Harry Quelch 1906

“Votes for Women”


Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. X No. 12 December, 1906, pp. 713-716;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


“Votes for Women” is a cry which must necessarily meet with a response from every Social-Democrat, seeing that Social-Democracy presupposes universal political and social equality. Equality between the sexes, too, is inscribed among the “Objects” of the S.D.F., and Universal Adult Suffrage is one of the items in its programme of immediate reforms. In these circumstances, it is sometimes asked why the S.D.F., as a body, does not throw itself into the present “Suffragette” agitation; why, on the contrary, it is generally hostile to that movement? The answer is plain: The S.D.F. stands for votes for women – all women – as well as men. The object of the “Suffragettes” is the extension of the franchise to women on “the same terms as it is now enjoyed by men” – that is, on the basis of a property qualification, which enables men, as property-owners, as householders, and as lodgers paying a given rental, to vote. On the face of it, this seems reasonable enough. It is a very plausible demand, indeed, that women, if we cannot at once have universal suffrage, should have, at least, the same franchise as men. Unfortunately, however, the extension of the franchise to women on this basis would not enfranchise women to the same extent as men. In the first place no married woman could have the vote – whether the husband was householder or lodger, or upon whatever qualification he possessed the franchise, his wife would be excluded. Where is the equality there? And yet it is in the name of sex equality that the Suffragettes are carrying on their campaign.

Then, further, and most important, the great body of working women would be excluded. All working women, no matter what their earnings, who were married could not have a vote under this so-called “Women’s Enfranchisement Bill,” nor would any unmarried women who were living at home with their parents, or who were living in lodgings of a less rental than 10 per annum, unfurnished.

We are sometimes told that the majority of those who would get the vote under this Bill would be working women. That may be the case; in certain districts, undoubtedly, it would be so; in others it would, obviously, be only propertied women who would be enfranchised. The point, however, is that the Bill would specifically exclude the vast majority of working women, and, in the name of the political equality of the sexes, definitely shut out from the franchise the great majority of women of the same class as the men who now form the majority of the electorate. In other words, while professedly extending the franchise to women on the same basis as men now exercise it, it would do nothing of the kind.

That is the chief objection which I, as a Social-Democrat, have to this so-called “Votes for Women” agitation, because it is not an agitation for “Votes for Women” at all, but merely for votes for some women, and those the women who have least need of the vote. There are, however, other objections, among them being the dishonesty of the methods employed and the claims advanced, as well as of the object in view. We see, for instance, the hoardings decorated with a huge poster declaring that certain women have been sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for asking the right to vote; and on which men are appealed to as to how long they will “tolerate women being sent to prison for demanding political liberty.” Now those statements are absolutely untrue. No women have been sent to prison for asking for the right to vote or demanding political liberty. They went to prison because they refused to be bound over not to repeat disorderly conduct – conduct which would have been equally disorderly and would have met with precisely the same treatment had their object been the abolition of the franchise instead of its extension to themselves. They, of course, must be the judges of what will best serve the object they have in view, and if they think that object is most likely to be achieved by disorderly conduct and extravagant statement, that is their business. Whether such conduct, supplemented by hyperbole, exaggeration and untruth, affords any additional justification of their claim to the franchise, or whether it will not rather create some doubts in the minds of the impartial, is, however, another matter.

Here again, is another instance of the same dishonesty: Miss Billington, writing in the “Labour Record,” says:-

“Men demanded votes in order to guard their industrial position from the attack of other sections of the community. Women workers, sweated, overworked, and underpaid, as they are to-day, need the political protection of votes for their own sake, for the men-workers’ sake, and for the sake of the moral and physical well-being of the race. They demand votes, therefore, to protect themselves and their industry.”

Just as if the bourgeois women, who for years have been agitating for the vote, and whose agitation Miss Billington and her friends have now taken up, were for making common cause with “women workers, sweated, overworked, and underpaid.” The women of the master-class are just as much the enemies of the sweated, overworked, and underpaid women of our class, as the men of the bourgeoisie are the enemies of the men of our class. The interests of the women of the master-class are on the side of their class, just as the interests of working-class women are on the side of their class. We, as Social-Democrats, are concerned in maintaining and perfecting the solidarity of the working-class. The suffragette agitation is wholly mischievous in its attempt to create a division in that solidarity, by endeavouring to establish in its stead a sex solidarity, and to set up an analogy between women as a sex and the proletariat as a class. They may be assured that, if they persevere in this, it will be found necessary to raise the whole question of sex-relation and sex privilege, and not merely that of the extension of the franchise to women.