Cambridge suffragists condemn militant suffragettes

The Cambridge University Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage organised this meeting at The Guildhall in February 1913. Digitised by the British Newspaper Archive. The Earl Russell in this case is the grandson of the first Earl Russell – and would go onto become the first peer to join the Labour Party. Also at the meeting were Harris Rackham – husband of the Cambridge civic legend that is Clara Rackham, and Francis Cornford – the classicist who married Frances Darwin – granddaughter of Charles the botanist, cousin of Gwen Raverat and thus a niece of Maud Darwin. I like to think that the doctors’ surgery Cornford House in South Cambridge was named after the Cornfords, or their son Hugh who was a medical doctor and who also lived in Cambridge.

130221 Militants condemned earl russell Mrs Swanwick


Earl Russell & Mrs. Swanwick Cambridge.


“The militant suffragists’ methods came in for a good deal criticism at meeting the Guildhall last (Thursday) evening, under the auspices the Cambridge University Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage. Mr F.M. Cornford presided, and the speakers included Earl Russell, Mrs. Swanwick, and Mr. J. Malcolm Mitchell (hon. sec-of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, London).

“There was a good deal interruption from a large number of undergraduates at the back of the hall, and the noise was so great when Mrs Swanwick was attempting to answer questions that she refused answer any more. Mrs Swanwick declared that it was ridiculous for boys to attempt to teach her, who was old enough to their mother and possibly their grandmother, how women could best do their work in the world.

“Among those on the platform were Mr H. Rackham (President the League), the Master Selwyn (Dr. Murray), Mr. Vulliamy (hon sec.), and representatives of the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Society, the Newnham and Girton Women’s Suffrage Society, the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Suffrage Association, the Cambridge branch the Women’s Social and Political Union, the Cambridge branch of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, and the Cambridge branch the Church League for Women’s Suffrage.

The Chairman.

“The Chairman said he had intended open that meeting by disclaiming all sympathy with and approval of the so-called militant tactics, but he was told that he must not do that behalf the promoters of that meeting, because the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage in that University was concerned only with principle and not with methods.

“On his own half, however, he must express the strongest disapprobation of the kind of thing they had been witnessing the last few days, particularly that extraordinary mixture of folly, stupidity, and incompetence reported that day’s papers. It appeared to him that to attempt to blow up the house a Cabinet Minister, who was the most democratic of the present Ministers, and who was moreover their own side, was folly; that to attempt to without first ascertaining whether the house belonged that gentleman or to somebody else was stupidity, and that bungle such a way that they did not succeed in blowing it up at all, but only in endangering the lives of several innocent workmen, was incompetence.

“In alluding to the ruling of the Speaker and the present position the House Commons with regard Women’s Suffrage, the speaker said could not understand how when the majority of a body of men wished to discuss a question they could allow themselves to prevented from doing their own.

Earl Russell.

“Earl Russell commenced by saying that there was the demand for the enfranchisement of women an element simple justice which the men of this country were slow recognise and which the young men were still slower recognise. (Uproar, and a remark from a lady in the audience).

“Lord Russell said he was proposing speak till 8.58, and if they wished take all that time they might do so. In proceeding, he said that the question of women’s suffrage was a question which practical politicians could easily put aside, because it divided parties, and because it was difficult for him to take it up. After all, it the disturbances the streets and turbulence that was created that caused the case votes for women for the first time to be regarded seriously.

“That not the same thing as saying that they were wise or judicious methods, and his remark was not necessarily a reflection the people who employed those methods, but the politicians who required the application of those methods before they would take the trouble to consider the matter. Later, the speaker said women wished to get the vote they must use the ordinary sensible political means which men had used to get the things they wanted. (“Question.”)

“They were frequently told that reform and the suffrage for men were not secured without outrage and violence. That deplorable fact which reflected as did today those who were in power, but there was this enormous difference between the outrages the present time and the Reform Rill riots. The latter were almost universal, spontaneous and widespread expressions of indignation, whereas the present outrages were committed and supported comparatively few, and were engineered and directed as mere piece machinery were in no sense spontaneous. (A lady: “As a protest.”)

“Unfortunately for the suffrage cause this had now become recognised by the ordinary politician, and they were alienating him from their cause, whereas if they wanted to succeed it was obvious that they must carry him with them. They would never succeed by militant methods. Lord Russell said would address few last words his young friends the back. They were assuming that it was fine manly thing to think woman not fit to be looked upon as sensible creature. They thought she was good enough to their mother, their wife, good enough pay rates and taxes, but they did not think she was fit to have any say in the making of the laws which they subjected her.

“He asked them to try to put themselves in the position of women, taxed by some authority over which they could have no influence, and subjected to laws the making of which they could have no say, and let them see if they would not feel enslaved and degraded such a position. If they put themselves into the position women who were burning with indignation they would see that it did not seem such a magnificent or manly thing to sneer at women as if they not worth considering.

“He believed, and he thought all these who had studied this subject were inclined to believe, that the effect of giving the vote to women would not merely to give her her political and industrial rights, but would raise the moral and social, as well the political status woman, and would make her a better citizen and would make the community better by bringing about a spirit of true comradeship instead a dominance and service as between men and women. (Applause.)

“The speaker proposed the following resolution:

“That this meeting considers Mr Asquith’s promise of facilities next Session for a private members’ measure of women’s suffrage is not an adequate redemption of the pledge given by him in November, 1911.”

Mrs Swanwick.

“Mrs Swanwick said that just a year ago Mr Lloyd George said that them was gossip to the effect that the Government did not intend bring forward a Bill, or that they did not intend to make open to amendment, and he said that merely to discuss such gossip was imputation of deep dishonour. Yet she had to ask them to discuss that very fact that night.

“When they heard about the outrages of the militant section they should remember how women had been treated. She did not stand there to defend those outrages, for she considered futile and ridiculous, but she would ask them whether it lay upon the lips of any single person in the kingdom to blame the women when they had been betrayed this way by Ministers who had said that to discuss such possibility was imputation of deep dishonour.

“She asked them realise the way women hud been led to kind of fuels’ path and left there, and ask whether they would have been very patient they had been told at bye-election and the House that the Government were in favour this proposal and then they took any little piffling opportunities (A voice, ” Brutes”)—of breaking their pledges to the women.

“Although they might think retaliation was wrong and unwise they must remember that everyone was not so wise or so self-contained as they were. (Laughter.) When the Chairman announced that there would be a collection to meet expenses, he said that those gentlemen at the back would now have a chance to pay for what appeared to regard as fun. When the Chairman rose to put the resolution there was a great uproar, and shouts “Questions.” The resolution was put, and carried, with a number dissentients.

“The first questioner asked Mrs. Swanwick to name measures of pressing importance women which this any previous Government had not dealt with, and asked if the ” handful Suffragists” at that meeting town of over 40,000 inhabitants did not show that in Cambridge there was demand for the enfranchisement of women. (Applause.)

“Mrs. said they placed most importance not the Government having failed deal with questions of pressing importance women but upon their having dealt with them out of the depths their ignorance of what women wanted. Mrs Swanwick was proceeding speak there a great deal noise, and she exclaimed,

“I shall not answer questions unless you listen to me.” (A voice, “That’s a woman’s temper.”) The Chairman said it was not fair ask a lady answer questions in such a noise, and should not ask Mrs Swanwick to answer any more. A Lady asked:

“What other tactics does Mrs Swanwick recommend?

Mrs Swanwick: “Gentlemanly behaviour on the part of men, and, the part of women, the carrying out throughout the country of a great educational campaign”. A vote of thanks was accorded the speakers, on the proposition of Mr Rackham.

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