Those who cry that Militancy has left it's mark on women, are right. People who would insist that such things shall leave a woman unmoved are not merely those who would deny her right to the ballot. They would deny her right to the feelings of a human being. A great deal of water will flow under WestminsterBridge before women forget what men were willing to see them suffer rather than see them voters.
'In Conclusion' from Way Stations, 1913 Part Two
These years of conflict – of severance from friends, of brutalities suffered in the streets and at public meetings, of torture undergone in prison – have for their immediate effect the strengthening of many a soul and the shattering of a good many bodies… sick and broken from the disgusting struggle with prison authority armed with hose-pipes and nasal tubes. Each individual woman who went through the horror of such an experience became a centre of enlightenment for all whom she might thereafter reach. Never again for her, or for her friends, any cobweb left of that old illusion as to the chivalry of the average official. This and this 'they did to me rather than admit my purpose honest'.
from Myself a Player
An Iron Curtain
It is impossible to realise now the scorn which women who thought that they should be recognised as citizens drew on themselves from otherwise quite polite and sensible people. Managers, authors, pressmen became quite passionate in their resentment and, wise in their generation, did not associate themselves with this unpopular movement. Once when I went to see [Sir Beerbohm] Tree I had in my hand a book called ‘The Soul of a Suffragette’ by W.L. Courtney. Tree picked it up and with a magnificent gesture of contempt flung it into the far corner of the room.
Despite the unpopularity of the cause, we had an Actresses’ Franchise League, and when the Women’s Suffrage Deputation was received in Downing Street, as the only woman then in management, I was asked to represent our society. The whole affair was irresistibly comic because it was so tragic. We were just a very ordinary little group of women, received by the flunkeys as if we had a strange odour and had been temporarily released from the Zoo. We were ushered into a room where rows of chairs faced a door at the end. As we sat patiently waiting a head was thrust round the edge of the door and stared contemptuously at us; then the door was shut, but presently the other door, by which we had entered, was opened and again this hostile person surveyed us – Mrs Asquith, the wife of the Prime Minister!
I had a place in the front row of the deputation and was not only able to hear all the speeches made by the different leaders of the movement but to watch the effect on the Ministers. The speech that Mrs Despard made seemed to move Mr Lloyd George the most, though all were listened to with attention and each was admirable. But Mr Asquith was not interested for he had made up his mind. His expression made me think of that iron curtain which descends in the theatre to ensure that the stage is completely shut off from the auditorium. When the speeches were ended, after a few polite phrases he said that so long as he was Prime Minister he would give no facilities for the discussion of the Bill. A clear voice from the back of the room called: ‘Then you must be moved.’ With his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat and a spreading movement of his chest and abdomen, his head well thrown back, he said firmly, I will not say defiantly, ‘Move me.’ And, like the gentle refrain of the Litany, the deputation replied, ‘We will.’
Margaret Wynne Nevinson
From The VoteSaturday June 3, 1911
A BEWILDERED PLAYWRIGHT
The other week the Pioneer Players produced a realistic scene, In the Workhouse, written for a propaganda purpose to show up the abominable law of coverture, the hard position of married women, and the advantage a clever woman can take of laws apparently made for the punishment of virtue and the maintenance of vice.
The play is unpleasant, I grant; but I deny that it is either an ‘obstetric’ or ‘medical’ drama, though most of the critics informed me I ought to have conveyed my meaning in a medical pamphlet. I know nothing of medicinebut I have written pamphlets and seen them fall to the bottom of the Dead sxea of printed matter. My counsellors are wrong for propaganda purposes. Never before have I had notices pouring in by dozens at a time from both daily and weekly papers from the London and Provincial Press, from religious, literary and sporting journals, from The Times, The Academy and The Christian Commonwealth, as well as The Referee and The Winning Post.
The criticisms are strange and bewildering; only about five per cent have at all understood the point of the play. Many take it as an indictment of workhouse management, and refer to the Minority Report; many – including a well-known evening paper – take it as an attack upon marriage; ‘it shows that there is at least one mind in the great movement – there are probably many – whose reflections are leading it to disturbing conclusions.’ The same journal takes offence because the women talk of ‘lethal chambers’ and ‘other such scientific things’. He is evidently not a workhouse visitor, or he would observe the march of mind and vocabulary after forty years of compulsory education, free libraries and free newspaper-rooms. Moreover, every child in Battersea or near the Cats’ Home has heard of ‘the Lethal’.
Many papers accuse me of immorality and defying the Censor, but this latter is not true, for In the Workhouse is officially licensed. The majority of the critics were shocked and outraged at the ‘outspokenness’ of the play and they blushed in the corridors in shame and confusion. So painful was the experience of the critic of The Referee that a recrudescence of blushes broke out again later in the week, and he was too shocked to even publish my name or ‘to degrade the seven clever and popular actresses who played in this disgusting drama by naming their names’.
Image In the Workhouse 002
Caption: Photo by Leslie McIntyre from the 1980 production of Nevinson’s In the Workhouse by Mrs Worthington’s Daughters
The Vote, 23rd Dec 1909
‘One night Miss Hatton was at the Dramatic Debates where she heard Miss Cicely Hamilton speak on the suffrage. She was immensely struck by her earnestness and the power she exercised over the small audience, which was composed largely of "indifferents". The next day she wrote to Miss Hamilton and said how much she enjoyed her speech. She received a prompt reply to which was expressed the desire to found a Women Writers Suffrage League, "If only someone would undertake the secretaryship." This wish was immediately fulfilled by Miss Hatton.’
Christopher St. John
From A Defence of the Fighting Spirit (1909)
GERTRUDE You aren’t all Joans of Arc!
DIANA No; but like her, the women of today who are inspired to take the sword cannot escape calumny. A few people know that the awakening of the fighting spirit in the modern woman is the best thing that has happened in this country for years. Oh, that the few would speak what they know! Then Englishmen might see that it is a little ludicrous to talk with respectful admiration of the awakening of their own women. No one champions us except in a patronizing way. Have you noticed that? How strange it is. For oppressed peasants, degraded by slavery, men have made noble speeches. The blood of heroes has been poured out for negroes. Women are oppressed, but their protests against oppression find no echo in the hearts of legislators—hearts which have bled for Bulgarian atrocities and Chinese slavery!
Madeleine Lucette Ryley
From AN INTERVIEW WITH “MRS. MADELEINE LUCETTE RYLEY”
in The Vote26th March, 1910
Recently, at the Women Writer’s Suffrage League her appeal for funds
was one of the features of the afternoon.
“Why do you think that women should have the Vote?” she was asked.
“Looking at it from the standpoint of commonsense, I think it necessary
for the progress of humanity—necessary as the mean to an end.
Women must be educated to their responsibilities, and as long as the
Vote is denied them they will remain uneducated. My point of view is
impersonal and altruistic. For my own part I can exist without a vote,”
she added, smiling.
“Perhaps women at the present time are mentally undeveloped, but to
argue from that that they need to be educated up to their responsibilities
before possessing them is nonsense! The Vote will help to educate them!
It is a mere matter of logic.”
“Why do you say it is a matter of logic?”
“When you want a puppy dog to learn to carry a stick, you don’t sit
down and theorise [sic]; you don’t say to him, ‘Not now; but later on,
when you have thought out the matter of carrying sticks, then you shall
have this to carry!’ Instead, you save all the labour by giving him the
stick, and his pride in the sense of possession teaches him to carry it.”
“You think that a sense of responsibility, then, will do all the teaching
necessary for the exercise of the Vote?”
“It will do much, and the educational service alone would be worth the
experiment, and would be sufficient reason, even if there were no grievances
to redress. As a sex, women are helpless for lack of authority, but
when they have the Vote they will grow accustomed to power and will
become less self-conscious.
(Full version published in New Women Dramatists in America, 1890-1920 by Sherry Engle. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)
‘When I was at school…l led in a house of suffrage workers, and at regular periods the task of organising Suffrage petitions kept everybody busy. Perhaps I din’t think very deeply about it, and my first ideas of suffrage duties were concerned with the interminable addressing of envelopes; but I certainly grew up quite firmly certain that no self-respecting woman could be other than a Suffragist.’
On selling newspapers in the street: ‘I love it. But I’m always getting moved on. You see, I generally sellthe paper outside the EustaceMilesRestaurant, and I offer verbally to every soul that passes. If they refuse, I say something to them. Most of them reply, others come up and we collect a little crowd until I’m told to let the people into the restaurant and move on. Then we begin all over again.
from an interview with Edith Craig in Votes for Women15th April 1910
My personal revolt was feminist rather than suffragist; what I rebelled at chiefly was the dependence implied in the idea of “destined” marriage, “destined” motherhood – the identification of success with marriage, of failure with spinsterhood, the artificial concentration of the hopes of girlhood on sexual attraction and maternity.
from Life Errant by Cicely Hamilton (1935)
‘At first, all I saw in the enfranchisement of women was a possible solution of much that subconsciously worried me from the time when, as a London child, I had seen ragged and barefoot children begging in the streets, while I with brothers and nurses went by on the way to play in Kensington Gardens. Later, there were agricultural labourers with their families, ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-educated, in the villages round my country home, and after that, the sweated workers.
I made spasmodic excursions into philanthropy, worked in girls' clubs and at children's play hours, joined the Anti-Sweating League, helped the Women's Industrial Council in one of its investigations. When the early sensational tactics of the militants focussed my attention upon the political futility of the voteless reformer, I joined the nearest suffrage society, which happened ironically to be the non-militant London Society.’
Unfinished Adventure by Evelyn Sharp(1933)
When militants and non-militants alike hastened to offer war service to the Government, no doubt many of them felt, if they thought about it at all, that this was the best way of helping their own cause. Certainly, by their four years' war work, they did prove the fallacy of the anti-suffragist' favourite argument, that women had no right to a voice in questions of peace and war because they took no part in it.
Personally, holding as I do the enfranchisement of women involved greater issues than could be involved in any war, even supposing that the objects of the Great War were those alleged, I cannot help regretting that any justification was given for the popular error which still sometimes ascribes the victory of the suffrage cause, in 1918, to women's war service. This assumption is true only in so far as gratitude to women offered an excuse to the anti-suffragists in the Cabinet and elsewhere to climb down with some dignity from a position that had become untenable before the war. I sometimes think that the art of politics consists in the provision of ladders to enable politicians to climb down from untenable positions.
Unfinished Adventure by Evelyn Sharp(1933)
It was not easy to come out into the fierce light that beat upon all who supported the ‘shrinking sisterhood’ – particularly in the first few months of the militant phase. But it was either that or giving up all active work in the movement altogether, for I knew I could neither ask nor encourage other women to face what I shrank from facing myself. Even speaking at an open air meeting was a terrible ordeal at first and I needed all the sympathetic encouragement my colleague Miss Irene Miller gave me.
The steadfast courage, the loyalty, the resourcefulness shown by that great army of women shattered many contemptuous ideas of their inferiority.
Extracts from Holmes’s unpublished biographical account, Museum of London
A visit to Mrs Chapin
The road to Holloway is too familiar to those interested in the cause to need describing; we carried our blue permit to the gate last Thursday, soon after three. …
At last a wardress – they call them officers –bade us follow her, and deposited us in a close little room where she left us. It was hot. Water pipes all over the place…. We sat down and waited so long that fears arose that the authorities were hastily abolishing the habeas Corpus Act for our benefit. A pleasant officeress came and spoke to us, but we let her go without warning her that our friends knew where we were, and then the first officeress …returned and escorted us through the big theatrical front door, up a broad flight of stairs, around a corner, into a neat little railway waiting-room sort of room, and there was our mother, looking cheerful but delicate and so picturesque in the rough green and white dress and white cape of the second division.
Harold and Elsie Chapin
in The Vote30th December 1909
The Organiser: an Impression
Probably not one of our keenest observers would, on a casual acquaintance with Mrs Kate Harvey, discerning a fraction of the capacity for organisation and business-like execution possessed by this unassuming woman. Even after many years personal knowledge of her and her generous support of our League, in so many ways, this splendid characteristic came as a revelation to me when I called at her residence in Bromley the other day.
The house itself has been in a state of siege against the tax collector for some months past, the windows bearing placards of the Tax Resistance League. Entrance, therefore, was not too easy, even for a comrade. The locked gates and the silence of the surrounding grounds gave an appearance of inertia, but what a contrast when once admission was gained! The whole house, which is a large one, seemed to have been converted into a warehouse and factory combined. Here was the great clearing house on which the success of our Fair depends. Goods of every description from all parts of the world were to be found, but not in confusion; just the reverse, everything was classified and in perfect order. Take, for example, one item. No less than 200 costumes have had to be made for the adornment of the helpers of all sorts. These dresses are characteristic of the twenty or thirty nations which will be represented by the stalls. It is evident that a great expenditure of time, thought, labour and money has been made by our Hon. Organiser on this branch alone of her great work. These 200 costumes are all designed and manufactured on the spot. I found them arranged in order, boxed, labelled with the name of the helpers who have promised to wear them, and standing in tiers around the dining-room. They will be delivered, carriage paid, to the ChelseaTown Hall, ready for immediate use.