|The Rushden Echo, 26th August 1910, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Women’s Suffrage Argued at Rushden
Interesting Meeting On The Green
Equal Rights For The Two Sexes
When A Woman Is Not “A Person”
Two members of the Women’s Freedom League Miss Roff, of Eastbourne, Surrey, and Miss Marguerite Sidley addressed a large and very orderly meeting on the Green on Friday evening last, in advocacy of votes for women. Many prominent Liberals, Conservatives, and Socialists were present, and the able speeches of the two advocates were listened to with marked interest.
Miss Roff, in opening the meeting, said that she and her friend Miss Sidley started from London in a caravan, which was now at Higham Ferrers. They had worked through Bedfordshire, and on Saturday they would go to Wellingborough. We believe proceeded Miss Roff that as soon as this subject of women’s suffrage is well known we shall be able to break down a good deal of the prejudice which now exists. Prejudice is our greatest enemy. As soon as we can make our demand known and we believe we have a just demand we shall have an easier task before us in bringing this question to an issue. We are members of the Women’s Freedom League, one of the militant societies now propagating the claims of women’s suffrage. We are proud to have as our president Mrs. Despard, sister of General French. We demand the vote on the same terms as the men possess it at the present time. We are asking for
Equality Between The Sexes
We ask that if a woman fulfils the same qualifications as a man she shall be allowed the privilege of going to the poll. We ask for no more than the men possess to-day, and we ask for no less. We are hoping by this campaign to so arouse public opinion that the Women’s Vote Bill shall go further directly Parliament meets again. The Bill has passed the second reading by a large majority, and we think it should go further. We are asking that whatever qualifies a man to vote should also qualify a woman, and we are demanding that the sex bar shall be removed. If a man is a tax-payer he is allowed to vote. There are many women who pay taxes, just the same as a man, and their money is just as useful to the State as a man’s money is. We are unable to find any logical reason why women should be debarred from the franchise. They have competed with men in the educational world and have come out quite equal with men, and in some cases they have beaten the men at the
They have entered the medical and several other professions and have proved themselves as well qualified to use their brains as the men, and, when women have shown themselves so capable in other directions, we say there should be no obstacle to them having the vote. People ask us “Why do women want the vote?” Let any man ask himself why he wants the vote, and he will say it is to protect his interests and to obtain satisfactory conditions of life. And women want the vote for the same reason. There are a million or more women in this country who have no chance of a husband to protect them, and there are large numbers of women who have to fight their way in the world. They need the power of legislation behind them in order to make their conditions of life satisfactory. You men have taught us how valuable is this power of the vote. One of the greatest reasons of the South African war was that the men demanded equal rights for all whites, and England saw no reason why it should not spend millions of money and sacrifice thousands of lives in order to get the vote for the Outlanders in South Africa. A man at Ampthill told me we should
Lose The Respect
of all men if we went on demanding the vote. We don’t care for the sort of respect which men have sometimes paid to women! When Florence Nightingale 50 years ago went out to the Crimea to do her great work, the people spoke of her as “a most unwomanly woman,” but now the papers, reporting her death, speak of “The King’s tribute,” “The Queen’s sorrow,” and the people say that Florence Nightingale was an angel. Look what a grand thing Joan of Arc did for her country, and yet in her day the people called her “unwomanly” and cast the vilest accusations against her. Now, however, we see that the Roman Catholic Church recently canonised her and made her a saint.
Miss Sidley, in the course of an earnest speech, said : We are making this demand because we realise that it is impossible for one sex to legislate wisely and fairly for the other sex. Men do not understand quite how it is that women regard the great questions of national importance. You boast that woman is “an unsolvable riddle.” (A masculine voice: Hear, hear!) If that is your opinion, and if you do not know how one particular woman looks at questions, how do you expect to understand the point of view of the great masses of women in the country? If you acknowledge that we are
“An Unsolvable Riddle”
then you must acknowledge that, in order that our point of view may be expressed, it is necessary to give us the power of expressing our opinions in the only way which politicians can understand the ballot box. Women, like men, are human beings, and have the desire for self-preservation. When only the rich men had votes, they looked after their own interests and forgot the interests of the middle classes and the working classes. When the middle classes were enfranchised they forgot the interests of the working men. Then the working man came along, and said “You have not been able to protect me, and now I must get this power for myself.” Now it is the turn of the women, and they say “You men have shown that you are not able to look after our interests, and we must do it ourselves.” Men, with the very best intentions in the world, have not been able to look after their women-kind. For instance, according to the law, a woman is not the legal parent of her own children. A Manchester married woman appeared before the Magistrate and asked for a vaccination exemption certificate for her child. The Magistrate said, “My dear woman,
You Are Not A Person
in the eyes of the law. It is your husband who must appear.” When the husband came he was asked if he had a conscientious objection to vaccination, and he replied that he had not but that his wife had. “Then,” said the Magistrate, “the child must be vaccinated.” The sequel is interesting. The mother, realising that she was not “a person” in the eyes of the law, went across a field as a nearer cut home. The farmer strongly objected, but the woman replied “But I can’t be guilty of trespass, for the Magistrate says I’m not ‘a person’ in the eyes of the law. Therefore, I’m going across your field.” The farmer went to the Magistrate and complained that the woman would persist in going across his field. It happened that it was the very same Magistrate she had seen before, and she said to him, “The last time I came you said I was not ‘a person’ so how can you stop me going across this field?”
“My good woman,” replied the Justice, “that was quite another matter.” (Laughter) Now, it is exactly that which is our bone of contention. The law treats us at one moment as if we were children
for our actions. The next moment it treats us as if we were fully responsible persons. If we have to suffer a penalty for breaking the law we are responsible persons; when we are claiming our natural privileges the law says “You are not a person.” We say they must treat us either as persons all the time or not as persons all the time. Masculine legislation has not always been fair to women. For instance, if a child be born in wedlock, and there is honour, the law says the father is the parent; but when a child is born out of wedlock, and there is disgrace, then there is only one parent and that is the woman.
Having shown how the law of intestacy treated women more harshly than men, Miss Sidley proceeded : The injustice comes in mostly in industrial questions. Men have found it impossible to do justice to women. The average wage of the five or six millions of woman workers is 7/6 a week, while the average wage of working men is 15/8 a week. Even here in Rushden a woman could not live on 7/6 a week, and how could you expect her to do it in a large town where she could not get a room for less than 3/0 or 4/0 a week, and could not share a room at less than 2/6 a week? There are thousands of women who are earning
Less Than 7/6 a Week
If women had the vote we should have more equality between the sexes in the matter of wages. For the same class of work, women are receiving far lower wages than men. In the Government factory for making soldiers’ clothing the highest wages for women for skilled work is 15/0 a week, whilst the lowest that men receive for unskilled work is 23/0 a week. And when a Member of Parliament called attention to the fact that there were men in the Government clothing factories who were earning only 23/0 a week, and urged the wages should be raised, he said nothing about the women. When reminded of it, the reply was that the women had not got votes. This vote, which man wants for himself, has protected men very much. Since men have had the vote their wages have increased 40 or 50 per cent., but the wages of women have not increased. Before men had the vote they were sweated, but now, where ten men are sweated, 90 women are sweated. If the men could use their vote in overthrowing the sweating system, so could the women. Men say, “Well, you should combine.” But what is the good of combining when there is no power behind it? When some girls in a drapery shop at Southampton complained of their
and demanded a rise, the manager replied “You’ve got your evenings!” The very fact that there is such an evil more than justifies our agitation. We are here to say that woman should not be driven to dishonest or immoral means of earning a livelihood. We must force employers to recognise their duty to those whom they employ, and you cannot do that unless you have the power of the vote behind you to get something like a Minimum Wages Bill through Parliament. Since women had the vote in New Zealand the conditions of employment for women have improved considerably. We want peace to prevail, and we hope all the militant action on the part of advocates for the votes for women is over, but if Mr. Asquith refuses to allow the will of the majority to prevail in the House of Commons we shall have to take up the sword again.
Questions were then invited, and several were asked and answered.
“Are you in favour of all women having the vote? Asked one.
Miss Sidley : We are not asking for that, though some of us would like it. At present we are simply asking for the removal of the sex disability.