MR. PARTINGTON'S MOP by Elizabeth Robins
Essay from the collection
Way Stations by Elizabeth Robins
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MR. PARTINGTON'S MOP *
by Elizabeth Robins
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
WHEN people opened their newspapers one morning last month they saw an article headed:
A £100,000 ANTI-SUFFRGE FUND
Whatever the political faith of the reader, no one on seeing the names of the signatories to the fund could doubt that such persons would find the raising of £100,000 the lightest part of their undertaking.
For the promoters of Anti-Suffrage agitation are mainly men, and men of large means. Double the amount called for could have been raised without invoking other than the published list of supporters. No reader would doubt but what (since these gentlemen thought £100,000 ought to be raised) they had forthwith raised it. The announcement that only £13,000 had been subscribed came as an anti-climax. Yet we must suppose that the full sum will be forthcoming. The project is, financially speaking, so poorly mothered and so handsomely fathered, that it would be pardonable, in this instance, to accept the Anti-Suffrage doctrine of woman's negligible share in the question of Parliamentary Franchise, were it not for the fact that these rich and powerful
* Published in Votes for Women, Aug. 12, 1910.
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gentlemen are not ready themselves to subscribe the £100,000.
They want women to help them!
Now, how do they propose to persuade women to contribute money, time, and influence towards frustrating the determination of other women to take a share in the responsibilities of the nation?
Lord Cromer and his friends cannot reasonably ask their Anti-Suffragist ladies to go about arguing in public that women should keep out of public life.
If, however, casting logic to the winds, they should send women forth upon this errand, in every town and village up and down England these emmisaries will encounter the Suffragists--a hundred to one of the Antis--women organised, practised, popular, tireless.
The Antis cannot hold the crowds against these trained speakers, they cannot hold their own in debate or in devotion, or in that passion of faith that makes a Suffragist more a Suffragist every day she lives. Even if the Anti women are sent out into the open, they will not long remain there. The chief Anti-Suffragist appeal will be made discreetly. A large portion of that £100,000 will be expended in sowing broadcast leaflets and articles.
Let us put ourselves in the place of a recipient of these printed appeals. Imagine a person who until now has been too indifferent, or too occupied, to follow either side of the argument.
Since not even the most leisured apostle would
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wish to waste time in preaching to the converted or the unconvertible, we will consider the case of the person with open (or openable) mind, to whom propagandist literature is presumably addressed.
What is the initial impression made upon a reader of this description? It is that Anti-Suffragists set out to prove:
(1) That the Engranchisement of Englishwomen would weaken if not ruin England.
(2) That a vigorous and widespread agitation for the Suffrage in the U.S.A. was quashed by a counter agitation on the part of American Anti-Suffragists.
(3) That what American Antis could do, English Antis must set themselves to accomplish.
Before the Open-Minded Novice goes the length of putting her hand in her pocket, or even so far as to rank herself with the Antis, she may want to examine the grounds for thinking that disaster would follow upon women's concerning themselves actively and directly with the affairs of State. All the more does that theory cry out for investigation in view of the fact that the Antis themselves urge women to take an active share in affairs of the municipality.
The Anti-Suffragisst distinction is not clear. The line drawn between laudable and reprensible activity is found, on examination, to be strangely arbitrary.
It amounts to this: Women must not vote for Members of Parliament because, if they did, some
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day the women in a majority might vote against a minority of men, who, although few, would be able (and ready!) to cudgel the women out of their position. Thus, since the women's vote would stand only for public opinion, the weak majority would be violently swept aside by the superior physical force of the minority.
If this is an intelligent anticipation, it is as intelligent to anticipate such a state of things with regard to the municipality as in reference to the State. Yet no one seems to fear that if a majority of women were elected to some Board of Guardians, and the few brave men elected were to oppose a measure advocated by the majority of women, the result will be that gentlemen guardians will set to and beat the lady guardians.
The Antis talk of force as though all force worthy of the name was muscular. They profess little or no faith in the spiritual forces which we had thought were, in all civilised countries, the governing forces. The Antis seriously believed that we would all be at one another's throats, but for the police, backed by the Army and Navy. Nations still, they think, attain and maintain their ascendancy by physical force.
The Open-Minded Neophyte may not have forgotten that a few weeks ago fresh light was shed on the physical force question by the black and white prize-fight in Nevada. Although inclined, like the Antis, to over-estimate the part played in
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the modern state by physical force, the majority of the American nation recognised that the only significance of the late contest lay in the exaggerated importance attached to it by the more ignorant and excitable among the negroes.
The spectacle of a white champion being hammered out of recognition by a burly black, instead of illustrating to negroes the inherent savagery and stupidity of such a waste of force, is said to have fired the simpler souls with the notion that black Jack's victory showed his race the way to respect and power.
The intelligent observer in both races, saw the matter differently. Odious as the Reno spectacle was, it probably served a good end. Instead of its fostering the old delusion as to the true ground of the white man's superiority, the Reno fight emphasised the fact that were physical force indeed the bulwark of ascendancy, the white man need not look to bearing his burden long.
Happily the gains of the human race are guarded by subtler forces.
The Open-Minded Novice may suspect that this opinion is shared in private even by the Anti-Suffragist old gentlemen who, nevertheless, stand up in public and (with no sense of the irony of the situation) say to able bodied young women that those who make the laws must also have the physical force to cause those laws to be obeyed.
Perplexity will descend upon the open mind with
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the first Anti-Suffrage manifesto, and will deepen to the last. The Novice will find more than one leaflet bitterly denouncing any measure of enfranchisement that might (however temporarily) leave out wives and mothers. The poor Novice had been trying to believe it a good thing to be left out! But she readjusts herself to thinking that somehow in spite of the vote being (in women's hands) an abomination, it is, nevertheless, a grievance and a public menace, that a Suffrage Bill should be considered which does not, at any cost, expressly provide votes for wives--on the new ground of a marriage qualification. No sooner has the Novice got that firmly into her head than she is told that any Bill which would give wives votes would mean the destruction of domestic peace!
To the Open-Minded One's further bewilderment she discovers that the outcry against any Bill that should exclude married women does not come form Suffragist wives and mothers, but from men, or from women who want to prevent women of any sort from voting.
Even a Novice may come to suspect that this solicitude about the married woman's vote has its parallel in the disingenuous plea that the Conciliation Bill is not sufficiently democratic.
For whom is the Conciliation Bill not democratic enough?
For the Labour party? No, the Bill is fathered by a Labour Leader and is supported by his party.
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The Bill is democratic enough for a Keir Hardie, but it is not democratic enough for a Churchill.
But suppose the Novice, who began her investigation open-minded, has now closed her mind. Suppose her convinced by some feeling, stronger than any logic, that she ought to help to do for England what Anti-Suffragists are said to have done for America. There is still danger that she may look into that claim too. She will find easily accessible reprints of the English report of the great victory won by the Transatlantic Antis. Not nearly so accessible, yet to be found in any file of "The Times," is the complete and authoritative refutation of that report.
The shut mind is like to gape again in amazement, at discovering the steady advance of the Suffrage cause in America in the past three years, and that in the ferment of American franchise interests mightier forces are at work than any wielded by the handful of Anti-Suffragist ladies, unversed in practical politics, undisciplined in public life, helpless and negligible before the larger issues of the Transatlantic problem.
Should the inquirer not take time to learn the significance of such witness to the steady advance of the Suffrage faith in America as Jane Addams offers--the most confiding Novice is like to fall upon suspicion through the self-defeating partisanship of that great friend of the Antis, "The Times."
The romantic Anti-version of the American situa-
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tion has lately been reiterated in all the emphasis of unlimited space and large print, precisely as though on the highest authority that account of the matter had not been proved to be without foundation in fact.
"The Times" used formerly to print the refutations coming from instructed persons of high character. The Suffrage question has, it seems, grown too serious for continuance of the old usage. The lastest authoritative contravention of "The Times'" report was denied insertion in its entirety. Even the summarised version of Miss Alice Stone Blackwell's expert evidence was dismissed in small type.
That was hardly fair. But such tactics of panic will in the end serve the Suffragists rather than the Antis. To do this seems to be the fate of each new Anti-Suffragist device.
Even a Novice may see that the Suffrage cause in England has recently been given an immense lift by Lord Cromer and his friends. They achieved this by appealing to women for help to fight against their enfranchisement. That manifesto sent hundreds of the more quiescent Suffragists to their bank-books, to see how much more in the coming year they could spare to help their side. But for Lord Cromer's appeal many a ten-pound note that would have gone into clothes, or holidays, or what not, will find its way to Clement's Inn, to be transmuted into strength for the Suffrage Cause.
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One small effect of the new Anti activity will serve the Open-Minded as a straw to show the direction of the wind.
A carefully--very carefully--expended fragment of Anti-Suffragist capital was invested some days ago in advertising. A lady on a shopping expedition met, in the streets of London, a sorrowful little procession of sandwichmen bearing the announcement "women do NOT want the vote." Now the lady in question had gone forth with no thought of propaganda. But for her encounter with that modest sign of Anti-Suffrage life the lady would have returned to her "proper sphere," bearing her womanly sheaves of frills, or feathers, or perchance a fresh suppply of darning cotton for those objects of such passionate concern to many an Anti-Suffragist soul.
But how could the lady go home and darn socks in peace remembering those sad old men crawling about the London streets with their mistaken information? No doubt there were more potential sandwichmen not having a misleading message to carry. Why not give the other men a job? The lady, so rumour says, repaired to Clement's Inn. But the people there were all very busy. Too preoccupied to think about the old men.
"But their boards say we don't want the vote!"
"Well, that only reminds people that we do."
Still the lady-shopper was not content. She drew a cheque and asked to have it applied for the purpose
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of sending a much greater number of sandwichmen to follow the "Don'ts" about, with posters, telling what bodies of organised women "do." The list was so long that there was danger of the "Don'ts" being lost in it. At least that would appear to be the reason why old men bearing the "Don'ts" disappeared from the London streets, and left the "Do's" in possession. I offer the little incident as a symbol.
Many such straws will be blown about in the autumn winds this year, if the Antis keep their word. And be sure the Novice will take note of these straws.
If the recipient of Anti-Suffragist literature has mind as well as "openess"--if she is an ally worth enlisting--before she gives her adherence to the opponents of the Suffrage, she will (to some extent) examine the claims of its defenders.
Even if, in this perilous exercise, she is not converted to the Suffrage faith, she will learn enough of the activity and determination of those who are, to make her doubt whether she is well inspired to drop her subscription into the pit of hopeless opposition.
If she mixes at all freely with both camps she cannot fail to discover that many of the Antis who at the beginning of their campaign were confident and active, have since, upon one pretext or another, withdrawn from the contest.
She will see that, though ease is not what the
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Suffragist is "out for," it is easier every day to be a Suffragist--and every day it is harder to be an Anti.
The reader of official Anti publications will hardly fail to catch the plaintive note in the reminder that the Suffrage Movement is not only amply supplied with money, but (unkindest cut of all) [NOTE] is "served by women who seem to give their whole time to its promotion." The charge is truer than the writer of the lamentation knew. If the Antis are not over eager to give their money for their cause, still less are they willing to give themselves. If the forces of reaction have any unpaid servants, they are very few. The numbers of those who, without money and without price, work for enfranchisement--they are legion.
The more the inquirer wants to see the Anti cause prevail, the more she will realise the significance of the exhaustless stream of help flowing towards the Suffrage societies. Every day more women, and happily more men, are giving time, money, and determination, in increasing volume, to swell the flood. Not even Mrs. Partington would try to turn back this tide. She leaves Mr. Partington, with his hundred thousand pound mop, to prove the futility of the undertaking.
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THE permeation of journalism, as well as of the less evanscent forms of literature, by Suffragist views has been an element in the propaganda so quiet as to find a way unchallenged into many an Anti stronghold, yet so steady as to show its widespread effect only in the retrospect. In this educational work the women have their share. Our Writers' Suffrage League has among its members Conservatives, Liberals, and Socialists, women of leisure and women who toil for their daily bread, members who are militant and members who are non-militant. The League therefore did not, and could not, as a body take part in the more active political demonstrations. Its members expected to be left free, and were left free, to serve the Cause in whatever way individual opinion and opportunity made fitting and practicable. An opening for propaganda was presented to writers when, in response to the new demand for information about the fight for Enfranchisement, a great London paper ("The Standard") for the first time devoted columns of its space, daily, to full accounts of meetings, deputations, debates, and to articles and correspondence for and against Suffrage. A vast amount of the most effective work done by the Writers has been anonymous.
Of signed work the League has published: "How the Vote was Won," Cicely Hamilton and Hedley Charlton; "The Suffrage Question," by Madeleine Lucette Ryley; a cartoon post card of "Justice," by W. H. Margetson; "A Pageant of Great Women," by Cicely
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Hamilton; a "Prologue," by Laurence Houseman; "Why?" by Elizabeth Robins; "Lady Geraldine's Speech," by Beatrice Harraden; "Women's Plea," a poem by Lillian Sauter; "Under His Roof," by Elizabeth Robins; and "Feminism," by May Sinclair.
The League has sent delegates to various conferences, organised benefit matinées and held drawing room and public meetings. It took part in the great procession organised by the W.S.P.U., in June, 1910, when one hundred members walked under the Writers' banner and four carriages were decorated with its colours. The Writers' League was also well represented in the procession of July, 1910, and in that of June, 1911, when its contingent walked behind a new banner which had been specially designed by Mr. Margetson.
The League has from the first received that kind of devoted, highly intelligent, and self-merging service from the acting Committee (notably in the person of its Hon. Sec., Miss Hatton), which is one of the many reassuring manifestations brought us by the Women's Movement and one of its chief honours. The League is so furtunate as to have now for its President that celebrated writer and woman of proved public spirit, Mrs. Flora Annie Steele.
One can hardly take leave of the Writers' League without mention of the distinguished member who, serving the Cause in her way, has made the largest sacrifice of time, ambition, health, and most of the outward things that sensitive, proud-spirited women prize. On the fingers of one hand might be counted the people in this country who have made as many and as valuable converts to the Suffrage as Miss Evelyn Sharp. I saw one of her converts once, on a grey winter morning. At an hour
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when most of the London millions were still asleep in their beds, I saw a man standing alone on the bleak, wind-buffeted street-corner, opposite the gates of Holloway. Others presently joined him, and all stood waiting, a long while it seemed to us (what to those on the other side!)--waiting for the slight figure with the spiritual face and shining eyes to come out of prison. And when she came I noticed, among other things, the gentle reverence of the welcome given to Evelyn Sharp by the man I had been observing chiefly because he was in clerical dress. And I wondered at my own wonder to see him there. For surely there was once a Church "Militant."
We, of the Writers' League, found yet another ally "in orders." The Rev. Dr. Cobb, of St. Ethelburga's, a good friend to the principle of the Suffrage, did us the honour to preside at one of our meetings. And this was before the Church had given the sanction afterwards vouchsafed at the Queen's Hall Meeting, under the Chairmanship of the Bishop of Oxford. Canon Hensley Henson had not yet said publicly that "the principle of Christianity was the equality of the sexes," nor reminded the public that women in the apostolic age had frequently been preachers. Nor had the Bishops of Winchester and Lincoln, along with many of the clergy, publicly declared for the Suffrage.
I do not seek to associate any Churchman with a form of social faith, or works, which he does not explicitly endorse. I have little doubt but even so valiant a soldier of the Cross as the Bishop of Oxford may draw the line of his sympathy this side of militant women. Yet there were many of these amongst his audience at the meeting called to emphasise the religious aspect of the Woman's
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Movement--women to whom it meant much that such a man should say in the face of protest and in defiance of criticism ( vide the newspapers of that date), "I am as certain as I can be of anything in the world, that the Woman's Movement, however much it may benefit by the individual activities of men and women will never secure its position without legislative change, without such legislative changes as makes women, side by side with men, voters and constitutors of our legislature."
On the same occasion the voice of the younger generation in the Church spoke hopefully to our ears through the mouth of the Headmaster of Repton. The Rev. William Temple began his speech with these words: "The question which is occupying us to-night is quite undoubtedly the profoundest question and the most far-reaching in its ramification of any that now confronts Euorpean civilisation." In his peroration he urged: "Daughters of the new era, claim your share in the world's movement. . . . " And many of the daughters present preferred Mr. Temple's description of the work they had in hand, rather than the limit-setting phrase under which the meeting was invoked.
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