Dora Montefiore

Adult Suffrage

To the Editor of “The New Age”

Source: New Age, March 25, 1909, p. 448-449 (673 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

As the only Socialist individual in a large and strongly entrenched Tory family, I heartily sympathise with the domestic woes of “Adult Suffrage.” I can match in my own experience the eleven uncles and aunts and forty and fifty cousins, who all gorge themselves on the “Times,” the “Daily Telegraph,” the “Spectator,” and the “Express.” I know, only too intimately, that aunt who gives coals and blankets to her almshouse people, and leads “the truly Christian life.” I have an acquaintance in my club, who herself told me, that when engaging gardeners, stewards, bailiffs, etc., for her estate, she made it a condition that they should not, if eligible to vote, exercise the political franchise as long as they were in her service; because, as she added, “As long as I am denied the vote, none of my servants shall make use of theirs.” I have crowds of relations who are shareholders in Harrod’s Stores; and at a luncheon party the other day I drew down on myself the wrath of one of these lady shareholders when I protested against one of the features involved in the celebration of the recent jubilee of that very profitable undertaking. This lady was enlarging on the magnanimity of the firm, which presented every one of the employees with a week’s wages as a free gift. I remarked that I had heard a rumour that all the men employees, when they signed the form acknowledging receipt of the extra week’s wages, were given a recruiting form for the Territorials. The lady was taken aback for the moment, but quickly recovered her aplomb, and retorted: “And a very right and proper thing, too! How are we to defend our Empire unless our young men will show a little patriotism?” I found it useless to attempt an infusion of non-coercion into her class-clogged circulation. I happen to know how her own economically independent sons pass their leisure in golf, shooting, hunting, and fishing in Norway; but to her, the few hours of leisure of Harrod’s employees were naturally to be spent in defending the country, in which they did not possess a square yard of landed property, or a vote in shaping the laws that govern the Empire. Do not let us forget that at Mrs. Fawcett, the general who is directing the tactics both of the forward lines of suffragettes, and the reserve forces of suffragists, is the woman who drew up an official report on the Concentration Camps during the Boer war; a report which libelled most cruelly the Boer mothers, and the Boer women in general, in order to save the face of English Imperialism. Let Socialists everywhere take a sane and straight line on this question; women have hitherto had immense indirect power and no responsibility; possession of the vote will give them both direct power and responsibility, and their mental environment will, in consequence, be of a more wholesome nature. But no mere possession of the vote will make for the social revolution. To obtain that the men and women voters must be free in spirit, and desire freedom not only for themselves, but for others, irrespective of race, colour, or creed. I strongly suspect that the majority of my relations, as well as those possessed by “Adult Suffrage,” have not yet learned the A B C of this lesson in true liberty. We have, therefore, as Socialists, plenty of useful educational work before us.

Hon. Sec. Adult Suffrage Society.

[It is, surely, a question of expediency. Women’s Franchise introduces only one new principle; while Adult Suffrage introduces two at once. While opposing the first on the grounds that it is not the second, both are very likely to be lost. The last part of Mrs. Montefiore’s letter is an appeal to persons not to go into the water until they can swim.—Ed. N.A.]