Cambridge Association for Women’s Suffrage at the Corn Exchange, 1909

One of the files inside the Cambridgeshire County Archive is this poster


This event was one of the largest public meetings in Cambridge, and what follows from the British Newspaper Archive is an account of that meeting published in the Cambridge Independent, a Liberal supporting newspaper and pro-suffrage too.



Frequent Interruptions.

“The Corn Exchange was packed on Wednesday evening, on the occasion of a public meeting in support of women’s suffrage. The meeting, which was arranged the Cambridge Association for Women’s Suffrage, was restricted to ticket-holders, until 7.50, I and these were not slow in claiming their privilege, for the doors had to be closed some five or ten minutes before 8 o’clock (the time appointed for the meeting to commence), and were besieged by crowds of people clamouring for admittance, including many ticket holders who had been unfortunate enough to arrive too late.

“There must have been nearly 2,000 persons in the building, and hundreds had to be turned away. It was no surprise to the organisers of the meeting to see that the undergraduates had come in good force, but even the gownsmen were not all of them astute enough to arrive sufficiently early to ensure admittance, and a number of them were to be seen among the disappointed outsiders.

The Rev. [Reginald] St John Parry, Trinity College, was in the chair, and the speakers included Sir Victor Horsley. F.R.S., F.R.C.S., Miss [Alice] Abadam, Miss Frances Sterling [joint honorary secretary of the National Union of Women Workers], and Mr Israel Zangwill, while others who accepted invitations to be present were:

  • The Rev. [James] and Mrs [Edith] Bethune-Baker.
  • Mr E. S. Montagu, M.P.,
  • the Master of Christ’s College,
  • Dr. E. C. Clark,
  • the Master of Emmanuel,
  • the Mistress of Girton (Miss E. C. Jones).
  • Miss Hardcastle,
  • Lady Jebb [Caroline, widow of Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, aunt of both Eglantyne Jebb and Maud Darwin].
  • Miss M. G. Kennedy, [Marion Grace Kennedy]
  • Miss J. E. Kennedy, [Julia Elizabeth – Joint-first woman to stand for election in Cambridge]
  • the Principal of Newnham College (Mrs. Sidgwick), [Eleanor, sister of Former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour and niece of former Prime Minister Lord Salisbury]
  • Mr. C. D. Rose, M.P., and Mrs. Rose, [East Cambs]
  • Mr. and Mrs. Tillyard [Alfred – former Mayor of Cambridge, and Catherine Tillyard of the Cambridge Independent]
  • Mrs. Ward, Dr. and Mrs. Whitehead,
  • Mr, and Mrs. Heitland [The latter was head of the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Society],
  • Mrs. Webber,
  • Mrs. Adam, [Adela Adam of Girton, mother of Barbara Wootton, later Baroness Wootton, pioneer of modern social sciences]
  • Mr. R. Baynes and Mrs. Baynes,
  • Miss Clough, [Anne Jemima, first principal of Newnham College]
  • Mr. and Mrs. Dutt. [Dr Upendra and Anne Palme – founded the first surgery on Mill Road serving the working class community, parents of Rajani Palme Dutt
  • Miss Flack,
  • Rev. Professor Gwatkin and Mrs Gwatkin, [Henry and Lucy]
  • Miss Hentsch,
  • Miss Freund,
  • Mr. and Mrs. McLeod Innes, [Hugh McLeod Innes – classicist at Trinity College]
  • Mr. Von Glehn,
  • Mrs. Bateson, (Likely Beatrice, wife of William and sister of Florence Margaret Durham)
  • Mrs. Verrall,
  • Mr. and Mrs. Turner,
  • Mrs. and Mr. Webb, [Likely Beatrice and Sidney Webb]
  • Mrs. Bidder,
  • Dr. and Mrs, Alan Gray,
  • Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, [Likely Hugh Fraser, and Jessie Stewart – parents of Frida Stewart, and Ludovik Stewart].
  • Mr. and Mrs. R. T.Wright,
  • Dr.and Mrs. Bond,
  • the Master of St. John’s College,
  • Mr. and Mrs. Roothara,
  • Professor and Mrs. Oppenheim, [Likely Lassa Francis Lawrence Oppenheim]
  • Miss Blair, [Likely Miss Molly Blair, headmistress of the Higher Grade School for GIrls in Melbourne Place, now Parkside.]
  • Mr. and Mrs. A. Hutchinson,
  • Mr. and Mrs. Peart,
  • Rev. R P. Moline,
  • Miss Wood,
  • Dr. and Mrs. Barber,
  • Dr. and Mrs. McTaggart,
  • Mr. and Mrs. J. Chivers [From the Chivers of Histon jam makers dynasty]
  • Miss Wollersen,
  • Miss Jameson,
  • Miss Leon,
  • Miss McArthur,
  • Mr. and Mrs, Rackham, [Harris and Clara Rackham]
  • Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey,
  • Miss Reinberz,
  • Lady Darwin, [Likely Maud Darwin]
  • Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Gibson,
  • Lady Thomson. [Rose Elizabeth, wife of JJ Thomson]
  • Miss Allan, [Mary Allan of Homerton College]
  • Mr. A. C. Benson,
  • the Rev. C. J. N. and Mrs. Child [Charles – headmaster of Cambridge County High School for Boys – now Hills Road Sixth Form College]
  • Professor and Mrs. Sims Woodhead [Sir German Sims Woodhead – pathologist].
  • Mrs. Archer-Hind,
  • Miss M. E Hargood,
  • Mr. and Mrs. J. Berry.
  • Mr. H. M. Fletcher,
  • Professor Lewis,
  • Mr Temperley,
  • Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Whibley, [H Whibley – leader of the Cambridge Liberal Party]
  • Professor Bury and Mrs. Bury [John Bagnell Bury – historian]
  • Mr. and Miss Johnson,
  • Mr. Cornford. [Likely the classicist Francis Cornford]
  • Miss Kensington,
  • the Master of Downing and Mrs. Howard Marsh,
  • Miss F. Darwin, [Frances Darwin, later Cornford, daughter of Francis and granddaughter of Charles Darwin the botanists, niece of Maud and Ida Darwin]
  • Professor Hughes.

“Mr. C. D. Rose, M.P., for East Cambs., and the Hon. E. S, Montagu, M.P. for West Cambs., were amongst those who wrote expressing regret at their inability to be present.

“The audience was largely composed, as might be expected, of members of the sex in support of whose demands the meeting was held, but there were a large number of men present, and of these the undergraduates formed a considerable proportion.

“The gownsmen, whether they were, as a whole, opposed to the granting of the suffrage or not. were bent upon making their presence known, for their vocal exertions made it quite impossible at times to hear the remarks of the speakers. They would allow a sentence or two to be uttered, and then, just as the speaker was giving additional emphasis to the concluding words, a burst of clapping and cheering would come from the back of the hall.

“On the whole the speakers kept remarkably cool under such trying circumstances. Mr Israel Zangwill made a very humorous speech, in the course of which he levelled caustic remarks at the interrupters, but they were nothing daunted, and exhorted him to “Shut up,” when his speech extended over a longer period than they approved of.

“The Chairman reminded the audience at the commencement of the meeting that there would be an interval devoted to the answering of questions before the conclusion, and he therefore expressed a hope that there would be no interruption. He remarked that the room was not one in which it was easy to make oneself heard, and this was greeted with cries of (Hear, hear.)


“Miss Sterling, the next speaker, said had discovered in recent years that women were really human beings. (Cheers.) The whole history of this country showed that it had been necessary from time to time not to restrict but to enlarge the franchise, localise every class who were not enfranchised suffered severely from that exclusion, and, moreover, that the country suffered also.

“It seemed from the arguments the anti-suffragists that there was one fact which they must remember, and that was that although women might be human beings they were not exactly like men. That was apparently the only argument which their friends the anti-suffragists had— that men were men and women were women. (Cheers.)

“The government of this country was incomplete without the co-operation of the two sexes, it could never be complete while one half of the human race were excluded. (Cheers.) The anti-suffragists told them that women must not have the vote because they were too good. (Laughter.)

“She thought there was little to choose between the men and women in that respect. (“Oh!”) She thought human beings were distinctly improved by being given responsibility, and that therefore there was no reason for giving that advantage to men and withholding it from women. Miss Sterling urged that if men workers had found the vote invaluable and that their work was helped by the possession of votes, surely women would find that protection and power were equally valuable. Miss Sterling moved:

“That this meeting calls upon His Majesty’s Government to grant the Parliamentary Franchise to Women upon the same terms as it is or may be granted to men; and desires that copies of this resolution, signed the Chairman, be forwarded to the Prime Minister and to the Parliamentary representatives of the Borough, University, and County of Cambridge.”


Sir Victor Horsley, in seconding the resolution. said that that was a grand meeting, and it was a grand occasion (“No, no” ) because it gave them an opportunity of confessing their faith on what was going to be one of the leading points in the history and development of our people. (Applause.)

“At the present if they had to listen to the popular clamour they were to understand that the “noes” had it, but it was only because they had given no consideration to the question. (“Oh!”)

“They were there that night, continued the speaker, to express their opinion through that resolution to the Government, that the interests of the larger half of the community should be observed. It seemed to be a very general opinion that the community consisted only of one sex. (“No. no.”) Well those who apparently did not know it ought to read the “Times,” and if they were not satisfied with the opinion of the journalist they should read the judgment of the Chancellor of England when delivering judgment against the women graduates of Edinburgh. They would then discover that really and legally women had no right in the State. If so. they were not members of the community, and had no right to live.

“The question was one which would not be settled except by the consideration of the fundamental principles on which the nation lived, and by which it alone could develop and help itself. He had said that women apparently had hardly a right to live, and he supposed it was equally a question to whether they had a right to work.

“This matter of women’s work came home to them in the medical profession, and as the President of the Board of Education discovered the other day, that profession was the only one that insisted that if woman did a man’s work she should be paid a man’s wage. (Cheers.)

“It was all very well for men who had a profession or calling in front of them whereby they could earn their living and not be a burden on the State, but it was a very different thing for their sisters, and they knew perfectly well that if a municipal body offered a post to an expert they expected to pay a woman one third or one half what they would pay a man. There was no greater injustice in the way of State work than this (hear, hear)—but it was done throughout the whole of the Kingdom.

“Sir Victor gave as another instance in reflection to the same question, the case of the elementary school teacher, who was the worst paid and the most worked. This troubled Finland as it troubled every so-called civilised community where only the men had the franchise, but in Finland there was no reform in this matter until women got the vote. (Cheers.)

“The speaker alluded to the success in giving the vote to the women of New Zealand, and concluded by saying that until they had given the other half of the community the right to express themselves in the counsels of the nation, they were delaying the development, safety and prosperity of the country. (Cheers.)

“Miss Ahadam supported the resolution, and claimed that what they were doing was to break down the…


“The worse part of this monopoly of political power by one sex to the exclusion of the other, was the force that was on the one side and the weakness on the other. (“Shame and Oh.”) She claimed that this demand for the enfranchisement on the part of women was on a much higher plane than any other demand for the enfranchisement of people there had ever been made, excepting the emancipation of the slaves.

“She did not want them to think for one moment that this demand was a fad, a fancy, or a fashion. She claimed that they stood to gain men and women worthy of their dignity, men and women who had noble aims, great hearts, and great minds, who would go forward and do the work.of the world better than it had been done before. (Applause.)

Mr. Israel Zangwill also gave an address, which was characterised by brilliant flashes of humour. He was, however, subjected to frequent interruptions. The time was coming, he declared—coming at motor speed—when in no civilised country would women be without votes. The labours of so many brave and brilliant women for a half-century, culminating in the splendid spurt in our day, were about to receive the guerdon of victory, and from England the spirit of sex equality would spread all the world over, and England would again recover her place as the Mother of Liberty. (Cheers.)

“Referring to the anti-suffrage movement, Mr. Zangwill asked if there could be anything more paradoxical outside Gilbert and Sullivan. Three recent Prime Ministers had declared themselves in favour of women’s suffrage. The intellect of England went almost, if not quite, solidly in favour of it. (Applause and cries of dissent.)

“Against this phalanx of the intellectuals a rearguard of reaction bad been set up by men like Lord Cromer, Lord Curson, and Lord Milner. This trio was significant. A new danger was created in politics. The great Pro-Consuls of Empire, men who had governed dusky Asiatic nations, came back here with autocratic notions, and might easily become force for evil at home.

“Questions having been answered at the close of Mr. Zangwill’s speech, and the resolution carried, the speakers were thanked, on the proposition of Dr. Barber, seconded by Professor Woodhead, both of whom spoke in warm support of the enfranchisement of women.”

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