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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

Woman's Sphere and Influence and The Female Franchise

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Woman's Sphere and Influence and The Female Franchise

J. Haase, Printer, 17 Swanston Street, Melbourne.

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Woman's Sphere and Influence and The Female Franchise.

The opening paragraph of the leading Article in the Age newspaper of 17th August, 1899, commences as follows:—"The word has gone forth from the Conservative camp in the Assembly, that whatever else happens the women are not to vote for the Federal elections if it can be prevented. "Impotent to give effect to their views in their own chamber, those constituting a small minority of the Legislative Assembly have, so far, been able to "Thank God" that there is a Legislative Council, the majority of whose members is in harmony with their illiberal views, and who have the power and apparent determination to arrest progress in defiance of public opinion, and of the functions which devolve upon the Council itself by the theory of its constitution. In accordance with public opinion, clearly and unmistakably expressed, the Legislative Assembly has, over and over, and over again, passed a "Women's Franchise Bill," only to be rejected an equal number of times by the Legislative Council. Reasons which have prevailed in favour of manhood suffrage, and which are equally unanswerable when used in support of women's rights, are being evaded, with what seems deliberate unfairness, under cover of physiological and psychological arguments as to women's constitutional unfitness to make use of political freedom without scathe to her character, and the abdication of her true position in the natural order of things; esteeming her as a being apart, to be ranked in general conformity with views which, according to the London Daily Mail, as quoted in a recent issue of the Argus, were expressed by Jean Jacques Rousseau, who died in 1778. "The Education of Women," according to this authority, "should always be relative to that of men. To please us, to be useful to us, to make us love and esteem them, to educate us when young, to take care of us when grown up, to advise, to console us, to render our lives easy and agreeable; there are the duties of women at all times, and what they should be taught in infancy. "

In his speech in the Legislative Council in September last year against the "Women's Franchise Bill," Sir Henry Wrixon gave expression to sentiments quite in harmony with the above. "Woman's duty in life and her calling in life," Sir Henry said, "are quite as important as those of men, and, I say page 3 also, they are essentially different. . . . There is a profound and essential difference fixed by Nature—a difference which in this Bill there is a feeble attempt to destroy. "These refined sentiments were taken up and elaborated by a writer in the Conservative newspaper, as follows:—"The mental outfit conferred by nature on women as a sex is the very opposite of that given to man; the strength of women's emotional and affectionate qualities, while they debar her from judicial and professional functions, eventually fit her for the position accorded her long since in the family. To the constitution of the family, woman owes her real dignity and power," and so on, after the manner of Rousseau's last century sentiments.

This charming picture casts a shadow. This, of course, proves its solidity. It must be very solid indeed, for the shadow is intensely dark. "Just enough to starve on," was the remark of a London Coroner, whilst lately holding an inquest respecting the death of a spinster who had been earning about six shillings a week by shirt-making. A juror remarked," They don't get much by shirt-making. Its all sweating, and the poor people gradually starve." The jury returned a verdict of death by "Natural causes." Very Natural indeed—nothing could be more so than that one should die of starvation under such wretched conditions. Many thousands of forlorn women—and let the anti-sweating league and the Margaret Heffernans bear witness to the evil amongst ourselves—have to lead the dreariest and most hopeless of lives, under class-made laws and social restrictions more oppressive than any disabilities under which men have to suffer, and yet, they are not permitted to have a voice in the election of those who make the laws for them. Now, that men have attained to their political freedom, the injustice and positive cruelty of denying the same to women, is more manifest and condemnable than ever. "To have a voice in choosing those by whom one is governed, is a means of self-protection due to every one. Under whatever conditions, and within whatever limits, men are admitted to the franchise, there is not a shadow of justification for not admitting women under the same." It is but natural to find that William Lloyd Garrison, the well known agitator for the abolition of slavery, held exactly similar views to those expressed in the above familiar paragraph from the writings of John Stuart Mill, "Those who are ruled by the law," said Garrison, "should have the power to say what shall be the laws, and who the law makers. Women are as much interested in legislation as men, and are entitled to representation."

No plea could possibly be stronger, nor arguments more convincing, yet it is certain that the physiological plausibility upon which the question is now made to turn, has caused some to hesitate as to the advisableness of giving support to page 4 the Female Franchise Movement. There never have been good reasons for denying the Franchise to men or to women, any more than there have been good reasons in defence of slavery, or any other form of injustice or wrong. The physiological and psychological argument certainly forms an important feature of the female Franchise discussion, hut, when properly understood, it will be found to strengthen immeasurably the need for women's political freedom, elevating it above class, and even sex, distinctions, to the level of a broad humanity. The Reverend Charles Kingsley struck the higher key when he wrote:—"One principal cause of the failure of so many magnificent schemes, social, political, religious, which have followed each other age after age, has been this: that in almost every case they hare ignored the rights and powers of one-half the human race, viz., Women. I believe that politics will not go right, that society will not go right, that nothing human will ever go right, except in so far as woman goes right; and to make woman go right she must be put put in her place, and she must have her rights." With women's "rights" Kingsley brackets women's "powers," and it is to be regretted that Sir Henry Wrixon in his speech in the Legislative Council had chosen to dwell only upon the superficial aspect of this great question, for, in his generalizations, he showed that he failed to grasp and appreciate the real nature of woman's sphere and influence, and to take note of that wherein consists her distinctive mental characteristics as a problem in race psychology, and a factor in human progress. He, therefore, failed to perceive that "The Women's Franchise Bill," instead of being "a feeble attempt to destroy" the womanly nature, was really an honest effort to remove the arbitrary restrictions put to its fuller and freer expansion as a much needed political and social force. Very little analysis is required to make this perfectly clear.

In the struggle of existence man—the male—is actuated by purely selfish motives; and although, as circumstances gradually compel him to enter into social relationships for his better self-security, each individual has to conduct himself with some regard for the interests of others, yet there is no corresponding development of the altruistic sentiment. Indeed, such a feeling is repudiated by the man of affairs, his motto being, "There is no friendship in business." Such study as he makes of society as an institution finds its almost sole incentive in the desire to promote personal interests, conceding to others as little, and grasping for his individual self as much, as he possibly can. In this contest the intellect is powerfully developed, but not, equo pede, the moral sense of scrupulosity as to the means whereby success may be won, or a feeling of sympathy with the sufferings: endured by those whose fate it is to fail in the struggle,

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Prince Krapotkin says that "Herbert Spencer has well put it, that the state of enmity is ever tending to be eventually replaced by a state of amity," adding, "and this is but an expression of the truth that antagonism is a lesser force than co-operation." A writer in the Co-operative News gives expression to similar views:—"We cannot deny," he says, "that in the lower orders of life there appear no signs of unselfishness, but as we rise in the scale we find an in-creasing element of association and interdependence, until at last, in the mind of man, we reach the conception, though not at present the realization, of perfect harmony."

"Man," in the above extract, refers to Mankind, but is here used to indicate sex, for the purpose of pointing out the process of mind development in man, in contradistinction to that of mind development in Woman. In Man, mind is developed from selfishness and antagonism to mutuality and altruism by utilitarian and economic considerations, very slowly arriving at the conception of human brotherhood, and still more slowly at any practical manifestations of it. On the other hand, mind in woman develops itself upon distinctly opposite lines, from the sympathetic to the intellectual. By reason of the maternal functions and duties which Nature has assigned to Woman, her disposition is to manifest that amount of altruism in feeling and conduct, which is necessary for the tending and rearing of the young. With her, the development of the sympathetic nature precedes the enlightenment characteristic of intellectual growth. In man, as already observed, enlightened conduct, based upon progressive conceptions of what is due to self-interests, precedes the development of the altruistic sentiment; but the evolution of mind in Man, and the evolution of mind in Woman, each developing upon opposite, but not antagonistic lines, contributes its own quota to the formation of a Mind of Humanity, with its emotional and intellectual sides proportionatey balanced, so that motives may be formed, and translated into actions, in conformity with ethical principles.

To illustrate this Mind of Humanity, instances may be given of historic characters, who, in consequence of having attained to this high moral and intellectual development, have been the most earnest agitators and workers for the relief of human suffering, and the originators of great reform movements. Robert Owen is a notable instance from amongst men. In 1790, at the age of 19, he proved himself such an exceptionally capable business man as the manager of a cotton-spinning concern in Manchester, and made such satisfactory profits for his employer that a partnership was, so to speak, thrust upon him before he was quite 20 years of age. Although Owen was intellectually powerful, and able to overcome every difficulty which stood in the way of business success, yet his emotional nature was so sensitive to page 6 the wrongs and sufferings of others that it revolted against the cruelties inflicted upon workers, especially upon women and children, under the then new factory system, that he became an agitator for the enactment of laws for their protection. Had not the capacity to feel for the misfortunes of others been developed in Owen's emotional nature he, no doubt, would have been contented, like the mill-owners of his time, and the opponents of factory laws in ours, to have been the masterful and successful business man for which his intellectual powers qualified him, regarding the sufferings of the workers, if he gave that subject any consideration at all, as the inevitable result of economic causes, "laws of nature," possessing the force of "Axiomatic Truths," as we have seen it stated, when, for "lack of argument," a dogmatic assertion has been found necessary to back a foregone conservative conclusion. But in Robert Owen, the sympathetic nature, the special characteristic of Woman, and intellectual power, the leading feature of man's mental constitution, were so co-ordinately developed and morally balanced, that moved by the one, and directed by the other, he was able, by his famous new Lanark Experiment, to give practical proof that a just and humane treatment of men, women, and children employed in factory work was not only compatible with ethical principles, but also defensible on economic grounds; principles still further verified by his followers in social work, to which reference will be made further on.

It will be found more instructive to take the further instances of this mental development from amongst women, as being more apposite to the subject in hand, serving to illustrate the mode in which women develop intellectual powers when once they are moved by their emotional nature to take active part in social work, and, also, how natural and necessary it is that women should engage in such work by virtue of that very constitution in which they are said to be "essentially different" from men—a natural fitness, which the opponents of the female franchise illogically and unphilosophically misconstrue into a disqualification.

A recent instance of this perversion of ideas—which may be here interpolated—occurs in a letter from its New York correspondent published in the Argus of 21st March last, containing the following paragraph, said to be an extract from a sermon preached by a high ecclesiastical dignitary:—

"I regard women's rights women and society leaders in the higher walks of life as the worst enemies of the female sex. They rob woman of all that is amiable and gentle, tender, and attractive; they rob her of innate grace of character, and give her nothing in return but masculine boldness and brazen effrontery. They are habitually preaching about woman's rights and prerogatives, and have not a word to say about her duties and responsibilities. They withdraw her from those sacred obligations which properly belong to her sex, page 7 and fill her with ambition to usurp positions for which neither God nor nature intended her."

The reply to such misconceptions as these will be found in the history of pure and noble-minded women who, tracing the degradation of their sex to far different causes than such as those above alluded to, had found it necessary to break with childish conventionality and the "traditions of men" regarding women and their duties, in their efforts to modify the conditions under which thousands of their sex so cruelly suffered. It was a necessary outcome of this movement that it must, sooner or later, include a demand for the female franchise, not only as a right to which women are justly entitled, but as a means of correcting much of the evil which afflicts humanity at its very source in our legislatures.

If "God and Nature" be permitted to speak by facts, "he who runs may read" the lessons they so plainly teach. It was in obedience to the promptings of a highly developed womanly nature, "amiable, gentle and tender," with a full sense of "those sacred obligations which properly belonged to her sex," that, from 1813 to the time of her death in 1845, Mrs. Elizabeth Fry became the unwearied and devoted advocate for reforms of prisons, hospitals and asylums, and whose work commanded the attention of authorities, not only in Britain, but on the continent of Europe. She first visited a prison to administer what comfort she could to the unhappy inmates of her own sex, but witnessed such an appalling amount of misery, resulting from mal-administration, and the enforcement of brutal regulations, that she soon found it necessary to agitate for legal reforms, as well as for the exercise of some little humanity under such laws as existed. The following is from a sketch of her character in a recently published book on "Some Social and Political Pioneers of the nineteenth century," by Ramsden Balmforth:—"In 1832 and 1835, Mrs. Fry again gave valuable evidence before a select committee of the House of Commons and the House of Lords; and in 1838, 1839 and 1840 visited many prisons in France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Denmark, spending some of her days in the lowest dens of infamy, and some of her evenings as the guest of Statesmen, Kings and Queens, everywhere suggesting reforms, and having the satisfaction of knowing that, in many cases, her suggestions were carried into effect,"

Miss Florence Nightingale is a later instance of this mind of humanity in woman; sympathetic and intellectual, qualified and devoted by nature for a life of philanthropic work. A biographer says of her;—"In early childhood, a marked sympathy with every kind of affliction declared itself in her; and it was fostered both by the encouragement of her friends, and the means for its exercise which her father's fortune placed at her disposal. From the first, her benevolence took the aspect of method, being quiet, thoughtful and serious; page 8 she seemed from natural instinct to have adopted her vocation. "In early life her time was spent in visiting schools and hospitals in the neighbourhood of her father's residence in Derbyshire. Afterwards, being taken to the Metropolis, "she examined with rigid care the several systems of treatment pursued in the hospitals, reformatory institutions, and work-houses." Perceiving that an essential element in hospital reform must be the special training of nurses, and to qualify herself for what was now to be her life-work, she entered an institution in Kaiserwerth, in Germany, for the practical training of nurses who went out to visit the sick and the poor. When the British authorities were in despair on account of their inability to organise an efficient hospital service to administer to the dire necessities of the wounded and plague-stricken victims of the Crimean war, Mr. Sydney Herbert, the then secretary for war, appealed to Miss Nightingale to form a staff of voluntary nurses and proceed to the Crimea to accomplish for the British Army what the Sisters of Mercy were already doing in the French camp. History records the noble success which attended the mission of those refined ladies—ladies qualified to adorn the politest society, but far too good, and too womanly, to lead lives of elegance and ease, under cover of conventional cant about woman's legitimate sphere and social limitations, when suffering humanity called upon them for such services as only good and sympathetic women, with enlightened intellect, could render.

Now, these notable women, with many others, have been the pioneers of a woman's movement which is rapidly growing, and expanding so as to reach every situation in life where misery has to be relieved and wrongs righted, and typical of the woman's mental development which accompanies the new departure. This movement so plainly manifests itself that it would be discreditable not to perceive it, and is proving of such inestimable benefit to humanity, that it would be barbarous to attempt to repress or discourage it. The sentiment ascribed to Terence is at once felt to be more appropriately applicable to woman than to man:—"Homo sum, et humani a me nil alienum puto." How much more fit-tingly and naturally it would appeal to universal experience:—"I am a woman, and I think nothing human foreign to me"? The womanly feelings of affection and sympathy developed in the nursery and the family, degree by degree, enlarge the zone of their influence until they embrace the human family, and form the welding principle of human sisterhood and brotherhood. In the efforts to relieve human suffering, and mitigate the evils of life, the female intellect is awakened and educated; nursing, for instance, is raised to the rank of a trained profession, naturally developing into a medical education, and the political and social sciences are studied as necessary parts of the modern woman's mental page 9 equipment for philanthropic work. Although mental development in man, and mental development in woman each proceeds on lines denoting physiological diversities, it is evident that, in course of time, the two elements must come together to form, as already observed, a Mind of Humanity, with its emotional and intellectual sides morally balanced, and all subservient to the dictates of a highly informed conscience. Carefully inquiring into general causes, near and remote, its effort would be to find an economic solution for all social problems, treating misery in the mass, yet not neglecting to give what relief might be possible to individual sufferers. That this is not a vague anticipation is shown by the followers of Robert Owen, who have built up a gigantic trading organisation based upon principles of commercial morality and mutuality, and social ethics, extending into the sphere of politics, form a never failing part of their propaganda. Their rules confer equal rights upon men and women within their ranks, and it is perfectly certain that without the prominently active and intelligent part which women have taken in the movement it could not have succeeded.

Under its influence, again, the Woman's Movement is growing apace, embracing all kinds of social and philanthropise questions, and the politics which bear upon them. In England there is a Woman's Co-operative Guild, having 270 branches and 12,500 members. Delegates elected by the branches meet in Annual Congress, held at various centres, attracting a large amount of public attention, and at which women read essays and deliver addresses, marked by much ability of thought and clearness of expression. The last congress was held at Plymouth under the presidency of a Mrs. Carr, whose opening address was in every way worthy of the occasion and the movement. A Mrs. Marshall read a paper on "Women on Educational Committees," in which the following summary was given of the extensive social work now carried on by women, and their determination to persist in it:—"All shades of politics, religious bodies, and temperance workers," said Mrs. Marshall, "have their women's organizations, in fact, one of the most notable features of English life is the ever widening degree of interest which women are taking in all things pertaining to public life, and the determination of the sex to let nothing stop their progress, or limit their usefulness."

A meeting of delegates representing the Scottish Women's Guild met in Glasgow on the 16th December last, under the presidency of a Mrs. Campsie, at which a Mrs. Buchan read a paper on "The Advanced Woman," which seems to have been in agreement with the views herein expressed respecting the special mode in which mind development in woman takes place, and the enlargement of the sphere of woman's influence of which this mind development is the page 10 accompaniment. A lady reporter says:—" The writer (Mrs. Buchan) showed with great ability, in what direction the true advancement of our sex lay; namely, in assiduous cultivation of the intellectual powers with which we are in some degree endowed. Mrs. Buchan showed that such advance of intelligence had no adverse effect on the faithful discharge of the duties of wives and mothers. It was rather the woman whose interest in life was not confined to the four walls of her kitchen, but who could spare time to assist in any movement for the welfare of her fellow creatures—she it was who was found to discharge the onerous duties of home in the most conscientious manner. She commended the Women's Guild as an organisation which had done incalculable benefit in the way of drawing out and fostering the ability of women to help on a great movement, and gave a well-merited tribute of praise to the single-hearted intrepid souls who were its pioneers."

These are replies by representatives of many thousands of intelligent and thinking women, to such one-sided criticisms as prevail in our Legislative Council, and to conservative expositors of "natural law." The British House of Commons, recognising the value of this force, included a clause in a London Government Bill in favour of admitting women to become councillors in the new municipalities—a clause which was speedily struck out after the Bill reached the House of Lords. It may be well to repeat what was said of women's special fitness for the position in an editorial of the Co-operative News, the press organ of over a million families, of what is called "the cream of the working classes" of Great Britain, and no more reliable authority could be quoted upon such a subject. "Women," says the News, "are by nature more sympathetic than men. They are more in touch with the needs of the working classes. They are more used to visiting in the slums and purlieus of our great city, and they are more enthusiastic in the cause of the social well-being of their fellow creatures. They are, therefore, admirably suited to aid the Municipal Councils in their work of improving the dwellings of the poor. These are potent reasons why they should be given seats on the Municipal bodies, and we cannot imagine equally strong reasons against their admission." It was at the instance of a deputation promoted by "The Women's Industrial Council," that Sir John Gorst called for a "Parliamentary Return regarding the wage-earning of children attending, or presumably attending, elementary schools "—a document which Sir John Gorst, in his speech in Parliament, characterised as "painful and sickening," disclosing a state of infantile privation and suffering, which proved how very little real good had been affected by social legislation and benevolent organisations, compared with the enormous amount of work yet to be done before much relief could reach the many thousands page 11 of little ones who are born to a heritage of misery, without a chance in the world in their favour. "The Committee of The London School Board," said Sir John Gorst, "estimates that, at times when there is no special distress, 55,000 children in a state of hunger which makes it useless to attempt to teach them, are in the schools of London alone." "Our sympathy," says Gibbon, "is cold to the relation of distant misery." "It is a familiar fact," says Professor John Fiske, in his Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, "that many men are cruel, in word or deed, because they are incapable of adequately representing to themselves the pain, physical and mental, of which they are the cause. The validity of such an interpretation is confirmed by the fact that, even when there is very high representative capacity, the lack of the requisite elements of personal experience will prevent the rise of sympathetic feeling." It is chiefly owing to the work instigated and conducted by women that so much misery—the relief of which, by any means judged to be incompatible with the law of the survival of the fittest, men are taught to consider contrary to "economics," and which conservative Podsnappery would sweep behind its back—has been dragged into the light of day, and that the public conscience has been, to some extent, aroused from a state of self-satisfied complacency and indifference.

Thus, it may be seen how a Mind of Humanity is developed by means of the several activities of men and of women. In man, the process is from the selfish to the altruistic, under pressure of the higher law of self-preservation, which forces the individual to seek ultimate safety in communal well-being. In women the process is exactly the reverse, and they are instrumental in developing the emotional side of mind in man, by forcing men to contemplate the awful amount of misery in which many thousands of human beings are submerged owing to class-made laws, unscrupulous competition, and social injustice, which men, as a class, are trained to ignore, or wink at. Women's own intellectual powers are being developed at the same time, the two forces forming a morally balanced mind, fitted for the work of human betterment. "Thus it will happen," says the Baroness Süttner, "by the falling of the fetters which our sex has borne so long, that not it alone, but also the other will rise to a higher human dignity. Exactly the contrary will take place of what is dreaded by the opponents of the emancipation of woman; the woman will not assume gross masculine defects, the man will not sink into womanish effeminacy, but both united, among them the best, the strongest, and the most intelligent will form models of a nobler race." If the limited, and really contemptible, ideas of woman's nature and duties, entertained by the opponents of the female franchise, could have been made the measure of women's character and conduct, the noble and self-sacrificing work page 12 done by the sex for the last half-century and more could not have been accomplished, to the infinite loss of a much-suffering world. But the "Divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will," has determined otherwise, irresistibly shaping the trend of things "that maketh for righteousness." Women's claim to the franchise will have to be conceded because it is just and right in itself, and its denial a tyranny incompatible with an age of reason and enlightenment. Armed with this power, the influence of women for good would be enormously increased, and, without doubt, exercised, and a Newer and Truer Democracy inaugurated, marking a new era in human progress. Experience in other colonies and in America proves that the change would bring no revolutionary effects in its train. On the contrary, it would simply open up the way for the smoother working of correct principles, unattended by such inconveniences as naturally belong to a period of contention for popular rights, such as we have now to endure in the face of obdurate and unreasonable conservative opposition to the female franchise. It may not yet be too late for the Legislative Council to review its decisions upon this really important question, and give the sanction of its majority to The Women's Franchise Bill so as to become law in time for the election of the first Federal Parliament. There can no longer be room for doubt but that such an act would be in accordance with the clearly expressed will of the country's manhood, and the undoubted desire of the women themselves. Above all, it is manifest from what is known of the admirable work which has been, and is being done, by women for the benefit of the unfortunate and oppressed, and which could not be done so well, if at all, by other agencies, that the Act would be in the best interests of the whole community. It is, therefore, gratifying to learn on the high authority of Sir Frederick Sargood, expressed in a letter read before a meeting of the Anti-Sweating League, held on the 12th March last, that ". . . a large majority of . . members of the Council . . . are at all times anxious to pass measures for the public good." This ought to be reassuring, and it rests with the Government to give the Council an opportunity to deal with The Women's Franchise Bill in this loyal fashion at as early a stage of the forthcoming and final session of Parliament as may be found possible. This is a measure which no democratic Government could treat with indifference or neglect, involving, as it does, the political rights of one half of the people, and the best interests of the whole community, and to which the present Ministry is, in a special manner, pledged.

Melbourne, June 18th, 1900.