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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Chapter X. — The Woman's Movement.—Who are the Suffragettes?—A Girl and her Army

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Chapter X.

The Woman's Movement.—Who are the Suffragettes?—A Girl and her Army.

A shrieking sisterhood, a band of excited females seeking the limelight, waving umbrellas, storming at Cabinet Ministers, and dragging the fair fame of womanhood in the mud—that is the feminine ogre that haunts the domestic bliss of middle-class England. You pick up the "'Daily Mail" or the "Daily Express" and see that these mad women have been at it again; you are convinced by their strong manly condemnation of the militant suffragette that she is but as they say, "a person" and "a thing"—"a mere seeker after notoriety." You read the cables in the Australasian press and wonder what on earth "these silly women" can want. Their very tactics seem to show that they are unfit to have a vote.

Beside all the force, the sincerity, and the brains that are behind the woman's movement in Britain, beside all the elements that unfolded with the nineteenth century by which woman became fellow-worker with man, by which she entered the arena of medicine, of education, of factory inspection, of the university, of social undertakings, of the arts, of innumerable industries, of politics itself, this estimate of woman as a social and political unit is rather trivial. The women in Britain to-day who chain themselves to public railings, who break up meetings and make the cry of "Votes for Women" resound through every corner of the land, know perfectly well what they are about. Every demonstration of this sort is planned and thought out from the main camp in Clement's Inn as carefully and coolly as any big military undertaking. It is one of the most deliberate and calculated processes in current political movements. Behind it is n galaxy of brilliant intellects, university degrees, authors, writers, thinkers, doctors, students, and authorities that constitute the most remarkable feminine organisation the world has ever seen.

Throughout all the ages there have never been, so far as history records such a distinguished company of woman united in an unswerving demand for economic equality with man. The factors that have produced that demand came with the economic changes of the last century when the invention of steam and the demand of capital for cheap labour forced women out of the home into the open arena with men. Up to that time woman had chieflly been the lady like inferior of her gentlemanly lord and master, the Gretchen of her noble prince the squaw of the war-hungry chief. She was wholly dependent on the male, and the wings of her genius were clipped to the needs and the adornment of the household. But the very comment which forced her to tend its machines robbed her of many of the arts and crafts that made her strength in the home. The fair hands that knitted quilts, spar broadcloth, wove tapestries, laces, curtains, and carpets, that potted preserves jams, spiced meats, that made bread cakes, sweets, cider, and a host of other things creating the complexity of domestic activities, were supplanted by the machine. The very sphere that men de claim as woman's was invaded, robbed.

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The New Way.

The New Way.

What is provided for £45 per annum under town planning.

The Old Way.

The Old Way.

The usual backs of British suburban "villas," which are let at £43 per annum, and have no gardens.

[See Chapter IX.

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and limited by man in his march of commerce. Nowadays it is mechanical ingenuity that makes our daily bread and garments, that provides our food and household needs, that even does our washing. The work of the home, in short, was transferred to the factory, and woman went with it to become a potent factor in all the ramifications of commerce, when she did not remain behind to be a pleasure-seeker and a parasite. The increasing opportunities in public life, the invasion of the professions and all forms of wage-earning occupations that do not carry the physical fatigue and oppression of the factory itself, have operated against the existence of idle women. The mid-Victorian spinster, who was brought up in an atmosphere of sweet prudery and refined ignorance, who sighed over the Family Journal and read Ruskin, no longer survives. The typical girl or woman to-day of Britain, whether she be doctor, designer, actress, typist, milliner, teacher, book-keeper, post office clerk, lecturer, journalist, or factory hand, is no longer a parasite. She is a separate and independent unit in the economic process. Outside of domestic occupation her labour contributes to no less than one-third of the industrial work of Britain.

Practically all that immense amount of work, proceeding in a manufacturing country of forty-three millions of people is paid for at rates considerably below those paid to men—rates that not infrequently imply starvation when one recalls the extraordinary amount of sweated labour in modem Britain. Nearly all the more lucrative positions of the Homeland are in the hands of men. As a wage-earner woman is the "bottom dog." Moreover, it is a remarkable thing that during the last sixty years, whilst rates of remuneration have risen with men, the wages of women have remained stationary, and in some cases have even fallen. Men, who have had a vote, and by the operations of their trade unions, have been able to force an increase in the reward for their services more proportionate to their value, whilst woman, who has no political status, remains powerless. That is one reason, but one reason only, why there is this wild and recurring cry echoing through Britain, "Votes for Women!"

There are many other claims. Women are taxed without being represented, and taxation without representation is tyranny. Women have to obey the laws equally with men, and they ought to have a voice in deciding what those laws shall be, particularly as nowadays many legislative proposals concern so intimately the hearth and home, the wellbeing of children, and the moral and social elevation of people. Woman, because of her education and economic independence, will no longer be silent in the affairs of a State that is faced with an appalling rate of infant mortality, of the waste of child life, of employment of single and married women, of sweated female wages, unemployment, and the care of the aged and the needy. But what of the militant suffragette and her lawless methods?

In order to grasp the potentialities of the woman's movement it is necessary to take a glance back at time. The Parliamentary movement to restore the voting rights to women they possessed prior to the great Reform Act of 1832, began when John Stuart Mill entered the House of Commons. In 1867, he crystallised all his advocacy for the cause of women into an amendment to the Reform Bill, which, needless to say, was defeated. Mr. Israel Zangwill sums up the event tritely:—"You can imagine the hullabaloo it evoked, what a god-send it was to the comic papers; you have only to read them to-day to see how well page 66 a joke wears! A woman who wanted to vote was supposed to be a sort of lower creature who chewed the quid and divided the skirt. But nevertheless, there was a very grave and memorable debate, and with John Stuart Mill were found no less than seventy-three other righteous men who voted for this amendment—196 against. Where were the other 400? As usual, neglecting their duty."

From that day to 1906 the woman's movement has been forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Women's suffrage societies were formed, meetings held; petitions signed. Year after year resolutions were passed calling upon Parliament to grant the suffrage. Year after year, politicians, irrespective of party, made promises and breathed sympathetic aphorisms to the band of women who waited and waited—and waited. The last four Prime Ministers in succession—Gladstone, Salisbury, Balfour, and Campbell-Bannerman—declared themselves in favour of the female franchise. It is a strange thing that those declarations can only be forced upon the politicians of to-day by women, by educated, able, and refined ladies being incarcerated in prison like any common convict or blackguard. Peaceful, law-abiding methods for twenty years failed, even though Parliament had been more extensively petitioned for women's suffrage than any other reform in the Kingdom.

There had been a disturbance in Manchester in 1905 when Miss Christabel Pankhurst and Miss Annie Kenney were flung out of a freetrade meeting for persisting in asking Sir Edward Grey (the present Minister for Foreign Affairs) for a pronouncement on the suffrage. They were sent to goal for "assaulting policemen." The climax, however, came in April, 1906, when, during a debate in the House of Commons on the removal of the sex-disqualification of the franchise, a banner was thrust from the ladies' gallery, bearing the legend "Votes for Women." For generations the decorum of the House had never been so rudely shocked. London was amazed at so vulgar a proceeding. The press declared the cause of women's suffrage had been put back for generations. The event was followed by deputations representing over half a million of the sex to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who said that women had made out an irrefutable case, but that some of his colleagues were not converted to the reform. He had no advice to give but "Patience."

That was the beginning. A series of public demonstrations followed, arrests were numerous, women went to gaol is droves. The haunting of unconverted Cabinet Ministers was, in fact, the outcome of some advice by Mr Lloyd-Geonge who, speaking at Liverpool, said: "Why do they not go for their enemy? Why do they not go for their greatest enemy?" Almost immediately London was electrified by the untoward spectacle of a Cabinet Minister, in the person of Mr Asquith, taking precipitate flight through his back door before an invasion of the suffragettes. The majority of papers both metropolitan and provincial, took up the demonstrations as a joke. Columns were hurled at the public, giving interviews, protesting, ridiculing, and sometimes defending the women who dared to face the jeers of the mob, the police, and Bench, and go to gaol, martyrs to their cause. Unintentionally the press convulsed all Britain with interest in these extraordinary women. Universities, debating societies, pulpits, public platforms, clubs, and other associations tell to violently discussing the question. The university undergraduates, in particular, with all the defects of their qualities, declared "these women" to be

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How an Estate is Planned Under Ordinary by-Laws.

How an Estate is Planned Under Ordinary by-Laws.

According to the English by-laws over forty houses can be placed to the acre.

[See Chapter IX.

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"unsexed," and "had dragged her pure tame into the mire." The paleolithic argument of man's superiority over woman cropped up with unfailing regularity. But the outstanding feature of this wonderful outburst throughout city and province, the most important aspect of the whole activity, was the thousands of women who flocked in on all sides to join the militant sections of the franchise advocates. The older societies, whose methods plainly indicated their peaceful and constitutional respectability, felt it was unladylike and vulgar that the suffragettes should shock the public in the way they were doing. They passed resolutions accordingly. The papers, particularly "The Times," supported them. They said that if these unruly women had only been moderate and reasonable, Parliament would have given them what they asked for. Members of Parliament passionately avowed the same righteous opinions, but declared that in consequence of the behaviour of the suffragettes, they would have to forego granting the reform.

All this seems incredible after twenty fruitless years of decorous advocacy, of petitions, of immaculate sobriety in urging that the political status of women should be other than it is to-day when she is legally the compeer of infants, idiots, and lunatics. Neither politicians nor press seemed capable of realising. That it was the political insincerity of both parties that had produced the militant suffragettes; they were unable to grasp the truth that behind all this lawlessness, this unhappy, unwomanly demonstration, there were far-seeing, rational and capable intellects demanding a reform that no force of argument or logic could refute.

In any case the outcry that has filled the unenlightened section of the British Press against the violent methods of the militant woman is not at all consistent as emanating from men. Mr. T. D. Benson proved that in the following: "Of course, when men wanted the franchise, they did not behave in the unruly manner of our feminine friends. They were perfectly constitutional in their agitation. In Bristol I find they only burnt the Mansion House, the Custom House, the Bishop's Palace, the Excise office, three prisons, four toll houses, and forty-two private dwellings and warehouses, and all in a perfectly constitutional and respectable manner. Numerous constitutional fires took place in the neighbourhood of Bedford, Cambridge, Canterbury, and Devizes. Four men were respectably hanged at Bristol, and three at Nottingham. The Bishop of Lichfield was nearly killed, and the Archbishop of Canterbury was insulted, spat upon, and with great difficulty rescued from amidst the yells and execrations of a violent and angry mob. In this and other ways the males set a splendid example of constitutional methods in agitating for the franchise. I think we are all well qualified to advise the suffragettes to follow our example, to be respectable and peaceful in their methods Nike we were, and then they will have our sympathy and support."

To disabuse one's mind as to the real character of these women, who are persistently maligned, it is only necessary to hear them speak or meet them in private life. Mrs. Despard (the sister of General French) is one of the most picturesque figures of the moment. She was several years past three score when in February, twelve months ago, she was sent to gaol for three weeks for taking part in a demonstration outside the House of Commons. Notwithstanding her years she is a keen worker, and a prototype of all that is eloquent and refined in her sex. Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst is one of the pioneers, and a page 68 potent and stimulating force. She has a remarkable force of intellect and is wholly fearless. Only last year she was rolled in the mud and maltreated, with another lady, in Devon, by a gang of roughs. Her daughter, Christabel Pankhurst, is the finest woman speaker in England. The force of her logic is only equalled by the fire of her oratory. In 1906 she took her L.L.B. with honours, and is only twenty-eight years of age. She as the originator of militant tactics, has been to gaol several times, and lately distinguished herself by cross-examining several Cabinet Ministers, who were called as witnesses in a charge against her, in a manner that earned for her the title of Miss "Portia" Pankhurst. Another influential lady in the movement is Mrs. Pethick Lawrence, who is a very fine speaker, an able journalist, and altogether talented and refined—the very antithesis to the popular conception of the suffragette. There are many others like Lady Grove, the Viscountess Harberton, Mrs. How Martyn, A.R.C.S., B.Sc., and Mrs. Billington Grieg, but enough has been said to indicate that the women's movement is spreading under the direction of some of the finest and most able members of the sex in the British Isles.

Mrs. Pethick Lawrence put the whole question of militant tactics when she said to me one day in the presence of Miss Christabel Pankhurst: "You do not suppose that our women, many of whom are ladies by birth and training, look forward with any pleasure to being spurned by a mob, rough handled by policemen, placed in a felon's dock, and sent off to gaol to face, in solitary confinement, for several weeks or months, all the horror and misery, the wretched food, and the cruelty of the wardresses, for the sake of notoriety. But what else can we do to awaken the public mind when, after organising the biggest public demonstration in London, when over a quarter of a million were present. Mr. Asquith in answer to that, says he has nothing to say? Not all the sentences of the magistrates in England will stop this imperishable demand of woman for liberty. We are winning all along the line in spite of them. Our adversity is our strength."

"We will win if we die for it," said Miss Pankhurst, "that is what we are here for."

The movement is still going on, drawing fresh converts to its ranks. In 1906, the militant women of England were less than a hundred. To-day their membership is a matter of hundreds of thousands. This is the result of the courage and the prescience of a young girl, who stood in the dock, at Manchester Police Court, in 1905, and went to prison on an absolutely false charge. She set the dazzling example, that has since inspired a nation of women. She is the living spirit of the womanhood of the twentieth century. It is the engrafted prejudice of centuries, the traditional sex dominance of the male that brings her passionate cry for liberty. History can offer many parallels in which progressive measures and their exponents have been derided, scoffed, and treated with all that is malignant and detestable in human nature. In Britain to-day history has repeated itself, and this young girl and her army are winning. They are blind to all things but the dazzling light of the truth—the truth that will see woman go forth, emancipated and free, to move with man in the work of the world.

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How the same Estate is Planned Under Co-Partnership Methods.

How the same Estate is Planned Under Co-Partnership Methods.

Showing the spaces, greens, and trees placed in due proportion to the number and position of the houses, which average ten to the acre.

[See Chapter IX.