Eva Hartree’s presidential address to the National Council for women, Summer 1936


Four years after Florence Ada Keynes was elected president of the influential National Council of Women, Eva Hartree was elected to the same position. Eva was our first woman mayor of Cambridge, and Florence the second.

This article is taken from the Cambridge Independent, Friday 03 July 1936, from the Cambridgeshire Collection’s newspaper microfiche archive.

360703 Eva Hartree

“Councillor Mrs Hartree, of Cambridge, speaking as President at the conference of the National Council of Women at Southport on Tuesday, complained that while women want to enter the diplomatic and consular service, woman are keeping them out.

She was criticising the recent report on Women in the Diplomatic and Consular Services.

Mrs Hartree, at the outset, made suitable reference to the late King George, and remarked that sympathy went out to King Edward in the difficult times before him in this puzzled and frightening world.

Among members of the National Council of Women who had passed on were their first president, Mrs Creighton, who evolved the methods by which they still worked, and Dame Henrietta Barnett, that great pioneer who had happiness of seeing the fruits of the many seeds sown by herself and Canon Barnett.

Resignations from office included those of Lady Selborne, from the chairmanship of the Colonies Committee, now the British Empire & Migration Committee; Miss Brodie Hall, chairman of the Humane Treatment of Animals Committee, and Miss Squire, chairman of the Household Services Committee. They had given many years of service the Council and would be greatly missed.

Planning of Society

“We have reached a point in the evolution of society”, she went on, “when co-operation and reasoned planning are necessarily taking the place of haphazard development. In this period of change a democratic country must see to it that the easy way of dictatorship, whether on the lines of fascism or communism, is avoided, by proving that liberty for the individual is compatible with planning, for the community, and I would remind you that such liberty can only be preserved by constant vigilance on the part of the public.

“For this ordered planning, the lack of which the chaotic conditions of today are to a great extent due, we need men and women of the highest characters and the greatest ability. The world is suffering from the wholesale slaughter of the best of its young manhood during the war. Unless we use every endeavour soon to prevent it, there is a possibility that this mad folly may be repeated.

Turning to the work of the Council, Mrs Hartree said it had been proposed, and the time seemed ripe, to have a sectional committee dealing with broadcasting. They should provide the machinery for the focusing of women’s opinion as listeners, and thus become a link between them and the BBC.

Women on local authorities

“And now I come to a subject about which I am concerned, and where I think there is a gap or partial gap in our work, which requires attention. When visiting the branches I have realised how greatly they differ as to their work for the election of women on the various administrative bodies in local government. The slow rate of progress in the inclusion of women in these bodies since their admission has been a disappointment to all those who hold that this great voluntary system of service to the community, so characteristic of this country, can only be efficiently carried on by men and women working side-by-side, each giving of their best for the good of the community of which they form part.

“In this matter it seems to me the duty of branches to find among their members suitable women who will undertake these responsibilities, and either to bring them forward on an independent basis, on non-party lines, which, in my opinion, is by far the best way, or, if this seems impossible, to suggest their names to the party organisations. We were given the privilege of serving many years ago; let us see to it that we show our willingness to share the responsibility of local government.

Referring to the resolution on equal pay for equal work, carried at the last Council meeting with only one dissentient, the speaker recalled that as a result of the debate in Parliament on Miss Wilkinson’s resolution a majority of eight was obtained for equal pay in the Civil Service. That majority by no means represented support among MPs as it was known that many supporters were absent, not being willing to vote against the resolution or against the Government.

It would be remembered that the subject of equal status and rights of women came before the last meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations at the request of ten countries, four of which had singed a so-called Equal Rights Treaty at Montevideo in 1933, by which they purported to give equal rights to women in all spheres.

It was significant that those four countries had many restrictions curtailing the right of women to work, and there had been no rescinding of those restrictions since the treaty was signed – indeed, further restrictions have been imposed. It is therefore, to be assumed that the word ‘equal’ had in these countries lost its meaning. From the discussion in the International Labour Office it would appear that there also the word had lost its meaning, and therein lay a great danger to the right of women to work, throughout the world.

The Executive Committee had formed a committee with representatives of many organisations to collect and collate information for a memorandum to the Government on the position of women in all spheres in this country, with suggestions as to the directions in which we desire improvement.

Diplomatic and Consular Services

“The recent report on Women in the Diplomatic and Consular Services, the publication of which had been so long awaited, was a disappointment to us all, though we welcome the minority report of the two women members of the committee, and the tentative suggestions of the chairman and another member, on the diplomatic service.

“Many of the conclusions in the report seem to be based on slight foundations, composed to a great extent of preconceived ideas of women, their capabilities and their so-called “proper” spheres of work. One paragraph seems to me particularly regrettable; it states that certain duties which the women’s deputations mentioned as especially requiring women are now being performed by the wives of members of the service, without the cost to the State. It is doubtless convenient to use the unpaid wives of officials, though they cannot be regarded as adequate substitutes for the trained and selected women envisaged in our demands – but that this ‘getting something for nothing’ should be given openly as a reason against the admission of such trained women into the services is surely unworthy of a Government department.

“Whatever their opinion might be with regard to the present regime in Germany, the plight of non-Aryan children, of whom many are from Christian families, must appeal to them all. Efforts were being made to remove many of them from Germany, where the conditions in which they lived were having a disastrous effect on their nerves and moral outlook, and it was suggested that branches might make special efforts to befriend those children by finding homes for them, and by showing interest in any of them who happen to be placed in homes or schools in their localities. 

After alluding to deputations to the Minister of Health on the subject of maternal mortality and abortion, and to the Minister of Labour in support of Mrs Stock’s minority report on Unemployment, Insurance contributions and benefits, Mrs Hartree said she also signed on their behalf a letter forwarded by the Women’s Advisory Committee of the League of Nations’ Union protesting against the attacks on ambulance units and the use of poison gas.

“This brings me to the international situation. When we last met there were still hopes that with the support of public opinions, and, if necessary, economic sanctions, Abyssinia might be saved from defeat. Most regretfully the one economic sanction which could be quickly effective was not adopted and Italy was enabled to break down the resistance of the Abyssinian people by the use of poison gas.

“To those founders of the League who are still with us and to those who have worked for its support during the last 17 years, the disappointment is almost overwhelming, the more so that it is due to the failure of statesmen, or rather politicians, to fulfil the solemn promises of their countries made in the Covenant and subsequent treaties. The fulfilment of promises is fundamental to all co-operation, and, indeed, to all human activities.

“It is obvious that we all now have to work for is the raising of the standard of behaviour of nations and individuals, so that some time in the future our children or grandchildren shall see the day when nations ‘keep faith’. We had hoped that that day was with us, but our hopes have been rudely shattered. The day will come when nations will not only keep faith, but will realise that their only security is the goodwill of their neighbours. Until that time comes, we must relax no effort to increase international friendship and understanding, individually and corporately.

“We are hoping to do something towards this end at the International Council of Women Conference in Yugoslavia in September: There we shall discuss the social problems which are common to all countries with the members of many other national councils. The International Council of Women is in some respects the acknowledged mother of the League of Nations. Let it give a helping hand to its ‘child’ in these times of  distress & difficulty. No effort towards good can ever be lost, only by faith can mountains be removed. Therefore let us ‘keep faith’ and have faith”

And the article ends.

What would the international statesmen of the world today say to Mrs Hartree and the International Council of Women?

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