Dora B. Montefiore, New Age December 1904
Source: New Age, p.762, 1 December 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
My country readers will, I know, be interested to hear a somewhat fuller report of the second annual Convention than is vouchsafed to the public in the pages of the daily Press. As will be remembered by some, the holding of the first Woman Suffrage Convention last year was due principally to the generosity of the late Mr. Thomasson, and to the initiative of Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy and Mr. Stead, the latter of whom lent his private office for the purpose of a preliminary meeting of some half-dozen of us specially interested in the subject, who laid our suggestions before representatives of the National Union of Suffrage Societies, with the result that the first Convention was successfully held, and plans laid for the campaign of the year just elapsed. The report of the special work carried on during that year was last Friday, November. 25, laid before subscribers and workers, whilst organisers and delegates from various provincial centres gave from the platform accounts of their work and of their extended spheres of organisation. Before commenting in detail on the printed and “viva voce” reports, let me note the encouraging fact that at no other woman suffrage meeting or Convention called together under the auspices of the National Union has there been such a Labour atmosphere in the air; and, further, that by far the most interesting, stirring, and vitally human reports were those, given by the North Country delegates representing the organised women workers of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and the Midlands. This is but natural when we remember that the working woman, living as she does closer to the realities of life than do her middle-class sisters feels the gaining of the franchise to be a matter of more vital importance to her than it can be to those women to whom it appeals more as an “extra” than as the lever to be used to increase the supply of necessary daily bread and butter.
As a result of the stimulus given to the Woman Suffrage question by the Convention of 1903, a special fund of £1,500 was raised, and subscriptions for three years were promised, on the understanding that the National Union should extend and intensify its area of work. The report deals consequently with the spending of this money (which is a fund quite outside the ordinary annual subscriptions to the society), and with the extended area of work and activity to which the society was pledged as a result of the plan of campaign formulated in 1903. This plan took the shape of forming in every borough, county, and Riding in the United Kingdom a Non-Party Women’s Suffrage Committee to “influence local party associations to choose candidates who are in favour of Women’s Suffrage,” and to obtain pledges from members and candidates, irrespective of party, to (a) Vote for Women’s Suffrage; (b) Work for Women’s Suffrage; (c) Introduce a Bill or resolution into the House of Commons on the subject. Such committees are also to keep in touch with party organisations and party agents, influence the local Press, hold Meetings, and endeavour to increase the subscribing membership of the society. As shown in the report, 73 of these committees have been formed, 19 of which are sufficiently vigorous to have already become branches or local societies; and “20 other committees have been partially formed.” This last paragraph surely requires some explanation. What is a “partially formed committee"? What are its functions, and how does it work? Is it possible that the borough in which I reside and in which Women Suffrage is, in spite of last year’s Convention, a dead letter, languishing under the stimulus of a “partially formed committee"? If so, it would surely be advisable, without further delay, to make these twenty partially formed committees into perfect wholes, for the date of the general election cannot be so very long delayed, and it seems quite within the bounds of possibility that it might come in this and in other parts of the United Kingdom and find us Women Suffragists napping ! As regards other work, two organisers —have been engaged, fresh literature in the shape of leaflets has been published, Parliamentary candidates have been approached and questioned, and a series of meetings has been held. Of the candidates, approached, 192 have promised support (it might have been helpful to have had their names); 22 are declared opponents (a black list might be useful), an 20 are still doubtful as to their attitude; so there is evidently still scope for coercive missionary work on the part of enterprising Women Suffragists – £600 has been spent on grants to various branches, £59 in printing, stationery, etc., £33 in travelling expenses, periodicals, and bank charges; £86 on typing, salaries, and office expenses, £137 on organising expenses, and £30 on postage, etc. Surely there never was a great and revolutionary movement carried on with such a very modest fund at its disposal !
In the small space at my disposal it is impossible to mention in detail the seven or eight reports that were given from the platform by delegates on Friday morning; there was no doubt, however, that the two of greatest interest were those of Miss Roper, of Manchester (telling of the successful work done among the textile and other operatives, and of the petitions which these women had presented in person to Parliament); and of Miss Isabella Ford, giving, amongst other matter humorous accounts of some of her personal experiences in out-door speaking, carried on under various conditions and in distracting surroundings. Women, altogether, in the industrial world seemed to have shown during the last year unusual activity in demanding equal political rights with men, 11,000 textile and other workers having petitioned Parliament, and 19,000 Co-operative Guild women having passed a resolution demanding the Suffrage, and deciding to make it a test question with candidates. In the afternoon Mrs. Elmy and others sketched out a plan of campaign for the coming Session, whilst Mr. Walter Maclaren from the chair defined very succinctly what are, and what are not, the functions of the Union of Suffrage Societies. Its supreme function, of course, is to obtain the franchise for women on the same basis as exercised by men, but it has nothing to do either with obtaining or obstructing any extension of such franchise to men. The present measure before Parliament exactly covers the ground of its work, and should therefore meet with the hearty support of all women who have real progress at heart, who realise that such a measure is a matter of policy, and when obtained will remove the existing sex barrier, and make it possible for women themselves to work towards a wider and broader basis of representation for both men and women. My account of the meeting on the 26th must stand over till next week.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.