E. Belfort Bax February 1911

A Symposium on Women’s Suffrage.

Source: New Age, 2 February 1911, p. 1;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

THE following questions have been put by THE NEW AGE to representative persons in science, ethics, art, politics, and economics: –

I . What in your opinion is the most powerful argument –

(a) For, or
(b) Against woman’s suffrage ?

2. Is there any reasonable prospect of obtaining woman’s suffrage in the present Parliament, and this immediately?

3. Have the militant methods in your opinion failed, or succeeded?

4. What alternative methods would you suggest?


You state in your letter of invitation that you are impelled to do so – “in order to ascertain whether there are means of preventing the promised repetition of the disgraceful scenes and their sequences, called forth by the belief that the suffrage should be extended to women.”

With your permission I will answer this before the questions. I will venture to submit that the means of preventing the “disgraceful scenes” you deplore are perfectly simple and at hand. They consist in the treatment of women who turn hooligans and break the law precisely in the same way men would be treated who acted similarly. Let the punishments dealt out to them be the same in duration and intensity as those meted out to the male hooligan in like circumstances. The incentive to continue in the same course which the cheap martyrdom afforded by farcical sentences provides would then be removed, and the “disgraceful scenes” referred to would speedily come to an end.

1. In my opinion there are two most powerful arguments against woman’s suffrage. Firstly, the liability of women to hysteria in one or other of the various forms of that abnormal mental condition, a condition which notoriously impairs or destroys the power of judgment. It has been shown that on the average, one woman out of every four or five exhibits symptoms of definite hysteria. If we include those whose temperament is affected by hysteria, but where the actual symptoms are latent, the proportion would of course be larger.

Secondly, apart from any question of incapacity for political judgment, and even assuming such relative incapacity not to exist, there remains the fact that woman occupies as such a privileged and exceptional position, not only socially, but before the law and its administration, based ostensibly upon her assumed weakness of will and intellectual power, a weakness which is urged in favour of leniency and exceptional treatment of women in criminal and even in civil proceedings at law, oftentimes by the very same persons who, when it is a question of according women the political rights of men, most strenuously deny the existence of any such relative weakness or inferiority in the female sex. So long, I contend, as women occupy this exceptionally privileged position, even apart from any other consideration, they have no just claim to equality with men in the matter of political rights.

2. I believe there is little danger, as things at present stand, of female suffrage becoming law in the lifetime of the present Parliament.

3. In my opinion the “militant methods,” as they are termed, of street hooliganism have failed, as casting ridicule on the movement, and furnishing a sorry sample of the quality of female intelligence, commonsense and judgment. How often do we hear the remark: “And these are the creatures it is proposed to entrust with the destinies of the nation"!

4. The alternative methods I would suggest to those who believe in, and are anxious to obtain, the franchise for women, are the methods adopted by men in every other case, in a community organised politically on democratic lines, and possessing in general the right of free speech, and a free Press, viz.: agitation by means of argument and persuasion rather than by knocking off policemen’s helmets, smacking their faces, and breaking post-office windows.

* * *

Others who participated in the symposium were as follows: –

Belloc, Hilaire: Bennett, Arnold: Caird, Mona.: Chapman, Hugh B., Rev., M.A.: Chesterton, Cecil: Chesterton, G.K.: Cockburn, John Hon. Sir: d'Auvergne, Edmund B.: Donisthorpe, Wordsworth: Ellis, Havelock, Dr.: Morgan, William de.: Elmy, Elizabeth C. Wolstenholme: Farr, Florence.: Fordham, Mary Hon.: George, W.L.: Gould, F.J.: Harraden, Beatrice.: Holiday, Henry.: Holland, Canon Scott Rev.: Housman, Laurence.: Hueffer, Ford Madox.: Hutchins, B.L.: Jerrold, Laurence.: Levy, Oscar, Dr.: Ludovici, A.M.: Lytton, Neville Hon.: Maartens, Maarten, Dr.: Mathew, Arnold Harris Right Rev., D.D..: McCabe, Joseph.: McCarthy, Justin.: McLaren, Charles Sir.: Moullin, C. Mansell M.D., F.R.C.S..: Nordau, Max, Dr.: Norman, C.H.: Oldfield, Josiah , Dr.: Phillpotts, Eden: Pugh, Edwin: Randall, Alfred E.: Reason, Will M.A..: Robertson, J.M. M.P. .: Ross, Robert.: Rutter, Frank.: Schloesser, Henry H.: Sharp, Clifford D.: Shaw, S.J.D.: Slater, Gilbert , Dr.: Spender, Harold.: Stanger, H.Y. B.A., K.C..: Stead, W.T.: Stopes, Charlotte C.: Street, G.S.: Suttner, Baroness Bertha von.: Swiney, Frances.: Upward, Allen: Wells, H.G.: Whiteing, Richard.: Young, Filson.: Zangwill, Israel.