Dora B. Montefiore, New Age March 1904

Women’s Interests

Woman Suffrage Resolution in Parliament

Source: New Age, p. 186, 24 March 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The wisdom of Sir Chares McLaren in framing, as he did, the resolution he submitted to the House of Commons on March 16, on the subject of woman suffrage, was evidenced by the substantial majority who voted in favour. In spite of ceaseless work and agitation, in spite of pressure brought to bear on members Session after Session to induce them to ballot until a first place should be secured for a resolution or a Bill on the subject, in spite of the fact that organised women industrial workers are combining to pay for and send to Parliament a member representing their special interests, and pledged to work in the House for the enfranchisement of women, we had never, during the life the present Parliament, succeeded till this year in securing a safe place in the course of business where our claims could freely discussed, and a division taken, which would give is some tangible knowledge of the feeling amongst members at Westminster. The reason that necessitates gaining first place in the ballot is that our enemies, few in number, but virulent and unscrupulous in attack, always contrive, if a secondary place is obtained, to drag out the debate on the previous measure so as effectually to prevent any discussion on the question of woman suffrage; and in this way our claims have been put off year after year. Mr. Labouchere, the leader of these unworthy tactics, confessed with apparent satisfaction last Wednesday that he had been making a special study of a small Bill for supplying Barnet with water: not that he was interested with the water supply of Barnet, but because he hoped by taking the side of the minority to be able to drag out the discussion and prevent the woman suffrage debate from taking place. These tactics, he reminded the House, with a chuckle, had been eminently successful on former occasions, when the Verminous Persons Bill and other insignificant measures had been used as he had this year proposed using the Barnet Water Supply Bill. Mr. Labouchere seems proud of his manoeuvres. I hardly, know whether to condole with him most on the paucity of imagination which inspires them, or on their signal failure in 1904.

The Bill that blocked the way.

Having secured our first place on one of the few evenings devoted to measures introduced by private members, the next step was to approach Sir Charles Dilke and request him to withdraw his “Franchise and Removal of Women’s Disabilities Bill,” which had only secured fourth place on the 25th inst., and which, therefore, for reasons I have already stated, stood no chance of being introduced this Session. According to the rules of the House, no resolution can be introduced on a specific subject as long as a Bill on the same subject is before the House, and Sir Charles Dilke, when the position was laid before him, courteously withdrew his measure, and left the coast clear for Sir Charles McLaren’s resolution, which, after the usual debate, was carried by a majority of 182 against 68 in opposition. I may add that Sir Charles Dilke’s Bill, interesting though it was academically, as standing for adult suffrage, yet, as it was complicated with Registration and University Representation clauses and demanded that “no person should be disqualified by sex or marriage from being elected a Member of Parliament,” it was not likely to have passed its second reading, and rather injures our cause than otherwise by demanding what in England is outside the range of practical politics.

Political programmes and woman suffrage.

In view of the multiplicity and complexity of work which is necessary in order to bring before the notice of Parliament even the simplest measure, backed by private members, and unsupported by the authority of the existing Government, it is well to remind the framers of advanced political programmes that it is of very little use inscribing adult suffrage on those programmes as one of their objects, if the leaders of the party do no active Parliamentary work towards attaining that object. Adult suffrage may be inscribed on programmes till the crack of doom, and may be affirmed and re-affirmed by those who do nothing but shout, or who like some others seem to think that “patience,” and vague desiring will bring it to pass. The first step towards its realisation will be the breaking down of the sex barrier by granting the suffrage to women on the same terms as it is exercised now, or may be exercised in the future by men. The shouters for adult suffrage (which is our ideal just as much as it is theirs) tell us that such a measure would be undemocratic, as the present franchise is based on a householder qualification, and does not exclude lodgers. This objection never seems to have- been raised by advanced democrats when accepting the household franchise from the hands of the Tories in 1867; and we women suffragists cannot recall cases of high-minded Socialists or Radicals refusing with uncompromising gesture to exercise the anti-democratic rights conferred on them by the late. Mr. Disraeli – afterwards Lord Beaconsfield. Yet women, forsooth, are supposed to be so idealistic (or is it so unpractical?) as to be willing to refuse half a loaf instalment towards getting the whole loaf later on! In fact, they are expected even to work until men have secured all the rest of their loaf, before women can begin even to nibble at crust! Many women, Susan B. Anthony amongst them, gave the best years of their young life and work in the cause of the emancipation of the negro; and it is the negro vote which year after year blocks the way for the political emancipation of the American woman. “Self-love,” says Shakespeare, “is not so vile as self-neglecting”; and women are beginning to wake up to the fact that self-neglecting at a certain point may cease to be admirable, and become contemptible.