herself off Lambeth Bridge into the Thames. She was rescued and brought up in Westminster Police Court. It was found that her husband had been dead nine months, and that, working with might and main at clothing the British Army, she could not keep herself alive and pay room-rent at 2s. 6d. a week. The Police Court Missionary, Mr. Barnett, upon careful investigation of the woman's story, added his evidence later. He had found that the would-be suicide was a highly respectable woman. She did her tailoring at Messrs. Dolan's, clothing contractors, ten and a half hours a day, from eight in the morning till eight at night, with intervals for meals--and she earned less than a shilling a day. Upon inquiry at Dolan's, the Police Court Missionary was told she was rather a slow worker (strange at fifty-six!), and therefore it was that she earned at most 6s. a week, and often only 4s., 3s., or even 2s., at basting and finishing police trousers at 3¾d., and a farthing a pair for putting foot-straps on cavalry overalls. This was agreed to be hard work for an elderly woman, since it necessitated the use of an awl. For doing various kinds of sewing upon a pair of "Territorial" Breeches, Messrs. Dolan paid 8d. No woman, it was admitted, could make two pairs in a day. The magistrate said: "It is obvious it means
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starvation unless the woman is helped." He told Mrs. O'Brien to "keep a good heart. We will see what we can do for you." One would not suggest that the magistrate did not keep his word. The point is that hundreds of such cases are never heard of. This one happened to come before the public. Mrs. O'Brien's employers (not the real ones in high office, but the middlemen, Messrrs. Dolan) were made to feel a little uncomfortable. They sent their solicitor to make a public statement before a magistrate. The firm desired to emphasise the fact that the whole of this trouble (which was one of much public importance) was due to the prices at which contractors are compelled by the force of competition to take Government work. If the Government were to insist on the rate of wages being standardised ("as undoubtedly they should," said Messrs. Dolan's representative), this system of cutting down prices to the lowest fraction would be at an end.
There is one public body to-day, the London County Council, which insists upon a standardised rate for tailoring, and the workers on their uniforms do not complain and are said to have no reason to. According to the Police Court Missionary, further investigation deepened rather than mitigated the tragedy of the case of this woman, who was employed on Government work at a wage insufficient to keep her alive, though she was hard at it from eight in the morning till eight at night. Here was
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a woman, nearing sixty, who had lived without reproach. Besides giving the State good service and trousers at 8d. a pair, she had given the country a man to wear them--her only son, a private in the 2nd Dragoon Guards bearing a good character.
What had the State done for the woman?
What the State proposes to do for another woman, whose case came to light about the same time, is to take out of her life its one redeeming element. This woman was the wife on an excellent man who had been trying in vain for five months to get work. During part of the time the woman had the good fortune to be given a job at Pink's jam factory. This sole piece of luck (which is the part of the story which the Government proposes to eliminate) enabled her, while it lasted, to support her husband and seven children. She told the Court she did not know what would have happened but for that job. Yet she had found out what could happen when the job failed. Her husband had to get money somehow to keep her family from starvation. Some men would have stolen it. This man got it from a money-lender. But so far as the outward result went, he might as well have stolen it. On account of this debt of 28s. he was haled off to prison.
Many women of the miscalled educated class probably think that imprisonment for debt was abolished at the same time as the old Marshalsea Prison. But in this, as in so many other practical matters, our less fortunate sisters could better our
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instruction. This mother of seven, for instance, who for the lack of 28s. saw her "Woman's kingdom" lost and her children fatherless and hungry. "How much have you now?" the judge asked. "Nothing." "Not a shillng in the world?" "Not a penny." The judge gave her 6d. and sent for the money-lender. When the judge had heard all the evidence he ordered the debtor's discharge. He then asked the woman, "Have you got the means to go and fetch your husband from the gaol?" "I have only the 6d. you gave me sir, " said the woman. "Have you no food, then? I gave it to you for that." "I kept it till we could have it all together, sir. There are seven little ones."
The temper of this judge chanced not be be unkindly. But, inadequate as 6d. may be to retrieve the ruined fortunes of nine people, not all judges have even 6d. worth of humanity to offer the women who come before them. Those who would like to believe that administrators of the law can be trusted to show consideration to women should take counsel with Mrs. A. of Chelsea. She is the wife of a mechanic. This man ill-treats his wife to the extent that she goes in fear of her life. She took her little boys the other day to the police-court and applied for a separation order. The magistrate told her to "go home and do the best she could." The children, who had seen the indignities, and the physical danger, to which their mother was subjected by their father, received in
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the police-court a further lesson in the duties of men towards women. They heard this symbol of justice and of ultimate power, the awe-inspiring magistrate, tell their mother that she had not yet suffered sufficient injury at the hands of her husband to have earned the right to live away from him. The learned opinion was that "a man was entitled to knock his wife about a bit." Whether the magistrate was shameless enough to use some such words, or whether he merely conveyed to the woman in more guarded terms his view of the husbandly perogative, the effect upon his audience was the same. The law allowed men this privilege. Indeed that the law should do so excited little surprise in the minds of the persons belonging to a class familiarised with the petty fines imposed upon notorious wife-beaters, and the frequently proved fact that it is legally a more reprehensible act to steal a loaf to feed your starving family than to give the mother of that family a pair of black eyes.5 If we who have books and leisure consult the authorities, we find that assault upon a wife is punishable by fine or imprisonment. Yet in practice an ill-used woman, ignorant and unrepresented, finds magistrates in agreement to
5 Not a week passes but terrible cases of this kind come before the police courts. For years the newspaper "Truth" (not prejudiced in favour of women's equality before the law, since it is conducted by an Anti-Suffragist of many years standing, Mr. Henry Labouchere) has pointed out the absurd inadequacy of the sentences passed even in the aggravated cases of such assault.
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send her "home" (!) to her husband, to "do the best you can."
But to be beaten without redress, and even without hope of future legal protection, that is not the worst that may come of this "best" which is all the law may have to offer.
Of the women who have sorry cause to know that, is the wife of a day-labourer living not two miles from Westminster. Mrs. B was another of these applicants for a separation order (since divorce is too dear a luxury for any of this class). The ground of Mrs. B's plea is the infidelity of her husband. "You can't get a separation order for that." "Well, but he brings the woman home--he keeps her in the house." "That is no ground." Then the magistrate is given the heart of the grievance. The husband insists on having the interloper in his wife's bedroom. No redress. Because the husband had not turned the wife out, because he professed himself willing to support her, the supplanted wife (not only ready, eager to leave him with her rival) was refused a separation order. She is coerced into accepting the degrading conditions laid down by the man inside her home, because the men outside (represented by the magistrate) say these degrading conditions are just and legal. At every crisis in her life she finds the law invading that sphere where woman is told she reigns supreme.
Those legislators, who propose to make it illegal for married women to work outside their homes, do
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not even begin by doing away with the age-old legal abuses which any day may make a woman's home the worst place for her on the surface of the earth. If a woman of the kind whose story I have just told is still young enough and strong enough, just one way of escape is opened to her this side of death. For that woman (and many another) there is nothing between her and moral degradation except the chance to earn her own living and thereby the right to sleep in an undefiled bed. If this woman has a daughter or the ear of any woman, who can suppose she will not urge the girl to get, and to hold fast, some means of livelihood other than, or in addition to, the profession of wife? If she does not, the reason will be that her epxerience has left her either brutalised or cowed.
The census of eight years ago put the number of women working in trades for weekly wages at nearly four million. As Lady McLaren says, there is reason to suppose that this is much under the true figure, since many women still consider it more genteel to describe themselves as unoccupied, or as married women only.
A proof of the mortal need women feel of economic independence is found in the fact that against natural inclination and iron-bound tradition, more and more women leave their homes in search of work, in spite of the stumbling-blocks placed in their way, and in spite of the unfair discrimination made against
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women's work merely because it is done by a practically slave class.
In no department of human action have we found more plainly manifest the law that the evil growing out of injustice ultimately rebounds upon the doer--than in this of discrimination against women's work because it is not done by men. Men have lost through this discrimination far more than they could realise, because the discrimination was supposed to be in their favour. To-day, though they still insist on the maintenance of the principle that women should be paid less than men for precisely the same service, they begin to realise that this rule does not always operate in favour of men. They are crying out--not against its injustice, but against its more palpable immediate ill-effect upon themselves.
During a recent by-election in the North of England I first came face to face with the bitter feeling on the part of the working-man against his underpaid rival, the working-woman. A strike of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers had been in progress for many weeks. As is well known, these north-country engineers are among the most intelligent and highest-paid workmen in the kingdom. To get them to vote in the way best calculated to serve the women's cause was an end worth striving for. The Government might ignore voteless women. The Government could not so well afford to ignore this body of highly organised working-men armed with
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electorial power. Naturally, therefore, the President of the Women's Social and Political Union accepted gladly the first invitation ever given a woman to come and address a branch of the Amalgated Society of Engineers.
The meeting (held in a large room over a bar) was packed with working-men. No one making her way through the crowd could doubt that this opportunity to present the women's point of view was in the nature of a fluke. The resolution had presumably been passed when only a few of the men were present. The majority would never have agreed to it. The majority were present now to register their disapproval. I have never been at an indoor gathering where I felt the atmosphere more distinctly hostile. The chairman made a speech that was half apology, and begged for fair play. Mrs. Pankhurst rose to talk to men whose anxious thoughts had been concentrated for weeks upon their own bitter struggle, to men who knew nothing of the woman's movement. I noticed how many of the workmen never so much as looked towards the woman standing there in the cloud of tobacco smoke and talking so quietly. I saw how, little by little, whispering, grumbling groups dissolved, unwilling eyes were turned upon the speaker and the pipes went out. These men were at least listening. For the speaker was not talking to them about Votes for Women, but about the men's immediate problem, talking as a fellow-citizen, one who had studied politics and for thirty years had worked
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with men for public ends. Although non-party and refusing to "take sides," she plainly knew more about the grounds of the great strike than many of the professed politicans who came from Westminster to instruct these men. She had their attention in that vice that never lets go till the last word falls.
Even the big man with the hunched shoulders, who had sat with averted eyes--slowly he was turning his grizzled head. I was glad of that till I saw the look in his face. The speaker had summed up the situation--"and so after all these weeks you are still idle."
" We are idle," said the grizzled engineer, "but our machines are not." There was a second's hush. " There are women behind them," he said. Like low thunder the muttering of the displaced men went through the room.
The speaker's face grew bright. It was precisely the opening she wanted. "And if women are sitting at your machines, whose fault is it? You are quick to blame the women. Who of you blame the men with full stomachs who employ those hungry women as strike-breakers? Who of you blame the people most to blame of all? The husbands, fathers, brothers of those women, who have kept them ignorant and unorganised. I think myself women can do more suitable work than make screws and polish brass-fittings. But I am glad those women are doing your work on half-pay!" There was some disturbance upon that, but her practised voice rose
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over it: "It is the only thing, perhaps, those women can do that will bring their difficulties home to men. Of course the state of things is evil. But you have the remedy, and you won't apply it. Men shut women out of their Unions, and yet expect women to starve for the sake of those Unions. You and your fathers have accepted the tradition that women of your own class shall be overworked and underpaid. Then you dare complain that women are overworked and underpaid. Whose fault is it that women don't play the game? Yours!--who refuse to allow them to learn it." She hammered the truth into them red-hot. But what frightened them most, I think, was her showing how, for all that men could do, the woman-worker was forcing her way into one industry after another. And in truth, consideration of the statistics of displacement of men by women is a sobering exercise. Yet, as the speaker pointed out, men who have all fields open to them have not scrupled to take away women's work. "Not only do men bake and brew, they even knit and spin,6 they sell lace and ribbons, they dress women's hair. What work have they left women? The unpaid drudgery of the house; the work in sweat shops that men despise. But women are growing tired of this division of
6 "I saw a man working a special knitting machine, earning £3 a week. He was waited on by a woman who earned 10s. a week. I asked the manager if the woman could not do the work at the knitting machine as well as the man? He said, 'Every bit as well; but the Trade Union rules will not allow it.'"--LADY MC LAREN in "The Woman's Charter."
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labour. Not only amongst you here--everywhere." She showed how by ignoring the working-woman the working-man was cutting his own throat. "Many of those women at your machines would rather work at home. They can't afford to. Some of those women would rather set type or bind books. But these are skilled trades and highly paid. The Unions won't let women learn them. Nearly all technical training in this country is for boys. Women have to creep in wherever your misfortunes make an opening." "That's it!" somebody said at the back. "Your woman's a born blackleg!" "She's born no different from you, my firend, except that she will sooner sacrifice herself to feed the children. In industry she stands where your fathers stood before they learned co-operation. You men have got every good thing you possess by standing together. Now I've come to tell you--we women want to stand to-gether. And we want you to help us. If you won't do it for the sake of justice, do it for the sake of your own bread and butter. If any man in this room ought to be in favour of Woman Suffrage it should be my friend, there, who is so angry at the thought of a woman working his machine for half pay."
It was the first time the Suffrage had been mentioned.
She showed them what good reason even the few organised working-women had to know that political freedom must precede fair industrial conditions, and
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how hard the textile workers found the task of preventing unrepresented labour from being cheapened. This was not a problem rising here and there out of a strike--but the constant unending struggle. "Your only safety lies where our only safety lies: In equal pay for equal work."
It was a doctrine that pleased the engineers well. If women had to be paid the same, what employer in the iron trade wouldn't prefer an Amalgamated Engineer to be a woman! Readily enough, now, they listened to what half an hour before would have fallen on deaf ears. They even applauded the sentiment: "You will never be safe, you will never yourselves be free till women are free. Only the enemies of your freedom are served by your refusing to stand by us in this struggle." She told them of the pains and penalties inflicted upon Suffragists. She spoke of her own prison experience. The men near the grizzled engineer seemed to be consulting with him. At the close of the meeting the big man stood up and said gruffly that if the lady wanted stewards at her Town Hall meeting, he, and, as he understood, about twenty-seven of his mates were ready to "steward" for her and see fair play.
The Amalgamated Engineers were as good as their word.
Afterwards came other requests asking that other branches should be addressed. I saw much the same scene enacted over and over, the initial hostility
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giving way to interest and in the end to championship.
The Government lost that by-election.
* * *
The entrace of women into industry naturally brings with it a share in the mischances of industrial life. The Minority Report of the Poor Law Comission says:
"The difficulties created by the seasonal fluctuations in the volume of the employment in nearly all the manufacturing industries in which women are engaged, are increased by the extremely low rates of remuneration for women's work of this kind!"
The question of unemployment opens up too many avenues of investigation, and is far too complex to be entered upon here. But the results of unemployment are surely as palpable when they appear in woman as when they appear in man. Chivalry aside, there would seem to be obvious reasons why a half-starved woman should be relieved at least as readily as a half-starved man. Yet that, as we in London know, is not the view of the Local Government Board.
Even in the mill districts, where in the staple industry of the place women-workers predominate, £50,000 was voted by men for relief of men last autumn. How much did they vote should be set aside for unemployed women? Not a shilling.
But this and kindred evils tend constantly to be
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rectified, we are told. Why won't women be patient and leave the further betterment to time?
Those who ask that are people who have no faculty for making real to themselves, for so much as ten minutes, the misery that envelops others for all their lives. Nor do those stolid persons know what has been the result of leaving reform to some day other than our own. To do so is a rational as for the Christian to leave the salvation of his soul for his descendants to attend to. The people in direst need of this reform are mortal. While we delay and argue they suffer and die. But that is not the last of them. They leave to the world a legacy in the children of evil conditions.
Now, these children have the honour, the very existence of the country in their keeping. These children are the real problem. What about the children?
Mrs. Barnett, wife of Canon Barnett, so long of Toynbee Hall, says:
"The annals of the police courts, the experience of the attendance officers of the London County Council, the reports of the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the accounts of the vast young army in truant and industrial schools, the stories of the Waifs and Strays Society and Dr. Barnardo's organisation are hideously eloquent of the cruelty, the neglect, and the criminality of thousands of parents."
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To penetrate the homes of the poor and ignorant, where so large a proportion of the children are growing up, is a task difficult if not impossible. As long as the parents can support their children (in however ill a fashion), they cannot, as society is at present constituted, be interferred with.
But what of the children who are under State control? How does the Government avail itself of its free hand in dealing with the 234,792 children wholly or partially dependent on the State, according to the Local Government Board's own return in January, 1908?
The answer to that question is not a pleasant thing to contemplate even on paper. The State keeps 22,483 of these children in workhouses. Here is a description of a Government nursery--
"--often found under the charge of a person actually certified as of unsound mind, the bottles sour, the babies wet, cold, and dirty. The Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-minded draws attention to an episode in connection with one feeble-minded woman who was set to wash a baby; she did so in boiling water, and it died."
But, as Mrs. Barnett points out, this state of affairs is no new discovery. A dozen years ago Dr. Fuller, the Medical Inspector, reported to the Local Government Board that "in sixty-four workhouses
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imbeciles, or weak-minded women, are entrusted with the care of infants." Dr. Fuller wasted his breath. The abuse still flourishes. As the Royal Commission admits, the person who to-day visits a workhouse nursery "finds it too often a place of intolerable stench under quite insufficient supervision, in which it would be a miracle if the babies continued in health."
"We were shocked," continues the Report, "to discover that infants in the nursery of the great palatial establishments in London and other large towns seldom or never get into the open air.
"We found the nursery frequently on the third or fourth story of a gigantic block often without balconies, whence the only means of access even to the workhouse yard was a flight of stone steps down which it was impossible to wheel a baby-carriage of any kind. There was no staff of nurses adequate to carrying fifty or sixty infants out for an airing. In some of these workhouses it was frankly admitted that these babies never left their own quarters (and the stench that we have described), and never got into the open air during the whole period of their residence in the workhouse nursery.
"In some workhouses 40 per cent. of the babies die within the year. In ten others 493 babies were born, and only fourteen, or 3 per cent., perished before they had lived through four seasons. In ten other workhouses 333 infants saw the light, and
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through the gates 114 coffins were borne, or 33 per cent. of the whole."
"And the Local Government Board," says Mrs. Barnett, "has stood by for years and stands by still and lets the evils go on." This lady, speaking, as she says, with twenty-two years' experience as manager of a barrack school, two years' membership of the Departmental Committeee, twelve years' work as the honorary secretary of the State Children's Association, records the well-grounded opinion that the children should be removed altogether from the care of the Local Government Board. "If such a report," Mrs. Barnett says, "had been issued on the work of the Admiralty or the War Office, the whole country would have demanded immediate change. 'They have tried and failed,' it would be said; 'let someone else try'; and a similar demand is made by those of us who have seen many generations of children exposed to these evils, and waited, and hoped, and despaired, and waited and hoped again."
I doubt if there exists in print a better plea for the urgency of Woman Suffrage than that embodied in the Minority Report of the latest English Poor Law Commission. This eloquent and amazing document is largely the result of years of work on the part of Mrs. Sydney Webb. It has been more discussed, more written about in the interval since its appearance, than any utterance on this or kindred
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themes within our memory. And small wonder, for what it reveals is an imcompetence and legalised cruelty in the treatment of the poor, that would be beyond belief did the Report come with less authority, or had anyone ventured to deny such allegations as that thousands of innocent children are shut up with tramps and prostitutes; that there are workhouses which have no separate sick ward for children, in spite of the ravages of measles, whooping-cough, etc.,; that
"young children, in bed for minor ailments, have next them women of bad character under treatment for contagious disease, and other women in the same ward are in advanced stages of cancer, or senile decay; the pregnant women who come in to be confined are compelled to associate day and night, as well as to work, beside the half-witted and persons so physically deformed as to be positively repulsive to look upon."
But since men's consciences are admittedly stirred by these volumes of indictment, why may we not reasonably hope that the abuses complained of will be done away?
We may not hope that for a highly significant reason.
The worst concrete evil arraigned (the general Mixed Workhouse) was condemned root and branch as long ago as 1834. It has been condemned decade
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by decade ever since, by successive experts who had the ear of the Government of the day. The evil of existing conditions was admitted during a whole generation, by the Local Government itself.
Why was nothing done?
The administrators of the interests of the poor became entangled in the red tape of various conflicting authorities, with the result that the inefficiency and the inhumanity in this branch of municipal housekeeping is not a scandal only but a menace. The presence of women on the Boards of Guardians has been a help, not so much because of what, under the limitation of their power, they were able actually to do, but because of the opportunity their very helplessness gave them of gauging the evils bred by the operation of unwise laws acquiesced in by the authorities.
Men have talked about these evils for five-and-seventy years. We see now, that until the portion of the community standing closest to the problems presented by care of the old and broken, the young children and the afflicted, until women have a voice in mending the laws on this subject, the inadequacy of the laws will continue to be merely discussed.
2. Those who have read thus far will perhaps scarecely need to be told why women in one society alone have subscribed £50,000 in a little over a twelvemonth for the defence of woman's right to a voice in public affairs.
This large sum has been contributed because,
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though the poorer half of the community, women are more ready than men to practise self-denial for a common good. This is not, as some men have told us, because women are congenitally more altruistic than men. It is because women are more used to the exercise of self-control. They are therefore less at the mercy of their appetites. This £50,000 that women have given to the W.S.P.U. is but a first instalment. It is largely the money of the poor. For it is not the so-called "rich women" who have most to give. The rich woman is often merely the wife of a rich man--a very different matter from having command of wealth.
3. The next question asks: "Why will nurses, artists, librarians, writers, teachers give up congenial work to labour twice as hard, on half-pay or none, for the Suffrage?"
Because the women enumerated above are the kind whose personal experience has made clear the connection between the vote and wages; teachers, for instance, who have given up posts in the National Schools to work for the militant Suffrage party, knowing that the Education Authorities will never allow them to return to work which (though unfairly paid as compared with men's remuneration for similar work) was to these teachers all that livelihood may mean to women who earn their bread. They are fired to add their quota to sacrifices others are making towards the end that those, who come after, may not find their hold on work more insecure
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than a man's, or the salary less than a man's, for no fault in the work except that it was done by a woman.
A fresh illustration of how the action of politicans may directly affect women's work was afforded by the Education Authorities' recent attempt to dismiss married women from headmistress-ship of schools. Among others (who for no reason but that they were women and not single) Mrs. Stansfield was told her services would be no longer required. This lady was already married at the time of her appointment. No one denies that she has made a distinguished success as a teacher. But she is to give up her profession because, if women are so indiscreet as to marry, they must make the bed they lie on. "But why," Mrs. Stansfield asks, "should I be compelled to do the manual work of my house any more than do thousands of other married women who employ cooks, housemaids, and nurses?" She, like the woman of the cotton mill, is enabled by her earnings to employ a housekeeper. "I invite those who say that the home suffers to visit mine." But Mrs. Stansfield is a mother. "The sacred claims," etc. The lady tells us with pride and happiness of "two children whose birth necessitated some months' leave of absence, no more than the breakdown in health to which all, single and married, men and women, are alike liable. During the last thirteen years I can thankfully say I have not been absent from school half a day on account of my own children." To any who maintain that the children of
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married teachers suffer, whe offers to introduce her son of fifteen (who is a Boteler scholar in the Sixth Form at the Warrington Grammar School), and her daughter of eighteen (who has just won an open scholarship at Oxford). Mrs. Stansfield further points out the penalisation of marriage involved in the proposal made by the authorities, and the loss to education involved by the removal from its service of the experience, the influence, and the motherly sympathy of married teachers. The present moment, evidencing as it does a quickened sense on the part of women of the need to protest against injustice, is held by the Education Authorities to be ill-chosen for pressing the marriage disqualification. As a result of the agitation, Mrs. Stansfield and the other married teachers are to be allowed to remain at their posts--for the time being.
A second illustration of the sort of thing that is opening women's eyes is offered by the case of a girl journalist employed to write regularly for a London daily paper of enormous circulation. She did this satsifactorily, and was paid £3 a week. A young man journalist was employed to write on the same paper, and to supervise a certain page, at £15 a week. He had several people working under him. One of these underlings was presently discharged. The £3 a week girl was put into his place. She did her own work and the discharged man's still at £3. She was presently told that she was to familiarise herself as thoroughly as possible with the entire
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work on that page as the head of the department, the £15 a week man, might be going away. She obeyed. In due course the £15 a week man vanished. The £3 girl carried on his work. No complaint from the editor. No sign of the return of the £15 man. He may have been engaged in cursing the tendency of women to undersell.
Finally, when the last of the underlings for that department was dismissed, and the girl found herself carrying it on single-handed, she asked for a rise of salary. She was treated to an odious scene, was accused of having "a swelled head"--and was told there were five hundred girls waiting who would be enraptured to take the post on the terms that she found fault with.
She knew this was true. But she also knew that none of the five hundred had the threads of the work in their hands. She refused to back down, and at last was given a rise of £2, with a solemn warning against her ever presuming to ask for more. It is probable the overworked, underpaid girl was not the only sufferer here. The £15 man no doubt had his view of the significance of this story.
To solve the difficulty it will not be enough merely to organise all the women-journalists. Even the more desirable measure of organising men and women-journalists will not be enough. For the old conception of the difference between the market value of women's work as compared with men's is so persistent that it is probably necessary for a while yet that
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the instinct of greed should give us ocular proof of the equal value of much of the work the two sexes do. Private employers will not be ashamed of paying a girl £3 for £15 worth of work while the Government is not ashamed to take precisely the same amount and quality of work from women, as in the Post and Telegraph Offices, and pay them less than men because, being voteless, the women cannot make their sense of the injustice an inconvenience to those responsible for its continuance.
4. Why will well-bred girls, as well as older women, sell Suffrage papers in the streets, go about as sandwich-men, and suffer the scant civility of the police and the horseplay of rowdies?
I have no experience of this myself, but I have cause to know that many a sensitive woman has set herself this task out of sympathy with the far more wounding experiences many of the workers in this Cause go through. Women who have not gone to prison, and have little or no money to give, give this particular service. It is in certain cases costlier than prison is in others. But the Suffragist who sells papers, or advertises meetings in the streets, does not, I think, often realise that besides bearing witness to her faith and earning a few shillings for a particular society, she is contributing no small share to doing away with the European equivalent for the Eastern woman's veil, i.e. that shrinking from publicity which has been elevated into a
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virtue and which has so powerfully aided men in preserving their sex-dominance. So well have women been drilled in the idea that it was undesirable and dangerous for them to do work in public (save as ministrants to pleasure), that we are no longer struck by the difference in what is connoted by the word "public," as applied to the two sexes. To say of a person he is "a public man" is to assert his honourable eminence. To say "a public woman" is to say the worst you can.
Since the days when Andromache confessed to Hecuba:
"All that men praise us for,
I loved for Hector's sake, and sought to win.
I knew that alway, be there hurt therein,
Or utter innocence, to roam abroad
Hath ill report for women; so I trod
Down the desire therof, and walked my way
In mine own garden. . . . ."
--from that day to this the women who tarries in the public street has been a target for the marksmanship of men. Women have greatly feared these slings and arrows. [NOTE] They still fear misapprehension of their motives. By mastery of that fear decent women are doing their share towards making the streets a less unfit place for decent women. A chapter could be written about "why," but that is not my business here.
5. Why are women ready to accept the alienation
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of many of their friends and most of their menfolk?
Not only because certain women have come to see that the average man is unable as yet to realise the injustice women suffer under, or that he is unable to realise that such injustice can and must be abolished. The woman accepts alienation not because she no longer cares for men's opinions, and not solely because she sees that a temporary alienation may be unavoidable.
There are in operation two subtler reasons than these. The first is the growing spirit of loyalty which makes a woman ashamed to side with the stronger party, from whom she stands (and all the world knows she stands) to gain such obvious advantages, whether in the field of business or of sentiment. The second reason she accepts this alienation is because she is beginning to recognize woman's own share in the responsibility for men's blindness. She knows how it has been fostered by woman's slavish desire at all hazards to please. That old vice must go. It will die the sooner for men's learning, as soon as may be, that there are women ready to suffer not only in material advantage, but in friendship and affection, if their doing so can make the position clearer, and so shorten the difficult days that lie between us and a better understanding.
Of all the sacrifices women lay on the altar of the new faith, none perhaps costs so much as the alienation from friends. Only the unintelligent will con-
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tinue long to mistake the sacrifice for sex antagonism.
6. Why, instead of petitioning, are women now demanding justice?
Not only because petitioning has been tried and has failed. But because women now see that by petitioning they kept alive a misapprehension already too old. It is misleading to beg for a thing that no man has a moral right to withhold.
7. Why, instead of helping as before to elect another "Member" (pledged to go to Parliament and support Woman Suffrage), are women going themselves in hundreds, "to knock at the doors of the House"?
Because so many men sent there in times past to work for Woman Suffrage have been either won over afterwards by the more clamant voices of voters to give precedence to voters' interests; or else the Woman Suffrage candidate, once elected, became hypnotised by the routine of the House, and by the growing sense of helplessness of the private Member. Since realising the necessity of reminding legislators of unkept promises to women, women have gone to Westminster to do the "reminding" in an effectual way. They have also gone there as a sign to the Government that the stewardship of the unjust steward is gravely menaced.
8. Why, rather than promise to abandon a dangerous and often health-destroying agitation, have hundreds of women gone to prison?
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Because, of the two parties of Suffragists, those who want the vote in the dim and speculative future, and those who want it now--the militant Suffragists belong to the latter group.
It was Mazzini, I think, who pointed out how often the way to reform has lain through prison. But this truth was not in the minds of the first Suffragists who went forward by that road. Not the farthest-sighted of them all had any prevision of the moral awakening, the new birth of Faith, the passion of comradeship born of pain--no glimpse of the direct good destined to come through prison was given those women who first adopted the so-called "militant tactics." They simply did the nearest duty with all their might--considering only the end, resolute not to mind how rough the road thither.
They appealed in the open streets for followers. In leading the new attack on the oldest and most powerful of the citadels of wrong, they asked the help of women and of girls. With what looked like insane ignorance of human nature, before the "weak" and "timid" horde they unfurled a strange new flag, inscribed:
Through Evil Report to Honour!
Through Prison to Freedom!
Then the miracle happened. Instead of flying forthwith from leadership like this, a legion rallied. They followed into dark unlikely places. Once
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there, the timid and the weak found an inexplicable new power. It enabled them to show steadfast faces, and to feel no fear in their hearts.
Much talk was in the air of armaments and military duty. The rapidly growing army of women came to look upon themselves as soldiers enlisted in a Holy War. Here for the first time were women banded together (as men had been so often), ready to make any sacrifice so they might be freed from an evil yoke. And above all, to do what they could to this end, now. In the eyse of these new soldiers women's belauded patience had been the undoing of the race. Patience was a comfortable vice--vile when practised at others' cost.
You may not approve these women, but they have made Woman Suffrage a living issue.
9. Why, if so-called "militant tactics" are good tactics, were they not employed before? It may be argued that they are good precisely because they are employed only after other means have failed. They say (I do not know upon how good authority) that a young Suffragist being interrupeted in the middle of her speech at a mass meeting by the question: If these methods are advancing the Cause, why had they not been tried earlier, answered briskly, "Because I was at school." There is more than audacity in the retort.
This is pre-eminently a young woman's crusade. I have not met but one older woman in the movement who does not get her strongest conviction of
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its not too distant triumph out of the fact that the Cause has won the young to its support.
We have at last enlisted those without whom none of the battles in the ancient or the modern world would have been fought. Who, after all, make up the armies? The young. Who won Marathon? The youth of Greece. Agincourt, Waterloo, Gettysburg? The young. A distinguished survivor of the Civil War told me the average age of his brothers in arms was seventeen to eighteen years. Read the inscriptions on the stones, rank on rank, in Federal or Confederate burying-grounds. You will say to yourself: How young these soldiers were--"mere boys."
So with our soldiers, the mere girls. It is the younger generation that is at the door. And with their coming, naturally, some modification of method. Henceforth not only talking and writing--Deeds, not words.
But deeds more rational and less destructive than those that men have employed in the lesser Revolutions. At least that is what we hope--we on-lookers. I do not mean to disguise the fact that those who, like myself, believe war to be a survival of barbarism, are accustomed to think of physical violence, not in women only, but in men, as a recrudescence of the ape and tiger instinct that has been responsible for the thousand failures of humanity to attain a true civilisation. I shall not deny that some of us found the stones thrown by
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women stones of stumbling. Therefore, precisely we should bear witness to the fact that when we came to understand how little the stones meant violence, and how much they meant moral indignation against the abuse of physical force, we were able to see in them the instruments not of destruction but of building. For the stone-throwers thought as straight as they aimed. They saw themselves confronted by the plain question. Which do you care most for, order or justice? They cared most for justice.
I have heard Suffragists complain that they have had to apologise for these women. I do not know how they have dared to do that. For, however unpalatable, the truth is that, to the so-called militant women, the evils that other women bear are more intolerable than they are to the rest of us. These militant women are the women who cannnot sleep in their comfortable beds as we do in ours, knowing the wrong that walks abroad. Those of us who do not openly aid and abet these women may at least speak humbly of a devotion greater than our own.
10. And now I am come to the last question which I may be held to have already tried to answer: "Why, after all, do women want the vote?" And yet I shall not have presented the case unless I add one word upon this final count.
There is no use in writing at this time of day about Woman Suffrage without writing frankly--or as nearly so as is possible to a woman born in
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the days when frankness about the things that matter was so discouraged that in most of us it either died young--or lived on, maimed and halting. So then to be frank in so much--let us give fair-minded people some final measure of the distance we have travelled, and the point at which we have arrived, by admitting what passes through the mind of many a quiet, home-keeping, non-militant woman in England to-day, on being asked this last question on my list of "Why?"
He would be in error who supposed that the Suffragist who is called on to recapitulate her reasons for desiring the vote is pleased with her task, or flattered at being asked her opinion. She is primarily conscious of an emotion of anger. She says to herself: I am called on at this time of day to defend our demand for a share in the higher gains of civilisation.
That is what it comes to. She remembers that the case for Woman's Suffrage has been before the reading world for a hundred years. It has been an organised public movement for half a century. Yet most of the legislators who would withhold the franchise make no effort to familiarise themselves with the growing body of literature reflecting women's views on the subject, nor will they take the trouble to acquaint themselves with the long record of quiet (too quiet?) propaganda. A member of the present Cabinet asked me, in an interval when there was no by-election to enlighten him, why the Suf-
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fragists did not hold meetings. One society alone had held throughout the length and breadth of the kingdom over a thousand Suffrage meetings in the preceding month. The Cabinet Minister had not heard of these meetings. They had been quite orderly, and the press will not report women's political meetings unless something sensational happens.
Meanwhile, men in high places continue to advise "quiet propagnda" to women whose friends have grown grey practising quiet methods, to women who know what delay means to wives and mothers in the Potteries, to the shop-girl forced on the streets, to the pallid army of workhouse children.
The time has gone by when men can hope to win gratitude from public-spirited women by legislative scratching at the surface of the wrongs that women bear.
Those men who hope to turn the tide of women's resentment at being forcibly prevented from lifting a voice about their own affairs--those men who would tinker at Factory Acts, and Children's Bills, without finding out how these changes are regarded by women--light-hearted legislators undertaking these tasks would be waked from their vain dream of doing this work acceptably, could they know the feeling that seizes on women at men's daring to think themselves qualified to decide such questions without consulting those chiefly concerned.
During the debates upon the Children's Bill the helpless ignorance of their subject on the part of
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men dealing with the issues raised, was not lost on the women who, with expert knowledge, sat behind the grill listening, impotent, while the all too limited time was wasted in argument about what might be held good for a child of three. What did a creature of three require? What, after all, was a creature of three like? They sat and solemnly debated.
In the end women were obliged to supplement privately the legislators' wholloy inadequate knowledge. Wome were obliged by cumbrous and roundabout ways to protest against, and contrive to get recast, the clause relative to the evils of "overlaying," as well as other provisions in the Act inspired by the ignorance of its framers.
But I will not pretend for a moment that, if all such abuses were done away with to-morrow, there would not still remain, in the mind of many a woman, a sense of the obligation she is under to take her portion of the responsibility (which she shares morally with man) for the ordering of the world. He is incapable of doing her work for her. But even if the task were not beyond his competence, it would still be her business and not his.
And so it is that being asked why she thinks she would like to vote, the natural woman behind her mask of custom is conscious of a stirring of indignation not always consonant with the sober setting forth to which she is invited. But there is sig-
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nificance, there may be light in this heat--all the more that some of the women I speak of have no personal reason for discontent. Some of them have no shadow of a shade of grievance against their individual destiny. They are women for whom life has been so full and so rewarding, that possession of the vote would mean to them, personally, no more than a new obligation. Among others, the women I mean are those for whom Cicely Hamilton speaks in that brave and original book, "Marriage as a Trade," when she says: "To no man, I think, can the world be quite as wonderful as it is to the woman now alive who has fought free." The women I mean are of equal fortune with those who formerly ran off with their good luck as a dog does with a bone, growling if any ventured near to claim a share.
To-day thousands of women who live out of the danger and dust of the battle--the secure and happy, as well as the sweated and the fiercely struggling--are conscious of this impulse of anger at hearing à l'heure qy'il est, than there are men in the world fair-minded and not ungenerous, who can be supposed to want to know "why" women want the vote.
Tell us, rather, why men think themselves fitter to judge of our needs than we? Tell us how, without inextinguishable laughter, men can imagine themselves to be the sole repositories of wisdom.
December, 1909 - May, 1910
A REVIEW of the fourth year of activity on the part of the Women's Social and Political Union showed that a campaign fund, which at the end of 1908 stood at £26,000, had risen at the end of 1909 to £60,000. The salaried staff, increased by twenty-three now numbered ninety-eight. The work, which in its early stages had been carried on in a small back room in a Chelsea lodging house, was directed now from headquarters (consisting of twenty-one rooms) at Clement's Inn, and extended by means of branches established throughout the kingdom. The official organ of the Union, "Votes for Women," was enlarged and had reached a circulation of 30,000.
In addition to the immensely increased activities of various other Suffrage Societies, new and old, the W.S.P.U. had held over 20,000 meetings during the year. Three times the Union had filled the great Albert Hall. Forty meetings had bee held in the Queen's Hall; more than that number in the St. James's Hall. At the largest halls in the principal provincial towns crowded audiences had carried a resolution calling upon the Government to pass a Bill admitting women to the franchise.
No official notice was taken of the widespread peaceful propaganda. The only attention given officially to the great body of Suffragists was accorded to those who, in pressing their claims, came in conflict with the laws; laws which, as the Militants held, did not logically apply to taxpayers who were denied representation.
During the year three deputations were refused a hear-
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ing by the Prime Minister. There had been 294 women arrested, 163 imprisoned; 110 Hunger Strikes and 36 cases of forcible feeding. Nonety-four women had pleaded the right of the subject to petition. Two of these cases, Mrs. Pankhurst's and Mrs. Haverfield's were isolated for the purpose of testing the principle. Their counsel, Lord Robert Cecil and Mr. Henlé, contended that if there was a right to petition the Prime Minister (whether as Prime Minister or as a Member of Parliament), then there must be an obligation on the part of the Minister, or the Member of Parliament, to receive that petition.
The Lord Chief Justice agreed as to the right to present a petition to the Prime Minister. He even said that petitions to the King should be presented to the Prime Minister. But upon a quibble he disallowed any obligation upon Mr. Asquith to recieve a petition presented in person--an obligation which even kings (before these duties were undertaken by their Ministers had not ventured to deny. But in 1900 the ancient Bill of Rights of the British people was cancelled, in so far as it related to women whose peition was known to deal with their political disability--though a better ground for petition than taxation without representation history does not reveal.
In any case, that "way out" was tried too, and was seen to be barred.
A vigorous anti-Government policy had been carried on at by-elections by the W.S.P.U., and was continued during the next General Election, which was fought on the issue of the Lords' Power of Veto, but the question of Woman Suffrage was also kept well before the public mind.
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The opening of the year 1910 saw the Liberals returned to office greatly shorn of their previous strength, and saw the Suffrage agitation entering a new phase.
Officials of the various Suffrage bodies were now approached by friends, in and out of Parliament, in an attempt to establish some common ground upon which to found a united effort to get a Suffrage Bill, in all its stages, through Parliament during the current session.
The great labour entailed by this enterprise was undertaken by Mr. Brailsford as Secretary of the Conciliation Bill Committee, whose Chairman was Lord Lytton.
Although at firsts very doubtful of the issue, the W.S.P.U.--under great pressure and in the act of framing plans for continued militancy--was brought to agree that, at the beginning of a new Parliament, the Government should be given a fresh chance to deal fairly by women.
Other Suffragists were so full of confidence in the new situation that in February, 1910, the directors of the policy of the militant Union were prevailed upon to declare a truce.
The two-edged weapon of militancy was not abandoned, but laid aside, in the hope that those were right who said it had served its purpose and was no more needed.
One of the early acts of the new Home Secretary, Mr. Winston Churchill, wore a conciliatory air. There were Suffragists still in prison when Parliament met, and the embarrassment of the late Home Secretary, under the test heroically applied by Lady Constance Lytton, threatened to find a parallel. Mr. Churchill was obliged to face questions in the House of Commons as to the
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legality of directing a stream of ice-cold water upon a prisoner by means of a hose-pipe introduced through the window of her cell; and as to the assault upon and the frog-marching of another prisoner. Responsibility for these cowardly deeds against defenceless women was speedily disavowed by Mr. Churchill--yet he refused to punish their perpetrators or those in authority over them. He had "no control over the appointment of prison justices," he said. But Home Office control of His Majesty's prisons was newly emphasised by Mr. Churchill's announcement of a fresh set of Penal Regulations. There was to be a distinction drawn in future between prisoners guilty of crime implying moral turpitude and--other prisoners. No one needed to be told who these other prisoners were, solicitude for women had led to special legislation. Already certain abuses made public by militant ex-prisoners had been amended. Indeed, the first great material good reaped from the going to prison of women of character was that gaols were made less unfit for human beings of any sort. In addition to other improvements, iron bedsteads had superseded the plank, eathernware plates had replaced dirty tin, and some measure of ventilation (other than that obtained by breaking glass) had been provided in the form of sliding panes. Further changes recommended by the new Home Secretary had to do with the treatment of the ordinary female prisoner between sixteen and twenty-three. She was to be taught dressmaking, etc., and a committee of visiting ladies were to try to find her work on her release.
The new tendency in legislation betrayed a growing uneasiness in the law-maker touching persons who had
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formerly been given little or no thought. The tendency referred to synchronised with the rise and spread of the militant movement.
But the legislator, although acquiescing more or less grudgingly in the new compulsion, made little advance in the direction of consulting women experts as to the needs of their own sex. The result was that, with the best intentions, legislators were as likely to harm women as to benefit them--a danger emphasised in the threatened attempt to deprive married women of the right to work outside their homes. A Cabinet Minister, speaking at Leeds, had said that women's factory work, especially married women's work, must be enormously curtailed. Should this high-handed measure be carried, thousands of women in the textile trade alone would have been thrown out of work and many a home impoverished. Yet the Government was said to be already instituting inquiries among employers as to the number of married women who were working for them. Another indication of the close relationship between economic and political freedom was offered in a different walk of life. A movement was on foot to prevent the appointment of any married woman as teacher in the schools.
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