The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71
"Women's Franchise." — A Short Sketch
A Short Sketch.
"Have you registered, Bee?" in a bright excited voice May Annesley inquired as she entered the drawing-room of her friend, Miss Western, where about half-a-dozen young ladies were assembled, in age ranging from eighteen to twenty-three, with the inevitable afternoon tea-cup in hand. "Have you registered, Bee?" and she turned her fair face, glowing with health and happiness towards her hostess! "Registered what, May?" and the young lady addressed, turned a lovely pair of grey eyes on the late arrival, who she greeted with a friendly nod, as she handed her a cup of the fragrant decoction she had been brewing, "Why your vote of course;" impatiently, "to-morrow by four o'clock will be too late!" "My vote;" the expressive grey eyes opened wider in feigned surprise, and a slightly contemptuous smile curled round the ruby lips "My vote!" no indeed May, I do not approve of anything so very unlady-like! "Unlady-like, what nonsense, you're talking Bee;" exclaimed Madeline Joyce quickly, whilst Miss Annesley added merrily, "We are not ladies, we are all women now!" "And supposed to have a thinking head on our shoulders; I feel the responsibility weighing heavily on mine already!" Rhoda Martin's comical look and gesture set the rest of the girls laughing merrily. When the laugh had subsided, page 2 a very discontented voice from the large arm-chair was heard exclaiming: "I wish I could vote, but I am only eighteen!" and Eva Western sighed in a doleful manner. "You little goose," laughed ha sister Beatrice," be thankful you are still a baby, fancy you voting; why you would only think of taking the tax off toys!" "Now Bee, don't be so sarcastic!" " Well Trix, honestly speaking, what is your objection to the Women's Franchise?" And May, who generally acted as spokeswoman, turned her pretty head on one side, and looked critically at Miss Western. "Well, to tell the truth May, I don't relish the idea of being hustled and pushed about at the polling-booths, and being jibed and jostled by a crowd of rough men, smoking filthy tobacco, and using still more objectionable language; I really think ladies have no business in such places; now seriously, girls, do you consider it right?" "Suppose we all give our opinion upon the evils and advantages to be gained by the softer sex by this wonderful power that has been granted to us women; Rhoda please expound your views on the subject first, but let us only use the word woman, we will leave the term ladies, which to me is an odious one, for our washer ladies, &c., to indulge in. Does my suggestion meet with general approval?" and upon all the girls acquiescing, May leaned back in her chair, and prepared to listen attentively. "Now then Rhoda, fire away," she said. Upon thus imperatively being appealed too, Miss Martin gave her views in her straightforward brusque style. There was a good deal of the American about Rhoda, indeed that is one of the first things that strike the visitors from the old country, the free and independant tone the young colonials adopt.
"The greatest advantage to be derived from the Women's Franchise that I can foresee," began Miss Martin in a clear, energetic voice, "will be the privilege of getting good, steady men into the House. Up to the present the men have had all the power of electing the members, and see what a dreadfully 'scrubby lot' we have been obliged to put up with for the past few years." "But, Rhoda, how do you imagine the votes of the women will in any way influence the character of the M.H.R.'s?" "In this way, Beatrice: women are more independent now-a-days; they think and act for themselves; and if they find out a man—be he high or low, rich or poor—is not straight in his conduct, nor as well-principled, or steady as he should be, page 3 not all the caudle lectures in the world will make her vote contrary to her fixed ideas of right!" "In short," said Beatrice, laughing, "when the women make up their minds to put a certain man into Parliament it will be a case of 'scissors' with them. With all due deference to your better judgment, Rhoda, I still think it will make them very unwomanly." "Bee, for goodness sake don't harp so continually on 'unwomanly,'" cried May, hastily; "do you imagine it is more 'unwomanly' to go in a quiet, respectable way and record your vote, and generally help by your good sense and influence to introduce a purer element into the House, or to go on quietly as we are doing at present, calmly allowing the men to do every thing for us? If man were really the superior creature, and Lord of Creation that our grand-mothers are always talking about, I, for one, would never stand against them. But do you girls candidly think that in the present day they are our superiors?" "No, indeed, they are not!" chimed all present. "I say they are considerably my inferiors," said Rhoda, holding her handsome head up very high. "Oh, Rhoda, you are conceited." "No, Eva, I am not. Look how very unjustly I am treated—for instance, I work the typewriter from nine a.m. till five p.m. I go steadily at it all the day—with the exception of an hour for lunch, I do not waste one moment of my employer's time; not a single shilling do I spend for beer or tobacco, so the room is free of those delightful odours. My master has told me more than once that my work is better done and more correct, and yet he pays me £40 a year, while my predecessor—a man—used to get £150. Is that justice?" and Rhoda's dark eyes literally blazed with suppressed excitement. "Well, dear," said Madeline Joyce, in her sensible kind way, "is it not reversing the order of things a great deal if all the young women ate to be typewriters, telephonists, post office clerks, doctors, &c. What are the men to do for a living? and after all said and done they are the real bread winners." "Granted, Madeline," replied Miss Martin quickly, "but for the same amount of work the same wages should be paid, be it man or woman." "I quite agree with both of you," said May Annesley, "but whose fault is it that women are obliged to do this work? If the men were contented to live quietly with their families, and take their earnings home, things might be different. But just reflect how many spend page 4 pounds in the public house—I beg your pardon, Bee, hotels—shouting drinks not only for friends but strangers as well, the consequence is, money is short at home; perhaps the family consists of four girls and a son, the latter is at once drafted into one of the numerous departments of the Government Buildings at a salary of £40 or £3 per annum, rising gradually, I believe, at the rate of £10 a year, which is only sufficient to keep the young man himself. Then the girls must be as accomplished and well dressed as their neighbours, and as that cannot he managed on papa's salary, they must turn out and work, and though the half are not fitted for more than a general-servant's place, they are (through this over grown system of free education) too proud to seek a situation in their own sphere, and, to be genteel, must aspire to be teachers or clerks." May stopped suddenly; "Or worse still," said Madeline, "lady helps!" "Oh, defend me from ever becoming a lady help!" exclaimed Marion Somerton from the depths of the big arm-chair where she had esconced herself beside little Eva Western, and had remained quietly listening and taking all the conversation in to revolve it over at night in her busy brain. "I would tar rather be a general-servant at once," exclaimed Beatrice, "and indeed a great number who go out as lady helps are in reality not as refined or well-mannered as many a respectable servant! But I do wonder why the working classes are too proud to be servants, for one can tell at a glance what their position ought to be when one sees them in the telephone exchange, or type-writing, or teachers: and however well dressed they may be, one can always detect the genuine article at once!" "Now, there is Miss Marsden," said May, "mother thinks very highly of her; by birth and education she is far superior to the people she lives with as cook. When mother asked why she took that situation she answered very sensibly that she had to earn her living, and as she was not clever at teaching, and had always been fond of making dainty dishes, she much preferred cooking to being a lady help, for she said she had a maid to do the dirty work, and when the dinner was served at seven o'clock she knew her work was over for the day, and she gets three times the amount of wages that a poor lady help receives: but let us return to our franchise business." "Harry Barnett was saying last evening," remarked Beatrice, "that the first use the women will put their vote to, will be to close all hotels, and stop the drink traffic page 5 entirely; I quite expect the temperance people will do their 'level' best to attain that object."
"There is no doubt that drink is the curse of this country," said May thoughtfully, "but at the same time I do not see why, because some people make beasts of themselves by drinking to excess, others who need the stimulant, and take everything in moderation, should be debarred from indulging their tastes!" "I am sorry to find you are not a blue ribboner, May!" said Miss Joyce with a serio-comic expression, "as you possess the 'gift o' the gab' to such an extent, see how invaluable you would be on the temperance platform." "No, no, Maddy, I do not aspire to be a public woman, but I hope I shall use the influence I may have in a quiet, sensible way." "Well, I know that I should burn all the hotels;" said Eva energetically, "and throw all the publicans into the sea." "Oh you blood-thirsty little wretch I" cried Marion Somerton, playfully pinching her, "it is a good thing for the men that you have no vote." "Well, mother says if she voted at all, it would only be in favour of the Temperance candidate; she says the laws to be properly made and carried out should be administered by a sober intelligent class of men." "But then you see," added Beatrice with a smile; "papa will not allow mama or me to register our vote." "Then Bee I hope a law will soon be passed when a man will be fined for coercing his wife or daughters; I do think it is such a pity that your names are not on the roll!" "I believe Beatrice," interrupted Marion gaily, "your real objection to registering your vote is that everyone will know that you are twenty-one!" Miss Western vouchsafed no reply, but the tell-tale blood mounted to the roots of her hair. "Well, the Temperance people won't get my vote," said Rhoda, "nor will the candidate who wants the Bible read in school." "Oh Rhoda, what a heathen you, are!" and Madeline Joyce's blue eyes opened with wonder. "Both my father and mother say that one of the evils in New Zealand is the fact of the Bible being abolished in the State schools. How can the country get on without God's blessing? is what they say." "Don't mistake me girls, I am no heathen," answered Miss Martin hastily, "but the Bible to produce any good lasting effect on the children should be read reverently, and explained most carefully, now this you know could not be done. I do not blame the teachers, there is so little time for page 6 them to attend to religious instructions; then every [unclear: denomination] would require to have their children taught in their own way, so [unclear: the] unless they got teachers specially to attend to the various rules [unclear: and] dogmas of their own particular religion, I fancy it would create [unclear: gre] confusion, and is best left to the Sunday schools, or better still the parents could impart that portion of the education. Besides you all know the real business of the day is to cram or beat into the opening brain, as much knowledge, particularly figures, as can possibly be managed; it is one continual drive, drive from the time one enters the school at nine a.m., till one leaves at three, four, or five in the after, noon." "And if it were such a crime as the Temperance people say to imbibe strong drink," remarked May, her sweet face bright with serious pure expression, "do you suppose for one moment our blesse! Saviour would have performed the miracle at Cana of turning the water into nine? Understand me, I am not advocating drinking to excess, but everything in moderation is given us for a blessing." "Thank you for reminding me of the miracle May, one is so apt to forget the Saviour's example, in the every day work." "Well if you quote the Bible," said Beatrice, does not Paul say:—" Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands;" he even remarks that women should not go uncovered in public places. Now don't you think the Franchise is carrying things a little too far, in making women equal with the men? Certainly there is a great deal to be said for and against, but men will have to rise like the Phœnix from the ashes, a superior and holier being than we have been accustomed to for years now, before woman will again bow down and worship him as of old."
As Rhoda paused and gazed thoughtfully before her, May Annesley remarked, "We had a few friends in one evening last week and this 'pernicious school system of ours,' as one gentleman described the Government schools, was very exhaustively discussed; I wish yon had been there Rhoda, you would have been as deeply interested in the conversation as I was. One made the same remarks that you have about Bible reading in public schools; she said the master or mistress, as the case may be, would read through a chapter as a mere form without a word of explanation or real thought of the divine truths they had hurried through, it was something that had to be got over before page 7 the real and more important work of the day began; she hoped the Parliament would not make religious instruction law. Both Mr. and Mrs. Marston quite agreed with her, they, you know, were head master and mistress of the——school, mentioning a large town in the Middle Island, and he (Mr. Marston) contended that there was a great deal of useless expenditure in making the standards so high; free education, he thought, ought not to go beyond the fifth standard, and so far the education should only consist of real useful knowledge, such as the three R.'s, with the addition of history, geography, and a little grammar, that would be quite sufficient knowledge for any intelligent boy or girl to carry them through life successfully, should they belong to the working class, and if other classes required more, such as Botany, Chemistry, or any 'ologies, let them pay for it; by doing so a great deal of unnecessary taxation would be saved the Colony, and a class of men and women who had had to pay for a thorough good education would be enabled to earn a competent living." "Yes, that is certainly true," admitted Miss Western, in whose hitherto dormant brain the great question of the day was more plainly and clearly defined by these young friends of hers, than all the egotistical and prosy arguments she had so often wearied of and dared not disagree with at her father's table—" you two girls have certainly placed the whole matter of education and Women's Franchise in a very different light, for which I shall always be grateful!" "Then again," continued May, acknowledging the bow and smile of her young hostess, "Mrs. St. Hellier, who is great on Women's Suffrage, Temperance, and certain other things, made a very good suggestion, that if the education in the state schools stopped at the fifth standard, Government would then be enabled to create a fund for further educating any boy or girl from whatever class (whose parents or guardians were quite unable to do so), the said child or children showing a decided genius and wish to rise in general knowledge, being taken through all the branches of study and turn out really clever men and women, instead of as at the present, giving the mass a smattering of everything, which does no good to themselves nor anyone else." "Well papa says, by the women getting the Franchise," said Eva, "they will lose a great deal of their influence in the home circle, and that the respect shown to them as the softer, gentler sex, will in time entirely vanish; and they will be page 8 made to feel their new position very keenly." "Well I can't see how that can possibly be," rejoined May quickly, "the wife, if she loves and respects her husband, will, in a great many instances, be guided by his superior judgment, and they will in a great many cases be dram more together if they discuss the affairs of the country; not as it not is, the man going to the polling booth, giving his vote, retiring to the public house and drinks, spending more money in one night than the wife will do all the week!"
"Up to the present," interrupted Rhoda, "men have made all the laws, and see how very unjust they have been to women. It is only within the last ten or fifteen years that the Women's Property Act has come into force. Before that, though the money may have been the wife's before ever she saw her husband, yet when once married, unless he kindly settled it on her, he could obtain full possession of her property, money, or otherwise, and even will it away from her if he chose to do so. Was not that an iniquitous law made solely for the benefit of the sterner sex? I can remember what a fuss there was when it became law that women could retain possession of their own, and for all that we do not hear that they leave their husbands out of their wills, or defy them, and leave home oftener than of yore, though that is what was predicted most solemnly." "Giving the women their own reminds me," said Marion Somerton, "of the Queen most graciously granting pardon to an innocent man. I think that is such a cruel farce, and quite on a par with the other." "Well, as we are discussing politics," said Rhoda, "don't you girls think it is very hard on the publicans to close their hotels summarily without granting compensation?" "Compensation," exclaimed Miss Western indignantly, "indeed, Rhoda, I think it would be most unfair to give it; why we shall be all so heavily taxed that every girl will have to turn out and work, and I am sure I am not so philanthropic that I should like to work, especially for such an object." "But, Beatrice, dear, there are as good Christians and honest people as you will meet though they do keep hotels," replied Miss Martin, smiling good naturedly, "and I repeat it is very hard and cruel to close the hotels without granting some compensation. A case was put very plainly before me last week. A highly educated individual—were he not in an hotel we should pronounce him a thorough gentleman—paid £900 cash for the goodwill of the place, besides that the rent is £8 or £9 page 9 per week. He has been in possession some six or seven years, and has never had the police in the house on account of any disturbance, no drunkenness or quarrelling have been allowed on the premises, he and bis family have kept themselves respectably and honestly, and yet if they close that house those people will be turned into the street perfect beggars. Now, girls, would not that be hard? Would you call that justice?" "No, no, indeed, it would not," answered May at once, but the rest of the little party did not seem quite to understand the question. They all agreed, however, to think it well over before they met again. "Oh, I had no idea it was so late," cried Madeline Joyce, springing up, "it is half-past five and we dine at six. I have only just time to get home and dress for dinner. I am very sorry to disturb you all, but really I must go."
An immediate move was then made by the rest of the party, and May Annesley, as she kissed and bade Miss Western "good-bye," said with a bright laugh—"We did not mean this to be a political meeting, did we Bee?" but as it has turned out one on a small scale, I think we must put it on our minutes, "That the young women who met at Miss Weston's afternoon wish to express their gratitude and cordial goodwill towards Sir John Hall and Sir Robert Stout, for having so persistently and triumphantly brought to a successful issue the bill granting to the women of New Zealand, the privilege of having their names placed on the electoral roll of the colony." "I second that motion most heartily, joined in Rhoda, I think a monument ought to be erected in commemoration of the event." "I would most willingly make a third to that," cried Eva dolorously, but I am only eighteen, and have no vote, which I consider too bad." "We must not leave out of our minutes," remarked Madeline, "all those papers who have fought so valiantly on our behalf, and to render our sincere thanks to them also." "Only think girls what angels we shall be considered for the next few weeks, at least until the elections are over; I for one shall hold my head very high," said Marion Somerton gaily. Amid a banter of merry jokes, and pleasant laughter, with a promise to meet again the day after the elections, to recount their different experiences at the polling-booths, the light hearted quartette left the hospitable house of the Westerns, and stepped into the glowing twilight of a lovely October evening in the year of grace, 1893.