At the launch of the new Cambridge women’s branch of the Young Liberals’ League – who elected Eglantyne Jebb as their first president.
Hero: Eglantyne Jebb – founder of Save the Children, who was a very prominent local political activist between 1908-1913 in Cambridge.
Transcript of ‘Active Lady Liberals’ – an article in the Cambridge Independent Press of Fri 01 July 1910 (£) from the British Newspaper Archive, which hasn’t been scanned well at all/is very very blurred.
Miss Eglantyne Jebb delivered her presidential address to the newly-formed Women’s Branch of the League of Young Liberals at a meeting held at the Central Liberal Club on Wednesday Evening. The chair was taken by Miss Perrett, who was supported by Miss Reid, Miss Mitchell, Miss G Stockbridge, and Miss Cooper (joint hon secretaries), Mr David Sturton and others.
Miss Perrett, who introduced Miss Jebb said the only justification for the existence of the League lay in its title. They were “Young Liberals” and as young people they had got to bring to the work they had to do, all the enthusiasm, the working power and the inspiration of the young people of their country. (Applause).
At the first meeting of the National League in 1908, one of the plans laid down was the stimulating of the study of questions of national importance, historical, social and industrial. The second was political work and the stimulating of progressive principles among their young people. They knew that knowledge was power and that without knowledge, all work was likely to be misdirected. Therefore, all the members of the League must be students, for in time in which they lived there was a great deal of work for them to do. They lived in an age where the proprietary powers had everything their own way, and when there were thousands of men as good as they whose lives were absolutely degraded, and who were little better than animals. They lived also in a time when a re-adjustment of the legislative powers was called for. All proper legislation had to be modified to suit the times, and the time had come when ours would have to be further modified. (Applause).
Miss Jebb’s Address
Miss Jebb, who was given a cordial reception, said that those who had joined the newly-formed branch of the League had given their services to their country at a time when she desperately needed them, the services of every one of her children. Continuing, she said they had heard of before the last election of the gloomy things which would happen if the Liberals were again returned to power.
She was going to paint a gloomy picture of what she believed would happen if the Conservatives were again returned to power. Two things would certainly happen, one a small measure of Tariff Reform, and the other the so-called reform of the House of Lords. They knew that once the foundation of a tariff wall was laid, it would grow higher and higher, and that by putting on more taxes in an endeavour to obtain a stimulus for a certain trade they must inevitably raise the cost of living for the poor.
Perhaps the greatest problem in Cambridge at the present time was the problem of casual labour. If these casual labourers constituted a great problem now, they would constitute a still greater problem under a system of Tariff Reform. And not only should we in this country be impoverished by the cost of our living raised, but also very seriously by the decline of our industries, and even a small measure of Tariff Reform would be the greatest setback to social reform that had occurred in the experience of this generation.
But perhaps even the increasing of our poverty would not be a greater evil than the corruption of our politics. We could see it already in England. The strange part of it was that the corruption had begun at the mere prospect of Tariff Reform. The possibility of obtaining protection for their particular industry had loosened the purse strings of employers who expected to gain at the expense of the workers. Our political life would become full of intrigues, the position of the House of Lords would become more unassailable than ever, and the cause of people would be a hopeless cause for an indefinite period.
Alas, there was among Liberals a widely-spread fear that if the Conservatives were returned again the war with Germany might possibly become a fact, because they could not go on talking about a war with a particular country without giving rise to all sorts of circumstances which were likely to lead to a war. (Hear, hear). The cause they had pledged themselves to was the cause of peace & social reform (cheers) – against impoverishment and political chaos. They must stick to the old watchwords, “Liberty, equality, fraternity,” for they seemed to her to sum up the ideals of democracy.
The Conservatives wished to preserve our present social system in its essential features, in which society was so constructed that one class were in a predominant position. They thought the future of the country depended on preserving the rich and leisured classes and that the aristocracy should have control of the destinies of the nation. The House of Lords rejected the Plural Voting Bill because they said “It was fraught with considerable advantages to the country!” (Laughter.) It was not perversity that made them act in this way. They really thought that the rich should be the predominant class in politics.
Then again, they seemed to think that their religious creed was the only right creed for the people of the nation. How could they account for the rejection of all the various Bills dealing with religious matters except as an attempt to keep the Church of England in a privileged position? Then, as to social reform, they (the Conservatives) claimed to have been the originators and its chief promotors. The quarrel of the Liberals was not with the rich as such, but rather with the complex side of their principles. They did not believe that the salvation of the nation depended upon the affluence of a particular class. The equality they were striving for should be a moral and spiritual equality, and she used the words “liberty and fraternity” in their best sense.
The only way to help the people, said the speaker proceeding, was to teach them to help themselves, and first they must strike off their fetters and give them political liberty. Until the working classes had a real interest in the government of the country they could not expect a solution of the social problems with which they were faced. In concluding, Miss Jebb alluded to the untiring work which had been done for the League in Cambridge, and for Liberalism by Mr David Sturton. They were very grateful to him. (Cheers).
At the close a hearty vote of thanks was accorded Miss Jebb on the proposition of MIss Stockbridge, seconded by Miss Blackall.
I’ve not yet found records of another Miss Perrett at the time other than the woman who went onto become Dame Leah Manning MP. The then Leah Perrett was a student at Homerton College, Cambridge. She was also one of the social activists – and later a very early chair of the Cambridge Labour Party, who was supported by Florence Ada Keynes while the former was teaching at the New Street School in Cambridge. This was in one of the most economically and socially deprived areas of Cambridge. The death of one of her pupils during one of her classes through starvation clearly affected Leah for the rest of her life.
Hero: Dame Leah Manning in her later years – from her autobiography 30 years in Education
On Tariff Reform, there’s an interesting fairly detailed history of the long-running debate that dominated the 19th Century from the Economic History Society . All the more interesting now as we hear politicians throwing around terms like ‘Single Market’, ‘Customs Union’ and ‘Free Trade’ like confetti with the toxic debate around Brexit.
Other things to note:
- The House of Lords had far more political power than it currently has today.
- This was around the time Chancellor David Lloyd George was trying to drive through his financial reforms that would be the foundations of the welfare state.
- Unmarried women could stand for election to local councils, but it wouldn’t be until 1914 that the ban on married women standing for election was removed – enabling Florence Ada Keynes to become a councillor that year
- Women did not have the vote at the time Eglantyne made her speech.