Letters of Olive Shreiner

Letter on "Women's Suffrage," in connection with the than approaching "Union of South Africa," read at a Public Meeting in Cape Town

De Aar, May 29th, 1908.

I regret that I cannot be with you on the second.

The time is a very important one; because it is greatly to be desired, that (as in Australia) with the federation of the different South African States, should go the recognition of woman's citizenship, and her duty towards the nation.

The male members of our society, who have, in the past, alone, been intrusted with the duty of shaping laws and public institutions, have in South Africa often shown a sanity and breadth of insight not always shown by those of other societies.

In the non-sexual cases of our University Regulations we have the noblest example of this. This institution recognises that the benefits of the highest intellectual culture are unwisely denied on the score of sex as of race; and that social health demands that these should depend entirely on the desire and ability of the individual citizen to make use of them.

In the splendid use which many of our younger women are now making of those advantages, we have as a society the reward of the breadth and foresight shown by certain of our men in the past; and we have no need to fear that in the future South African men will be found falling behind those of other nations in the path of progressive and enlightened social development.

I have never regarded the desire (now as widespread as civilisation itself) that woman should take her share in the duties and labours of the national life, as in any sense a movement of the sexes against each other; but, rather, as a great integrative movement of the sexes towards each other.

How deeply this movement is the expression of a great social need, felt equally by man and woman, is shown in our country by that large body of its most intelligent and advanced men, who not only stand shoulder to shoulder with woman in her struggle for this reform, but who have indeed often been leaders.

There have been within the last weeks councils held by certain of our men, seeking to forward what they hope will ultimately be a federation of our different States.

We here to-day are met in an endeavour to forward an even deeper and wider meaning of reform–the Federation of the Sexes.

I believe they will ultimately succeed–I know we shall.