Dora B. Montefiore, New Age March 1904

Women’s Interests

Woman’s Suffrage in the House of Commons

Source: New Age, p. 155, 10 March 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Friends and readers who follow this column (and I know from the letters I receive that I am fortunate in having many in the former category), will have noted what I wrote last week about the necessity of our working through our members to secure a first place on one of the private member’s evenings for a woman suffrage debate. Since that was written the situation has changed, inasmuch as a first place for a woman suffrage resolution has been secured by Sir Charles M'Laren on Wednesday, 26th inst.; but the necessity for strenuous work lies as heavy as ever on earliest suffragists, inasmuch as the simple question of the Parliamentary Franchise for women seems to have been mixed up in the resolution with the question of the right of women to sit on county and borough councils. If this is the case it is evident to those who have followed, and have worked in the movement for the political enfranchisement of women, that disaster and defeat are likely to be the fate of the resolution. The right to vote for a legislative body, and the right to sit on an administrative body are two distinct issues, and each issue has its separate and distinct friends and opponents. The right to sit on administrative bodies is the right that has been specially withdrawn by this present Government, and we may infer therefore that in a debate on this question (as has occurred in recent years during two or three other debates on the same question) the weight of the Government would be against our claims. But on the question of granting the Parliamentary Franchise to women on the same terms as it is, or may be granted to men, some of the leaders of “the present Government” have pronounced themselves favourably, besides which we have many friends amongst the Opposition, and amongst Irish members pledged to vote for us.

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

And we women shall have to pay this price in full if we are ever to succeed in obtaining our political enfranchisement. Let me beg all who read this column to write short concise letters to Sir Charles M'Laren, congratulating him on the success of his efforts to obtain a first place for a woman suffrage debate, and begging him, in view of the extreme importance we attach to securing a debate on the question of our Parliamentary franchise, to concentrate on suffrage, and suffrage only, leaving for the present on one side the other issue. Remember that we have not had a woman’s suffrage debate since February 3, 1897. Remember we are being constantly urged to think imperially; and remember that it is very difficult to rise to that giddy height of thought, when, in one part of the Empire women may be called on to vote and act imperially, while in another part (generally looked upon as the centre of culture and of thought) they are ranked politically with convicts, imbeciles, and infants.

The Result of the County Council Elections.

London has once more pronounced in favour of Progress in municipal matters, and the 100,000 women municipal voters of London have once more disproved the hoary old misrepresentation that women are reactionaries, and given over to clerical influence. The heads of the Established Church – to their shame – attempted to narrow down the issue by throwing the weight of their influence into the Moderate camp, whose candidates pledged themselves to administer the new Education Act with special regard to clerical interests in the schools. This manoeuvre, according to accepted theories, should have gained over the woman’s vote, for is she not (we are told) led by her priest or her pastor, especially in a matter where the spiritual interests of her children are concerned? But the schoolmaster rather than the theologian seems to be abroad, even among women; and the last stronghold of priestly influence is being undermined by knowledge and common sense. In spite of the blandishments of the clerically-protected moderate Candidates, women have helped to swell the Progressive vote; and if the Progressives had had the courage on the Education question to adopt the policy of the trades union manifesto – secular education, popular control and free scholarship maintenance – they might in some instances have turned their defeat into a victory, and have been returned by a good majority of the workers, who believe that the ministers of the various religious sects, and not the teachers appointed by the educational authorities, are those who should teach theology to the children – but out of school hours.