Suffragettes January 21 1913




A great demonstration organised by the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage was held last evening in Queen’s Hall. Earl Curzon of Kedleston presided, and the proceedings were of a most enthusiastic character.

Among those on the platform were the Earl and Countesses of Cromer, Mr. C. E. Hobhouse, M.P., Sir Edward Calrke, Mr F.E. Smith M.P., the Earl of Plymouth, the Countess of Ilchester, the Earl of Kerry, M.P., Viscount and Viscountess Errington, Lord Glenconner, Lord Charnwood, Mrs Lewis Harcourt, Mrs Humphrey Ward, the Dean of Westminster and Mr Ryle, the Dean of Canterbury, Mr Gervase Beckett, M.P., Mr C.T. Mills, M.P., Mr Neil Primrose, M.P., Sir Melvill Beachcroft and Lady Beachcroft, Sir H. Beaumont, M.P., and Lady Beaumont, Sir Henry Craik, M.P., and Lady Craik, Sir Charles Henry, M.P., Sir Maurice Levy, M.P., Sir W. Rriestly, M.P., Sir H Raphael, M.P., Sir John Rees, M.P., Sir A Williamson, M.P., Mr J.R. Campion M.P., Mr D. Davies, M.P., Mr J.W. Hills, M.P., Mr P. Molten o, M.P., Mr A. MacCallum Scott, M.P., Mr D.V. Price, M.P., Mr A. H.D. Steel-Maitland, M.P., and Mrs Steel-Maitland, Mr A.A. Tobin, M.P., Mr Arnold Ward, M.P., Colonel C.E. Warde, M.P., Captain Waring, M.P, Mr Cathcart Wason, M.P., and Mrs Cathcart Wason, and Mr. J. St. Loe Strachey. A large number of persons, including the Home Secretary, the Secretary for War, and Mr Walter Long, M.P., wrote regretting their inability to be present.

The CHAIRMAN, who was received with loud cheers, said that his first duty was to ask for a fair hearing for the speakers that evening. At an important moment like the present in the history of the suffrage movement it was reasonable and indeed desirable that booth sides should marshal their forces and endeavour to influence public opinion. Their League had never taken any steps and never would take any steps to interfere with the peace or tranquillity of suffrage meetings, and they were entitled to expect a similar consideration from their opponents. (Cheers.) Should it not be given they would know how to protect themselves, and had made all necessary arrangements. (Cheers and laughter.) But he could not for a moment believe that so disagreeable a necessity would arise. (Hear, hear.) They were glad to have with them Mr. Charles Hobhouse, a member of his Majesty’s Government -(Cheers)- who came there as a representative of that section of the Cabinet which was in sympathy with their movement, and the foremost exponent of which they knew to be the Prime Minister himself. (Cheers.) Mr Hobhouse was to have been accompanied and balanced by a leading Front Bench man on the Conservative side, Mr. Walter Long, but unfortunately this gentleman was unable to be present. Mr Long had written to say that his doctor had peremptorily forbidden him to make any speeches at present, so that he regretted that he should not attend to second the resolution which Mr. Hobhouse was to propose. He went on to say that he held strongly that if any women were to have a vote all must have it, and this would mean that women would govern the country. Such a proposal should not be adopted before it had been put fully and fairly before the electorate, more especially as there was no evidence that the majority of women wanted the vote, while a vast number of them had that the change would be wholly distasteful to themselves and undesirable for the country. (Cheers.) Continuing his address, the Chairman said that he was glad to say, in the absence of Mr. Long, they had secured the presence of that veteran Parliamentarian and great speaker Sir Edward Clarke. (Cheers.) They were gathered together at the opening of a week or fortnight which would be fraught with grave consequences in the history of this suffrage movement. The issue would be raised on Sir Edward Grey’s amendment to the Franchise Bill to omit the word “male,” which, though brief, was a very skillfully-drawn amendment from the point of view of vote-catching. He did not use that phrase in an invidious sense, but the amendment was an attempt to gather into the same lobby all those who, whatever differences of opinion they might have, were united in this, that they were in favour of granting the suffrage to some women. They must resist it by every means in their power, for they did not want the door to be opened at all, either to a million women walking in dressed up as municipal electors, or to thirteen million women marching as the vanguard of a great army which would, in future, he supposed, take charge of the destinies of the State. (Laughter and cheers.)

He did not see that if Sir Edward Grey’s amendment were carried their cause their cause would appreciably suffer. He very much doubted whether any of the amendments behind it would secure majority in the House of Commons, for there was this remarkable feature about their opponents, that although they were all agreed that the vote ought to be given to women the could not make up their minds to what women it ought to be given. (Cheers and laughter.) But the opponents of female suffrage should take no risks. (Cheers.) They should defeat this amendment in the first place, and by so doing thrust aside female suffrage altogether in this Parliament. (Cheers.) Supposing they could be unsuccessful in this, there were three alternative proposals which would come before the House of Commons. Those proposals were put forward by several groups. The Labour and Socialist Party represented by Mr Henderson`s amendment, wished to plunge at once into deep water and give the suffrage to all adult males and females, including thirteen millions of the latter, or in other words to place the Empire in the hands of the women, and thus make us the laughing stock of the world. (Hear, hear.) This, he thought, had not the remotest chance of being carried. Then a second group, represented by Mr. Dickinson`s amendment, only wanted to go into the water if it was not deep and if they had lifebuoys by which they might be pulled back. (Laughter) These proposed to place six million women householders on the register, who would have the casting vote between the two great political parties. A third group were the timid and reluctant Suffragists, the people who stood shivering on the brink, and who did not want to do much more than have a paddle in the fringe of the surf. (Laughter.) They were represented by an amendment to enfranchise one and a half million women, on the lines of the Conciliation Bill, which having been already rejected once during the present protracted Seino of the House of Commons, was not in the least likely to be accepted by that House now. (Hear, hear.) The attitude of the opponents of woman suffrage towards all these amendments was one of unqualified hostility. It was that of the Abbe Sicyes, la mort sans phrase. (Cheers.) Such a change, if proposed ought clearly to be demanded by the majority of those who at present enjoyed the vote, the majority of the male voters of this country, who chose our Governments, who directed our policy, and in the last resort, fought our battles. (Cheers.) The opinion of those electors had been sufficiently shown at the Bow and Bromley election, and at any election in which female suffrage had been a live issue. (Hear, hear.) The franchise had never been given, and he thought ought never to be given, except to a class which both demanded and deserved it. (Hear, hear.) Apart from the noisy clamour of a few militant suffragists there was no demand on the part of women for the vote, and to the great majority of them female suffrage was odious and repugnant. Induced at all, ought only to be introduced by a responsible Government, and that so drastic a change ought not to be brought about in the House of Commons as a side issue, through amendments to a Bill dealing with a totally different matter. (Cheers.) The ex-Lord Chancellor (Earl Loreburn) said at the Albert Hall last year that is would be a constitutional outrage of a serious character to carry such a measure into law without the express sanction of the people. (Loud cheers.) And the outrage would not be diminished, but would be enhanced, if advantage were taken of the Parliament Act – an Act which was not devised for circumstances like these, but which, on the contrary, was expressly defended by its supporters on the ground that it should be only applied to measures which had behind them the expressed and reasoned will of the people – it would be an outrage if this stature were used to carry into law such a measure as this over the heads of the people. These were the reasons why they thought that to attempt to carry into law these revolutionary proposals would be an offence both against constitutional propriety and against political precedent, and he had almost said against public honour. They were present to protest the perpetration of such an outrage and to pledge themselves to resist it by every means in their power. (Loud cheers.)

MR HOBHOUSE, M.P. (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), moved: “That in view of the threatened introduction into the Franchise Bill of amendments giving the Parliamentary vote to women, this meeting records its hostility to such proposals, and pledges itself to use every means in its power in order to secure their rejection.” (Cheers.) He said that the amendments had brought on to that platform every shade of political and social force, and had for the moment obliterated those political boundaries which often proved a bar to complete work in the Houses of Parliament. They saw in these proposals a source of great danger to the country. They agreed that they had been so arranged as to attract every eye and to tempt every palate. He confessed for himself that he found them all equally indigestible and disliked. (Cheers.) Underlying them was one common result and that was that if they were carried in their entirety, so far as they were not irreconcilable, they undoubtedly established a political predominance of women over men not only in the internal welfare of the State but of all that concerned her external safety as well. He should be told that it was as impossible to unite women as it was impossible to obtain unanimity among men on any political issue. He agreed, but heretofore no State had ever made the bold experiment that England was asked to make, and no condition had ever arisen in which one sex had found itself opposed to the other sex on some vital and unavoidable issue. A second point was that in future decisions would not depend on the unanimity of women but also on the present and future disagreement among men. Lord Curzon had pointed out that men were outnumbered to the extent of about a million and a quarter of votes, and it was plain that the side which had the majority would have the power to say yea or nay to any proposal which is put forward. (Cheers.)

He could find nowhere in the records of the past, save perhaps in the fabled history of the Amazons, he knew of no time, of no Continent, of no people which had ventured on the experiment they were now asked to adopt on Monday next. It must nut be forgotten that there was an enormous majority of women over men. There had always been an exodus of men from this country which had tended to lower the proportion of men to women, and until that outward stream dried up they would never be able to reverse the position, and if these proposals were carried the predominance of women over men would not only be immutable but impregnable. It was therefore essential that they would defeat this experiment and resist these amendments to the uttermost. (Cheers.) He thought they were fortified by the fact that the great majority of women were with them. There had been a great relapse of discipline in the home life, and that was bound to react on the generations which would succeed our own. Why should they add to that centrifugal tendency – due to the demand for increased earnings and increased pleasures – which took the mother out of the home and fixed her attention not upon the affairs of her household and her family, but upon the affairs which men were quite capable of settling upon their own account? (Cheers.) He did not think that the spirit which women had shown in this agitation had proved that they were capable wither of governing others or of controlling themselves. (Cheers.) Civilisation , in its initial stages, had only been accomplished by a proper use of physical force. How majority of women could impose a policy which they thought right on a minority of men without employing physical force he was totally unable to discover. (Cheers.) In the ultimate resort the only means of asserting the authority of the Government throughout our vast Empire was by force. The sphere of men and women might overlap in some respects, but he did not think it was ever identical, and any attempt to amalgamate them would do a fatal injury to both classes. (Cheers.)

SIR EDWARD CLARKE, who was loudly applauded on rising to second the resolution, said he had come there with some reluctance, as he was not detached from the interests and activities of political parties, and he was from time to time reminded by others that his public work was pretty well done. (Cries of “No, no.”) He ventured to say “Yes”. Last week he listened to two speeches on the Home Rule Bill, and he read in a cutting from a local paper which a friend had been good enough to send him that he “sat there, a scarred and whitened veteran.” (Laughter.) He was not sure that scarred and whitened veterans had any right to be on public platforms except as interesting objects of exhibition – (laughter) – but he was whole-hearted in this cause, having worked in it since the foundation of the League. (Cheers.) He was sufficiently old not to be very apprehensive of personal consequences even if women suffrage were adopted, but still he was glad to support the resolution. Lord Burson had spoken of some amendments to the Franchise Bill. There was one to which he had not referred, and it was a rather amusing one, as showing the expedients to which their opponents were reduced. The Suffragist were anxious as to the Irish vote. The Irishmen had not the least intention of giving the women the vote in Ireland, but Mr. Redmond was naturally very anxious not to do anything to interfere (Laughter.) With that view, therefore, a second edition of the Dickinson amendment had just been issued containing the words: “Female persons shall be qualified to be registered in a constituency other than a constituency in Ireland.” (Laughter and cheers.) Their astute friends wanted to apply to this Bill the principle, which apparently had to some extent been established that, as we were unable to govern ourselves, Irishmen should decide how we should be governed. (Laughter and cheers.) But that was not all. Mrs. Fawcett, one of the most admirable representatives of suffragist opinion that it had ever found in this country had announced that the best known and most distinguished looking women on their side would stand about the avenues of the Houses of Parliament on Friday in order that their distinguished appearance might exercise an effect upon the legislators` votes. (Laughter.)

He asked himself why any Conservative member should vote for Sir Edward Grey’s amendment. Should that amendment be carried they would hear a good deal on Saturday morning of the triumph of the Suffragist Party: but they must not believe a word of it. If it was carried their opponents would not be a bit nearer success than before. He imagined a number of Conservative members being asked shy they were going to vote for the amendment. No.1 was a married man – (Laughter.) – and he said: “I was so bothered by the Suffragist people at my election that I promised to vote for them Mr wife is dreadfully angry, but I tell her Grey` amendment does not matter, because the authors of it are sure to be beaten, and then I shall have kept my promise and done no harm after all”. (Laughter) Another friend said that he would vote for the amendment because that would let the other amendments come on, and that would take up two days, and as the Government were hard pressed for time it would put Asquith in a beautiful hole. (Laughter.) No.3 said that he would vote for Grey and would vote for the Labour amendment too, because that would smash the Franchise Bill, as they would find out directly that there was not time to pass it and it would have to be withdrawn. (Laughter.) The last of his friends said that of course he was not going to vote for putting six or eight millions of women on the franchise but he would vote for Lyttelton`s amendment because it would only put on the register women of property, and if the Tory Party were to lose a million plural voters they might as well get their own back by putting on a million Tory women. (Laughter.) Those were examples of the reasons given for supporting Sir Edward Grey’s amendment, but he need not tell them that he hoped that amendment would be defeated. If he were in the House of Commons he would not be party man enough to try to embarrass the Government by passing an amendment which he did not mean to support in the end. (Hear, hear.)

He objected to woman suffrage because he believed in an educated democracy. (Cheers.) The intellectual qualities of men and women were absolutely incomparable. The intellectual equipment of men and women was absolutely different in character. But apart from that he did not want to see our electoral body increased enormously in number by the addition of a class which would lower the tone of the whole electoral body (Cheers.) Women were much less educated than men because the natural occupation of the woman in nine-tenths of our classes in society excluded her from the possibility of studying the affairs of the country. If she did she would spoil her home life, she would be a much poorer mother and a much less pleasant wife. (Cheers.) He agreed with those who said that the electoral body now was not a highly-educated body, and it was because he felt that keenly that he did not want to dilute it by a less educated body. Should Sir Edward Grey’s amendment be carried he advised then not be down hearted. For his own part he believed that it would be thrown out, and that thus one of the greatest dangers which had attacked our country for some time would be averted. (Cheers.)

Mrs. HUMPHREY WARD, speaking in support of the motion, said that this was no time for elaborate argument. Within a week they would be feeling either that the struggle was over for some years, or they would be pledged to a stronger and more energetic fight than ever. That League had put up a good fight sine it was started, and she was personally amazed at what they had been able to do. The Suffragist argument that women were trampled upon and oppressed and could do nothing without the vote, had crumbled away, and meanwhile the outrages of the extreme section had caused people to pause. Was it to this that they were committing English politics? Women as advisers, as auxiliaries, as disinterested volunteers in politics they cordially welcomed, but women fighting for the political control of men in men’s affairs, and men in fierce and direct opposition to women was a spectacle that “gave them furiously to think.” Next week would be critical and anxious enough: but they all knew that if any suffragist amendment was carried it would only be by a handful of votes, and their high hope was that no amendment would be passed. (Cheers.) If the suffragist cause received a set-back next week they, as anti-suffragists, would feel friends, in their deep disappointment, and yet they would rejoice. As to New Zealand and Finland. What did they matter to us? Let them show another England, with England’s vast powers and responsibilities, another State like England governed by women, and they would talk to them. (Cheers.)

The resolution was then carried with a few dissentients only, amid loud cheering.

The National Anthem closed the proceedings.



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