Despite the institution that is the political party dragging its heels over the 19th Century on votes for women, there were more than a few people within the party across the country that rebelled against the policy.
This meeting at the Guildhall’s small hall (which still survives today) was reported in the Cambridge Independent Press on 17 July 1914 – scanned by the British Newspaper Archive. The significant finding with this article is we are told what the two policy options from each of the political parties were. In the case of the Liberals, full male suffrage was on the table but any votes for women were not. In the case of the Conservatives, equalising the limited franchise that some men had to that of women – i.e. those who were rate payers/property owners. This reflects the class divide on the side of the Conservatives – worried about the impact of enfranchising the working poor. Note on 30 May 1914 the Conservative Association for Women’s Suffrage in Cambridge passed a motion condemning Mrs Pankhurst’s Suffragettes.
Why the Liberal Party establishment was unwilling to change its policy on votes for women is still something I’m trying to get my head around – but their opposition to, and the newly formed Labour Party’s support for, votes for women would pay dividends for the latter in the 1920s. The Liberals would never again be the political force they were prior to the First World War.
WOMEN AND THE VOTE
Lady Betty Balfour on the Conservative Policy
“A meeting of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association for Cambridge and County was held in the small room the Guildhall Tuesday afternoon, when Lady Betty Balfour [married to Eleanor Sidgwick’s brother, Gerald Balfour – Prime Minister Arthur Balfour was their elder brother] gave address, entitled hat will she with it?”
“Mrs Sidgwick (Eleanor Sidgwick of Newnham College) presided over a good attendance, that included:
- Lady Jebb, [Caroline Jebb – aunt of Eglantyne Jebb & widow of Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, former MP for the Cambridge University constituency]
- Lady Darwin [Likely to be Maud Darwin]
- Prof. and Mrs. Bethune Baker [James Bethune Baker, and wife Edith, suffragist and later one of Cambridge’s first women magistrates, sworn in, in 1920]
- Mrs. Gibson.
- Mrs. Lewis.
- Lady Thompson. [Likely Rose Paget Thompson, wife of JJ Thompson – who I always mix up with JJ Burnel of the Stranglers]
- Mrs Hort
- Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Mirrlees, [Scottish Industrialist who made some money and settled in Shelford]
- Mrs. Geldart [Possibly Sarah, wife of William]
- Mrs, Alan Gray
- Mrs Vulliamy
- Miss Swete
- Mrs Joe Gray
- Mrs Adam [Adela Adam, mother of Baroness Barbara Wootton, Girton-trained social scientist, trade unionist and first woman to be awarded a life peerage]
- Miss Constance Jones,
- Miss Allen
- Mrs. Eaden
- Mrs. Reid
- Miss Parry
- Mrs Butler and
- Mrs Barnes.
“Mrs Sidgwick. introducing Lady Betty Balfour said she felt most sanguine of the suffrage cause being successful, despite the harm done would-be friends. Their particular movement was going well, and she was confident that they would soon win.
Women’s Suffrage in Colorado.
“Lady Betty Balfour said the title of her address was adaptation of the title one of her grandfather’s novels. Before they could say what women would do with the vote they should look at the countries where she had the vote, and see what she had done with it there. Lady Darwin, short while ago, read a paper their house in Surrey on the influence police women in America, and this showed that there was a great deal work even in the police force for women to do. There was work everywhere for women to do, and they wanted it.
“She was going to deal with one State of America where women’s suffrage had been granted. a State to which anti-suffragists pointed as a sign of the failure of women’s suffrage — the State of Colorado. She saw an anti-suffragist pamphlet the other day with five or six depressing headlines on the failure of women’s suffrage America. Looking more closely she found that, all the facts were taken from the one State Colorado.
“Even before women’s suffrage had been granted, Colorado was one of the most corrupt States, and she did not believe that even the most ardent suffragist should claim that introducing votes for women corruption stopped once, for where men were corrupt the women could not be expected to be models purity. There were three facts, however, she would like to bring before their notice concerning the State of Colorado since votes for women had been granted there.
“The first was the progress in education; the second was the fact that Judge Lindsey, Colorado, judge who had opposed corruption most vigorously, had attributed his long period of office solely the influence of enfranchised women: thirdly, she would ask them to consider the action of the women in the recent strike.
The Position in Australia.
“Turning to Australia, where the vote has been granted to women, she would like consider the laws that have been passed in the various States since women were granted the vote. She had been told that the vote had had absolutely no effect, for women had not agitated for anything. She replied that having the vote was far better and far more harmless than agitating for it.
“There was no need of agitation when men saw problem from the women’s point view as well as from their own. The State Children’s Council Act had been passed in South Australia year after the vote was granted to women. This meant it was wrong consider a State-paid child either a criminal or a pauper. There had also been an alteration in the method presenting maintenance orders. Now orders of maintenance granted to a deserted wife, a destitute widow, or unmarried mother were presented the man by a legal authority, not the woman herself. Thus it was evident (she did not want to multiply instances) that laws influenced by enfranchised women had been towards better motherhood of the child.
“What evidence had they though of the need and demand of women’s suffrage in England? She held it was harmful to insist on universal suffrage at the beginning. Once a considerable demand has been made make it still wider means that hundreds, if not, thousands, of lives are spent in achieving it. This was a great waste money and human life.
Opinion in England.
“Lady Betty then gave various tests of the state of opinion the country on the question of women’s suffrage, and applying them, found that the vast bulk of opinion was favour the vote being granted.
“She was delighted to hear Mrs. Sidgwick say there was set-back to women’s suffrage. She had heard people say that a proof the set-back that militancy had given the cause lay in the fact that this was the first year a Private Member’s Bill had not been introduced the House of Commons. For herself she held it the greatest sign of progress they could have: it was a recognition of the fact that the question was one for one other of the two big political parties.
“There had recently been academic discussion the question of women’s suffrage in the House of Lords, and she was pleased to find that the Church was gradually coming over to their side. Why was this? The vote was not claimed primarily by political women, but by social workers, professional and industrial women, and Churchmen knew that these were the types of women that worked for them, trying to lessen the evils with which they were fighting.
“There were only two alternative policies for the question of women’s suffrage — the Liberal and Conservative policies.
“The Liberal measure was logical and just, but not moderate as the Conservative measure. They dealt with it they would grant the vote all adult men and women. The Conservative policy, which was equally logical and equally just, but more moderate, was the simple removal of the sex disability under the existing conditions. All women wanted was the vote on equal terms with men. She appealed to the Conservatives to use their influence with every voter and every member of the press for definite statement at the next General Election.
“She hoped the Conservative party would not degrade themselves as the Government had done. She would rather the Conservative Government came out with definite anti-suffrage policy than play fast and loose with the question as the Liberal Government had done.
“Concluding, Lady Betty said she was wholly and entirely anti-militant to militancy on principle. She didn’t want the militant societies to win, but she felt that if the constitutional societies gave way the vote would be won the militants. That would not be a set-back to women’s suffrage, but humanity. The meeting concluded with vote of thanks to Mrs Sidgwick and Lady Betty, proposed by Mr. Mirrlees and seconded by Lady Darwin.”