The ladies are not for turn­ing

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

THIS comes from a news­pa­per re­port of a Lib­eral ad­dress­ing a crowd in South Shields dur­ing the 1868 Gen­eral Elec­tion cam­paign. The speaker noted that the women ‘had re­tired to the back­ground which in his opin­ion was very sen­si­ble… he was sure that 999 out of 1,000 ladies of this coun­try had more sense than to in­ter­fere in po­lit­i­cal mat­ters, which be­longed to their fathers, hus­bands and broth­ers’. Hear hear, shouted the crowd.

Next year will be the cen­te­nary of votes for women. In 1868, women were not al­lowed to go to univer­sity, they had no vote in gen­eral or lo­cal elec­tions and they couldn’t qual­ify as doc­tors. One woman, 22-year-old Philippa Fawcett, had to be placed ‘above the se­nior wran­gler’ in 1890 when she took the an­nual Cam­bridge Univer­sity math­e­mat­i­cal tri­pos exam. Women were al­lowed to sit the exam, but their names were read out sep­a­rately.

As Lady Phyl­lis Macrae fa­mously said: ‘Why should I not have the vote? My but­ler votes.’

It seems that the ac­tual vote was the last step in the suf­frag­ists’ bat­tle. Women qual­i­fied for Scot­tish school boards in 1873 and, 19 years later, Scot­tish uni­ver­si­ties fi­nally al­lowed women to study there. Suf­frage came more than two decades af­ter that.

How­ever, in 1918, fight­ing to the last, politi­cians re­stricted women’s votes only to those over 30, grad­u­ates, house­hold­ers or wives of house­hold­ers. That was only 8.4 mil­lion women. It took an­other decade be­fore all women over 21 qual­i­fied as elec­tors.

Ever since I was al­lowed to vote—i think the age was then 18—I have made it a prin­ci­ple al­ways to go to the vot­ing booth. Twice, I de­spoiled my bal­lot pa­per be­cause I couldn’t agree with any of the par­ties, but I still went to show I made the ef­fort.

I felt—and still feel—that women should be grate­ful for the ef­forts made by the mil­i­tant Em­me­line Pankhurst and Emily Dav­i­son, who was killed when she tried to stop Ge­orge V’s horse in the Derby of 1913 in protest. She had pre­vi­ously been force-fed in prison 49 times when on hunger strike. And, of course, Dame Mil­li­cant Fawcett, leader of the non-vi­o­lent suf­frag­ists. A statue of her will be placed out­side the Palace of West­min­ster, the first woman to be so hon­oured.

It’s said now that, al­though Pankhurst is by far the best known of the suf­fragettes, Fawcett’s ab­hor­rence of vi­o­lence was more ef­fec­tive in the long run and that is why she will be up there and not Mrs Pankhurst.

It also seems a shame that Mr Pankhurst is now thought of as an also-ran. He was a So­cial­ist, a repub­li­can and cam­paigned for Ir­ish home rule and to abol­ish the House of Lords and helped set up the In­de­pen­dent Labour Party. As a bar­ris­ter, he helped draft The Mar­ried Women’s Prop- erty Act of 1882. Be­fore that, ev­ery­thing a mar­ried woman had be­longed to her hus­band to the ex­tent that when Fawcett was robbed of her bus fare, the charge sheet read ‘the prop­erty of Henry Fawcett’.

I must de­clare an in­ter­est here. Dame Mil­li­cent was Hew’s great­great-aunt as was El­iz­abeth Gar­rett An­der­son, two re­mark­able sis­ters, who grew up with their bel­liger­ent fa­ther, New­son Gar­rett, in Suf­folk. El­iz­abeth be­came Alde­burgh’s first woman mayor. Philippa (above the se­nior wran­gler) was New­son’s grand­daugh­ter. I find it hard to imag­ine the home life of this fam­ily— two fem­i­nists who be­came fa­mous liv­ing with a fa­ther known for his sud­den rages.

All this will go through my mind as I set off to vote to­mor­row. I will not de­spoil my bal­lot pa­per, al­though vot­ing in the Red Repub­lic of Is­ling­ton is hardly dic­ing with un­cer­tainty. If it hadn’t been for the Pankhursts and Fawcetts, women would still be in the same po­si­tion as lu­natics and mem­bers of the House of Lords—vote­less.

‘Why should I not have the vote? My but­ler votes

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