Dora B. Montefiore 1912

Womanhood Suffrage

Source: Justice, November 9, 1912, p. 2;
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.

[The following is a sharp defence by Montefiore of the B.S.P. and its attitude to women.—Transcriber’s Note]

At the Women’s Conference held on November 2 at Chandos Hall, for the purpose of inaugurating the activities of the women of the B.S.P, Mrs. Edith Watson was entrusted with the moving of the Adult Suffrage resolution, urging the women of the B.S.P. to work continually for Adult Suffrage. It was ably seconded, and I then, as late Secretary of the Adult Suffrage Society, ventured to support it, giving as my reason that never more than at the present time did we need a straight and sincere lead on the part of Socialist women on this subject; because an insincere use was being made of the principle at the present moments by societies which, if they could get votes for propertied women, would light bonfires from one end of England to the other, and say they had won the enfranchisement of women. I pointed out at the same time what was going on with regard to the Irish women. Mr. Snowden, who is bound as a member of the Labour Party to support nothing short of Adult Suffrage, was, under the auspices of the National Union of Suffrage Societies (who have never asked for anything more than a property qualification), bringing in an amendment to the franchise clause of the Home Rule Bill to grant votes to Irishwomen on the municipal register only. Mrs. Watson stated in her summing up, before the resolution was put that she regretted the tone in which the resolution was seconded and supported; but I congratulate myself that the women comrades present saw my point, and applauded my remarks.

As I do not desire Mrs. Watson’s resolution to be a sterile one, I wish to suggest through the columns of “Justice” that the women of the B.S.P. form, with any other women who stand for the principle of democracy, a Womanhood Suffrage League, such as I helped to start in Sydney over twenty years ago. I have lately been spending a year in New South Wales, going over the ground where the old fights were fought, and I felt then more than ever glad that we had based our demand on Womanhood Suffrage, instead of allowing ourselves to be side-tracked by any “Widow, Spinster, or Property” qualification. Manhood Suffrage, if the Liberals stay in power, is practically assured. What we Socialist women should now organise to fight for is Womanhood Suffrage; and we should make it very clear that if anything else is offered to, or accepted by, the other suffrage societies, we can, and will, be just as militant against the Government as they have been. I have been speaking lately through South Africa on Socialism and the suffrage for women, and have caused much interest by quoting in my speeches a remark of Olive Schreiner’s to the effect that: “The women of no race or class will ever rise in revolt, or attempt to bring about a revolutionary readjustment of their relation to their society, however intense their suffering, and however clear their perception of it, while the welfare and persistence of their society requires their submission. And that it may, therefore, be taken as axiomatic that, whereever there is a general attempt on the part of women of any society to adjust their position to it, a close analysis will always show that the changed or changing, conditions of that society have made women’s acquiescence no longer necessary or desirable.” These words seem to me to link up the present revolt of women with the general revolt of the workers all over the world against the capitalist form of society, which revolt is even now changing the conditions of society, and will, in a few years’ time, completely revolutionise them. In a party which gives so much prominence to political action, women should be helped in every way to joint responsibility in that political action and I hope, therefore, that all the men of the B.S.P. will join the Womanhood Suffrage League, when it is formed, will speak for it on every occasion, and will give it financial aid.