The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 21

Author: Ida Husted Harper  | Date: A.D. 1911

Woman Suffrage:
The Movement Comes to the Front by Its Triumph in California

A.D. 1911


When future generations look for an exact event to mark the triumphal turning-point in the progress of the woman-suffrage movement, they will probably select the election which took place in the great American State of California in October, 1911. Other States had given women votes before, but they were smaller communities, where the movement could still be regarded as an eccentricity, a mere whimsicality. When, however, California in 1911 granted full suffrage to her women, almost half a million in number, the movement became obviously important. The vote of California might well turn the scale in a Presidential election. Moreover, other States followed California’s example. Woman suffrage soon dominated the West, and began its progress eastward. The shrewd Lincoln said that no government could continue to exist half slave and half free; and the axiom is equally true of a divided suffrage. There can be little question that woman suffrage will ultimately be adopted throughout the Eastern States, not because of force, but through the ever-increasing pressure of political expediency.

Hence we give here an account of the progress of the woman-suffrage cause up to the California election as it appeared to the prominent suffragist writer, Ida Husted Harper, and to the honored suffragist leader, Jane Addams. The peculiarities of the movement in England seem to necessitate separate treatment, so we present the view of its antagonists as temperately expressed by Britain’s celebrated Minister of the Treasury, David Lloyd-George, and the defense of the "militants by the noted novelist, Israel Zangwill. Then comes a summary of the entire theme by that widely known "friend of humanity," Elbert Hubbard.

For permission to quote some of these authoritative utterances which had been previously printed, we owe cordial thanks to the publishers or authors. Mrs. Harper’s summary appeared originally in the American Review of Reviews, and Miss Addams’s comments in The Survey of June, 1912. Both Elbert Hubbard’s words and those of Lloyd-George are reprinted from Hearst’s Magazine of August, 1912, and August, 1913.


A FEW years ago no changes in the governments of the world would have seemed more improbable than a constitution for China, a republic in Portugal, and a House of Lords in Great Britain without the power of veto, and yet all these momentous changes have taken place in less than two years. The underlying cause is unquestionably the strong spirit of unrest among the people of all nations having any degree of civilization, caused by their increasing freedom of speech and press, their larger intercourse through modern methods of travel, and the sending of the youth to be educated in the most progressive countries.

It would be impossible for women not to be affected by this spirit of unrest, especially as they have made greater advance during the last few decades than any other class or body. There is none whose status has been so revolutionized in every respect during the last half-century. As with men everywhere, this discontent has manifested itself in political upheaval, so it is inevitable that it should be expressed by women in a demand for a voice in the government through which laws are made and administered.

In 1888, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the leaders of this movement in the United States, where it began, attempted to cooperate with other countries, they found that in only one—Great Britain—had it taken organized shape. By 1902, however, it was possible to form an International Committee, in Washington, D. C., with representatives from five countries. Two years later, in Berlin, the International Woman Suffrage Alliance was formed with accredited delegates from organizations in nine countries. This Alliance held a congress in Stockholm during the summer of 1911 with delegates from national associations in twenty-four countries where the movement for the enfranchisement of women has taken definite, organized form.


At the November election, 1910, the men of Washington, by a vote of three to one, enfranchised the women of that State. Eleven months later, in October, 1911, a majority of the voters conferred the suffrage on the 400,000 women of California. These two elections doubtless marked the turning-point in this country. In 1890 Wyoming came into the Union with suffrage for women in its constitution after they had been voting in the Territory for twenty-one years. In 1893 the voters of Colorado, by a majority of 6,347, gave full suffrage to women. In 1895 the men of Utah, where as a Territory women had voted seventeen years, by a vote of 28,618 ayes to 2,687 noes, gave them this right in its constitution for Statehood. In 1896 Idaho, by a majority of 5,844, fully enfranchised its women.

It was believed then that woman suffrage would soon be carried in all the Western States, but at this time there began a period of complete domination of politics by the commercial interests of the country, through whose influence the power of the party "machines" became absolute. Temperance, tariff reform, control of monopolies, all moral issues were relegated to the background and woman suffrage went with the rest. To the vast wave of "insurgency" against these conditions is due its victory in Washington and California. As many women are already fully enfranchised in this country as would be made voters by the suffrage bill now under consideration in Great Britain, so that American women taken as a whole can not be put into a secondary position as regards political rights. While women householders in Great Britain and Ireland have the municipal franchise, a much larger number in this country have a partial suffrage—a vote on questions of special taxation, bonds, etc., in Louisiana, Iowa, Montana, Michigan, and in the villages and many third-class cities in New York, and school suffrage in over half of the States.


The situation in Great Britain is now at its most acute stage. There the question never goes to the voters, but is decided by Parliament. Seven times a woman-suffrage bill has passed its second reading in the House of Commons by a large majority, only to be refused a third and final reading by the Premier, who represents the Ministry, technically known as the Government. In 1910 the bill received a majority of 110, larger than was secured even for the budget, the Government’s chief measure. In 1911 the majority was 167, and again the last reading was refused. The vote was wholly non-partizan—145 Liberals, 53 Unionists, 31 Nationalists (Irish), 26 Labor members. Ninety town and county councils, including those of Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, and those of all the large cities sent petitions to Parliament to grant the final vote. The Lord Mayor of Dublin in his robes of state appeared before the House of Commons with the same plea, but the Liberal Government was unmoved.

In the passing years petitions aggregating over four million signatures have been sent in. Just before the recent election the Conservative National Association presented one signed by 300,000 voters. In their processions and Hyde Park gatherings the women have made the largest political demonstrations in history. There have been more meetings held, more money raised, and more workers enlisted than to obtain suffrage for the men of the entire world.

From the beginning the various associations have asked for the franchise on the same terms as granted to men, not all of whom can vote. For political reasons it seemed impossible to obtain this, and meanwhile the so-called "militant" movement was inaugurated by women outraged at the way the measure had been put aside for nearly forty years. The treatment of these women by the Government forms one of the blackest pages in English history, and the situation finally became so alarming that the Parliament was obliged to take action. A Conciliation Committee was formed of sixty members from all parties, who prepared a bill that would enfranchise only women householders, those who already had possessed the municipal franchise since 1869. This does not mean property-owners, but includes women who may pay rent for only one room. The associations accepted it partly because it recognized the Principle that sex should not disqualify, but principally because it was unquestionably all that they could get at present. This is the bill which was denied a third reading for two years on the ground that it was not democratic enough! A careful canvass has shown that in the different parts of the United Kingdom from 80 to 90 per cent. of those whom it would enfranchise are wage- or salary-earning women, and not one Labor member of Parliament voted against it.

Women in England have been eligible for School Boards since 1870; have had the county franchise since 1888; have been eligible for parish and district councils and for various boards and commissions since 1894, and hundreds have served in the above offices. In 1907, as recommended in the address of King Edward, women were made eligible as mayors and county and city councilors, or aldermen. Three or four have been elected mayors, and women are now sitting on the councils of London, Manchester, and other cities. The municipal franchise was conferred on the women of Scotland in 1882, and of Ireland in 1898.

The Irishwomen’s Franchise League demands that the proposed Home Rule bill shall give to the women of Ireland the same political rights as it gives to men. This demand is strongly supported by many of the Nationalist members of Parliament and some of the cabinet, and it is not impossible that after all these years of oppression the women of Ireland may be fully enfranchised before those of England, Scotland, and Wales.

In the Isle of Man women property-owners have had the full suffrage since 1881, and women rate- or rent-payers, since 1892.


The Parliament of New Zealand gave school suffrage to women in 1877, municipal in 1886, and Parliamentary in 1893. It was the first country in the world to grant the complete universal franchise to women.

The six States of Australia had municipal suffrage for women from the early days of their self-government. South Australia gave them the right to vote for its State Parliament, or legislature, in 1894, and West Australia took similar action in 1899. The States federated in a Commonwealth in 1902 and almost the first act of its national Parliament was to give the suffrage for its members to all women and make them eligible to membership. New South Wales immediately conferred State suffrage on women, and was soon followed by Tasmania and Queensland. Victoria yielded in 1909. Women of Australia have now exactly the same franchise rights as men.

In all the provinces of Canada for the last twenty years widows and spinsters who are rate-payers or property-owners have had the school or municipal suffrage, in some instances both, and in a few this right is given to married women. There has been some effort to have this extended to State and Federal suffrage, but with little force except in Toronto, where in 1909 a thousand women stormed the House of Parliament, with a petition signed by 100,000 names.

When the South African Union was formed its constitution took away from women tax-payers the fragmentary vote they possessed. Petitions to give them the complete suffrage, signed by 4,000 men and women, were ignored. Franchise Leagues are working in Cape Colony, Natal, and the Transvaal, and their efforts are supported by General Botha, the premier; General Smuts, Minister of the Interior; Mr. Cronwright, husband of Olive Schreiner, and other members of Parliament, but the great preponderance of Boer women over English will prevent this English-controlled body from enfranchising women in the near future.

There are cities in India where women property-owners have a vote in municipal affairs.


The Parliament of Norway in 1901 granted municipal suffrage to all women who in the country districts pay taxes on an income of 300 crowns (about $75), and in the cities on one of 400 crowns; and they were made eligible to serve on councils and grand and petit juries. After strenuous effort on the part of women the Parliament of 1907, by a vote of 96 to 23, conferred the complete franchise on all who possessed the municipal. This included about 300,000 of the half-million women. They were made eligible for Parliament, and at the first election in 1909 one was elected as alternate or deputy, and took her seat with a most enthusiastic welcome from the other members. In 1910, by a vote of 71 to 10, the taxpaying qualification for the municipal vote was removed. In 1911, a bill to abolish it for the full suffrage was carried by a large majority in Parliament, but lacked five votes of the necessary two-thirds. More than twice as many women as voted in 1907 went to the polls in 1910 at the municipal elections. Last year 178 women were elected to city councils, nine to that of Christiania. This year 210 were elected and 379 alternates to fill vacancies that may occur.

Sweden gave municipal suffrage to tax-paying widows and spinsters in 1862. At that time and for many years afterward not one-tenth of the men had a vote. Then came the rise of the Liberal party and the Social Democracy, and by 1909 the new Franchise law had been enacted, which immensely increased the number of men voters, extended the municipal suffrage to wives, greatly reduced the tax qualification, and made women eligible to all offices for which they could vote. At the last election 37 were elected to the councils of 34 towns, 11 in the five largest. The Woman Suffrage Association is said to be the best organized body in the country, its branches extending beyond the arctic circle. It has over 12,000 paid members and has held 1,550 meetings within a year. In 1909 a bill to extend the full suffrage to women passed the Second Chamber of the Parliament unanimously, but was defeated by four to one in the First Chamber, representing the aristocracy. This year the Suffrage Association made a strong campaign for the Liberal and Social Democratic parties, and a large majority of their candidates were elected. The Conservative cabinet was deposed and the King has called for a new election of the First Chamber. As its members are chosen by the Provincial Councils and those of the five largest cities, and women have a vote for these bodies and are members of them, they will greatly reduce the number of Conservative members of the Upper House. On the final passage of a suffrage bill the two chambers must vote jointly and it seems assured of a majority.

Denmark’s Parliament in 1908 gave the municipal suffrage to women on the same terms as exercised by men—that is, to all over 25 years of age who pay any taxes. Property owned by husband or wife or in common entitles each to a vote. At the first election 68 per cent. of all the enfranchised women in the country, and 70 per cent. in Copenhagen, voted. Seven were elected to the city council of 42 members and one was afterward appointed to fill a vacancy, and 127 were elected in other places. Women serve on all committees and are chairmen of important ones; two are city treasurers. There are two Suffrage Associations whose combined membership makes the organization of that country in proportion to population the largest of the kind in the world. They have 314 local branches and one of the associations has held 1,100 meetings during the past year. The Lower House of Parliament has passed a bill to give women the complete franchise, which has not been acted on by the Upper House, composed mainly of the aristocracy. The Prime Minister and the Speakers of both houses are outspoken in advocacy of enfranchising women, but political considerations are holding it back. All say, however, that h will come in the near future.

Iceland, a dependency of Denmark, with its own Parliament, gave municipal suffrage in 1882 to all widows and spinsters who were householders or maintained a family, or were self-supporting. Tn 1902 it made these voters eligible to all municipal offices, and since then a fourth of the council members of Reykjavik, the capital, have been women. In 1909 this franchise was extended to all those who pay taxes. A petition signed by a large majority of all the women in Iceland asked for the complete suffrage, and during the present year the Parliament voted to give this to all women over 25 years old. It must be acted upon by a second Parliament, but its passage is assured, and Icelandic women will vote on the same terms as men in 1913.


First place must be given to the Grand Duchy of Finland, far more advanced than any other part of the empire. In 1905, by permission of the Czar, after a wonderful uprising of the people, they reorganized their Government and combined the four antiquated chambers of their Diet into one body. The next year, on demand of thousands of women, expressed by petitions and public meetings, this new Parliament, almost without a dissenting voice, conferred the full suffrage on all women. Since that time from 16 to 25 have been elected to the different Parliaments by all the political parties.

In Russia women as well as men are struggling for political freedom. In many of the villages wives cast the votes for their husbands when the latter are away; women have some suffrage for the zemstvos, local governing bodies; the Duma has tried to enlarge their franchise rights, but at present these are submerged in the general chaos.

In Poland an active League for Woman’s Rights is cooperating with the Democratic party of men.

A very strong movement for woman suffrage is proceeding against great difficulties in the seventeen provinces of Austria, where almost as many languages are spoken and the bitterest racial feuds exist. Women are not allowed to form political associations or hold public meetings, but 4,000 have paraded the streets of Vienna demanding the suffrage. In Bohemia since 1864 women have had a vote for members of the Diet and are eligible to sit in it. In all the municipalities outside of Prague and Liberic, women taxpayers and those of the learned professions may vote by proxy. Women belong to all the political parties except the Conservative and constitute 40 per cent. of the Agrarian party. They are well organized to secure the full suffrage and are holding hundreds of meetings and distributing thousands of pamphlets. In Bosnia and Herzegovina women property-owners vote by proxy.

In Hungary the National Woman Suffrage Association includes many societies having other aims also, and it has branches in 87 towns and cities, combining all classes of women from the aristocracy to the peasants. Men are in a turmoil there to secure universal suffrage for themselves and women are with them in the thick of the fight.

Bulgaria has a Woman Suffrage Association composed of 37 auxiliaries and it held 456 meetings during the past year.

In Servia women have a fragmentary local vote and are now organizing to claim the parliamentary franchise.

In Germany it was not until 1908 that the law was changed which forbade women to take part in political meetings, and since then the Woman Suffrage Societies, which existed only in the Free Cities, have multiplied rapidly. Most of them are concentrating on the municipal franchise, which those of Prussia claim already belongs to them by an ancient law. In a number of the States women landowners have a proxy vote in communal matters, but have seldom availed themselves of it. In Silesia this year, to the amazement of everybody, 2,000 exercised this privilege. The powerful Social Democratic party stands solidly for enfranchising women.

A few years ago when the Liberal party in Holland was in power it prepared to revise the constitution and make woman suffrage one of its provisions. In 1907 the Conservatives carried the election and blocked all further progress. Two active Suffrage Associations approximate a membership of 8,000, with nearly 200 branches, and are building up public sentiment.

Belgium in 1910 gave women a vote for members of the Board of Trade, an important tribunal, and made them eligible to serve on it. A Woman Suffrage Society is making considerable progress.

Switzerland has had a Woman Suffrage Association only a few years. Geneva and Zurich in 1911 made women eligible to their boards of trade with a vote for its members, and Geneva gave them a vote in all matters connected with the State Church.

Italy has a well-supported movement for woman suffrage, and a discussion in Parliament showed a strong sentiment in favor. Mayor Nathan, of Rome, is an outspoken advocate. In 1910 all women in trade were made voters for boards of trade.

The woman-suffrage movement in France differs from that of most other countries in the number of prominent men in politics connected with it. President Fallieres loses no opportunity to speak in favor and leading members of the ministry and the Parliament approve it. Committees have several times reported a bill, and that of M. Dussaussoy giving all women a vote for Municipal, District, and General Councils was reported with full parliamentary suffrage added. In 1910, 163 members asked to have the bill taken up. Finally it was decided to have a committee investigate the practical working of woman suffrage in the countries where it existed. Its extensive and very favorable report has just been published, and the Woman Suffrage Association states that it expects early action by Parliament. More than one-third of the wage-earners of France are women, and these may vote for tribunes and chambers of commerce and boards of trade. They may be members of the last named and serve as judges.

The constitution of the new Republic of Portugal gave "universal" suffrage, and Dr. Beatrice Angelo applied for registration, which was refused. She carried her case to the courts, her demand was sustained, and she cast her vote. It was too late for other women to register, but an organization of 1,000 women was at once formed to secure definite action of Parliament, with the approval of President Braga and several members of his cabinet.

The Spanish Chamber has proposed to give women heads of families in the villages a vote for mayor and council.

A bill to give suffrage to women was recently introduced in the Parliament of Persia, but was ruled out of order by the president because the Koran says women have no souls.

Siam has lately adopted a constitution which gives women a municipal vote.

The leaders of the revolution in China have promised suffrage for women if it is successful.

Several women voted in place of their husbands at the recent election in Mexico. Belize, the capital of British Honduras, has just given the right to women to vote for town council.

Throughout the entire world is an unmistakable tendency to accord woman a voice in the government, and, strange to say, this is stronger in monarchies than in republics. In Europe the republics of France and Switzerland give almost no suffrage to women. Norway and Finland, where they have the complete franchise; Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Great Britain, where they have all but the parliamentary, and that close at hand, are monarchies. New Zealand and Australia, where women are fully enfranchised, are dependencies of a monarchical government.


The comfortable citizen possessing a vote won for him in a previous generation, who is so often profoundly disturbed by the cry of "Votes for Women," seldom connects the present attempt to extend the franchise with those former efforts, as the results of which he himself became a member of the enfranchised class. Still less does the average voter reflect that in order to make self-government a great instrument in the hands of those who crave social justice, it must ever be built up anew in relation to changing experiences, and that unless this readjustment constantly takes place self-government itself is placed in jeopardy.

Yet the adherents of representative government, with its foundations laid in diversified human experiences, must concede that the value of such government bears a definite relation to the area of its base and that the history of its development is merely a record of new human interests which have become the subjects of governmental action, and the incorporation into the government itself of those classes who represented the new interests.

As the governing classes have been increased by the enfranchisement of one body of men after another, the art of government has been enriched in human interests, and at the same tune as government has become thus humanized by new interests it has inevitably become further democratized through the accession of new classes. The two propositions are complementary. For centuries the middle classes in emery country in Europe struggled to wrest governmental power from the nobles because they insisted that government must consider the problems of a rising commerce; on the other hand, the merchants claimed direct representation because government had already begun to concern itself with commercial affairs. When the working men of the nineteenth century, the Chartists in England and the "men of `48" in Germany vigorously demanded the franchise, national parliaments had already begun to regulate the condition of mines and the labor of little children. The working men insisted that they themselves could best represent their own interests, but at the same time their very entrance into government increased the volume and pressure of those interests.

Much of the new demand for political enfranchisement arises from a desire to remedy the unsatisfactory and degrading social conditions which are responsible for so much wrong-doing and wretchedness. The fate of all the unfortunate, the suffering, the criminal, is daily forced upon public attention in painful and intimate ways. But because of the tendency to nationalize all industrial and commercial questions, to make the state responsible for the care of the helpless, to safeguard by law the food we eat and the liquid we drink, to subordinate the claim of the individual family to the health and well-being of the community, contemporary women who are without the franchise are much more outside the real life of the world than any set of disenfranchised men could possibly have been in all history, unless it were the men slaves of ancient Greece, because never before has so large an area of life found civic expression, never has Hegel’s definition of the state been so accurate, that it is the "realization of the moral ideal." Certain it is that the phenomenal entrance of women into governmental responsibility in the dawn of the twentieth century is coincident with the consideration by governmental bodies of the basic human interests with which women have been traditionally concerned. A most advanced German statesman recently declared in the Reichstag that it was a reproach to the Imperial Government itself that out of two million children born annually in Germany, 400,000 died during the first twelve months of their existence. He proceeded to catalog various reforms which might remedy this, such as better housing, the increase of park areas, the erection of municipal hospitals, the provision for an adequate milk supply, and many another, but he did not make the very obvious suggestion that women might be of service in a situation involving the care of children less than a year old.

Nevertheless, in spite of this lack of perception, women all over the world are claiming and receiving a place in representative government because they insist that they will not cease to perform their traditional duties, simply because these duties have been taken over by existing governments.

The contemporaneous "Votes for Women" movement is often amorphous and sporadic, but always spontaneous. It not only appears simultaneously in various countries, but manifests itself in widely separated groups in the same country; in every city it embraces the "smart set" and the hard-driven working women; sometimes it is sectarian and dogmatic, at others philosophic and grandiloquent, but it is always vital and constantly becoming more widespread.

In certain aspects it differs from former efforts to extend the franchise. We recall that the final entrance of the middle class into government was characterized by two dramatic revolutions, one in America and one in France, neither of them without bloodshed, and that although the final efforts of the working men were more peaceful, even in restrained England the Chartists burned hayricks and destroyed town property. This world-wide entrance into government on the part of women is happily a bloodless one. Although some glass has been broken in England it is noteworthy that the movement as a whole has been without even a semblance of violence. The creed of the movement, however, is similar to that promulgated by the doctrinaires of the eighteenth century: that if increasing the size of the governing body automatically increases the variety and significance of government, then only when all the people become the governing class can the collective resources and organizations of the community be consistently utilized for the common weal.


I have long been a convinced advocate of woman suffrage and am now firmer than ever in supporting it. It seems to me a necessary and desirable consequence of the vast extension of the functions of Government which the past century and a half has witnessed. The state, nowadays, enters the homes of the people and insists on having a voice in questions that individual men and women, acting together, taking counsel together, used to settle for themselves in their own way. Education and the training and feeding of children, the housing and sanitation problems, provision against old age and sickness, the prevention of disease—all these are questions that formerly were dealt with, of course, in a very isolated and inadequate way, by cooperation and discussion between the heads of each household. What reason is there why the same cooperation should not continue now that these matters have been raised to the sphere of legislative enactments and official administration?

Laws to-day affect the interests of women lust as deeply as they do the interests of men. Some laws—many laws—affect them more gravely and intimately; and I do not believe you can trust the welfare of a class or a sex entirely to another class or sex. It is not that their interests are not identical, but that their point of view is different. Take the housing problem. A working man leaves home in the morning within half an hour after he wakes. He is not there all day. He turns up in the evening and does not always remain there. If the house is a poor, uncomfortable, dismal one, he very often seeks consolation in the glare and warmth of the nearest public-house, but he takes very good care that the wife shall not do as he does. She has got to stay at home all day, however wretched her surroundings. Who can say that her experience, her point of view, is not much better worth consulting than her husband’s on the housing problem? Up to the present the only and the whole share of women in the housing question has been suffering. Slums are often the punishment of the man. They are almost always the martyrdom of the woman. Give women the vote, give them an effective part in the framing and administration of the laws which touch not merely their own lives but the lives of their children, and they will soon, I believe, cleanse the land of these foul dens.

All sorts of women’s interests were affected by the National Insurance Act, and all sorts of questions sprang up in connection with it on which women alone could speak with real authority. But, being voteless, there was no way in which their views could be authoritatively set forth. Four million women workers and seven million married women have come under the operation of the Act, yet not one of them was given the opportunity of making their opinions known and felt through a representative in the House of Commons. It was the experience of every friendly society official I consulted that had it not been for the women and their splendid self-sacrifice, the subscriptions of the men would have lapsed long ago. Yet these women who had thus kept the societies going were not considered worth consulting as to their status under the Act. The House of Commons itself insisted on there being at least one woman Commissioner. But if a woman is fit to be a Commissioner—a very heavy and difficult position involving enormous responsibilities and demanding great skill and judgment and experience—how can she be said to be unfit to have a vote?

What is the meaning of democracy? It is that the citizens who are expected to obey the law are those who make the law. But that is not true of Great Britain. At least half the adult citizens whose lives are deeply affected by every law that is carried on the statute-books have absolutely no voice in making that law. They have no more influence in the matter than the horses that drag their lords and masters to the polling-booth.

The drunken loafer who has not earned a living for years is consulted by the Constitution on questions like the training and upbringing of children, the national settlement of religion in Wales and elsewhere, and as to the best method of dealing with the licensing problem. But the wife whose industry keeps him and his household from beggary, who pays the rent and taxes which constitute him a voter, who is therefore really responsible for his qualification to vote, is not taken into account in the slightest degree. I came in contact not long ago with a great girls’ school in the south of England. It was founded by women, and it is administered by women. It is one of the most marvelous organizations in the whole country, and yet, when we had, in the year 1906, to give a national verdict on the question of education, the man who split the firewood in that school was asked for his opinion about it, while those ladies were deemed to be absolutely unfit to pass any judgment on it at all. That is a preposterous and barbarous anachronism, and so long as it lasts our democracy is one-sided and incomplete. But it will not last long. No franchise bill can ever again be brought forward in this country without raising the whole problem of whether you are going to exclude more than half the citizens of the land. Women have entered pretty nearly every sphere of commerce and industry and professional activity and public employment; and there never was a time when the nation stood more in need of the special experience, instincts, and sympathy of womanhood in the management of its affairs. When women get the vote the horizon of the home will be both brightened and expanded, and their influence on moral and social and educational questions, especially on the temperance question, and possibly on the peace of nations, will be constant and humanizing.

Those are a few of the reasons why I favor woman suffrage. But because I favor it I do not therefore hold myself bound to either speak or vote for any and every suffrage bill that may be introduced into Parliament. I voted against the so-called Conciliation Bill which proposed to give the vote to every woman of property if she chose to take the trouble to get it, and at the same time enfranchise only about one-tenth or one-fifteenth of the working women of the country. That was simply a roundabout way of doubling the plural voters and no democrat could possibly support it, so long as there remained a single alternative. The solution that most appeals to me is the one embodied in the Dickinson Bill, that is to say, a measure conferring the vote on women house-holders and on the wives of married electors; and I believe that it is in that form that woman suffrage will eventually come in this country. How soon it will come depends very largely on how soon the militants come to their senses.

I say, unhesitatingly, that the main obstacle to women getting the vote is militancy and nothing else. Its practitioners really seem to think that they can terrorize and pin-prick Parliament into giving it to them; and until they learn something of the people they are dealing with, their whole agitation, so far as the House of Commons is concerned, is simply and utterly damned. It is perfectly astonishing to recall with what diabolical ingenuity they have contrived to infuriate all their opponents, to alienate all their sympathizers, and to stir up against themselves every prejudice in the average man’s breast. A few years ago they found three-fourths of the Liberal M.P.’s on their side. They at once proceeded to cudgel their brains as to how they could possibly drive them into the enemy’s camp. They rightly decided that this could not be done more effectually than by insulting and assaulting the Prime Minister, the chief of the Party, and a leader for whom all his colleagues and followers feel an unbounded admiration, regard, and affection. When they had thus successfully estranged the majority of Liberals they began to study the political situation a little more closely. They saw that the Irish Nationalists were very powerful factors in the Ministerial Coalition. The next problem, therefore, was how to destroy the last chance that the Irish Nationalists would support their cause. They achieved this triumphantly first by making trouble in Belfast where the only Nationalist member is or was a strong Suffragist, and secondly by going to Dublin when all Nationalist Ireland had assembled to welcome Mr. Asquith, throwing a hatchet at Mr. Redmond, and trying to burn down a theater. That finished Ireland, but still they were dissatisfied. There was a dangerous movement of sympathy with their agitation in Wales, and they felt that at any cost it had to be checked. They not only checked, but demolished, it with the greatest ease by breaking in upon the proceedings at an Eisteddfod. Now the Eisteddfod is not only the great national festival of Welsh poetry and music and eloquence, it is also an oasis of peace amid the sharp contentions of Welsh life. To bring into it any note of politics or sectarianism or public controversy, even when these things are rousing the most passionate emotions outside, seems to a Welshman like the desecration of an altar. That is just what the militants did, and Welsh interest in their cause fell dead on the spot. But even then they were not happy. They were still encumbered by the good-will of perhaps a hundred Tory M.P.’s. But they proved entirely equal to the task of antagonizing them. They began smashing windows, burning country mansions, firing race-stands, damaging golf-greens, striking as hard as they could at the Tory idol of Property. There is really nothing more left for them to do; they have alienated every friend they ever had; their work is complete beyond their wildest hopes.

Well, one can not dignify such tactics and antics by the title of "political propaganda." The proper name for them is sheer organized lunacy. The militants have erected militancy into a principle. I am beginning to think that a good many of them are more concerned with the success of their method than with the success of their cause. They would rather not have the vote than fail to win it by the particular brand of agitation they have pinned their faith to. They don’t really want the vote to be given them; they want to get it and to get it by force; and they are quite unable to see that the more force they use the stronger becomes the resolve both of Parliament and of the country to send them away empty-handed. If they had accepted Mr. Asquith’s pledge of two years ago and thanked him for it and helped him redeem it, woman suffrage by now would be an accomplished fact. But they preferred their own ways, and what is the result? The result is that working for their cause in the House of Commons to-day is like swimming not merely against a tide but against a cataract. The real reason why the attempts to carry woman suffrage through the House of Commons during the past two years have failed is not merely the difficulty of trying to combine a non-party measure with the party system; it is, above all, the impossibility of using Parliament to pass a bill that the opinion of the country has been fomented to condemn. The fact that in both the principal parties there is a clean division of opinion on this issue and that no Government, or none that is at present conceivable, can bring forward a measure for the enfranchisement of women as a Government, is a great, but not necessarily an insuperable obstacle. The one barrier, there is no surmounting and no getting round, is the decided and increasing hostility of public sentiment; and for that the militants have only themselves to thank.

Personally I always try to remember, first, that militancy is the work of only a very small fraction of the women who want the vote and ought to have it, and, secondly, that there have been crazy men just as there are crazy women. Militancy has not affected my own individual attitude toward the main question and never will. But I recognize that it has killed the immediate Parliamentary prospects of any and every Suffrage Bill, and that so long as militancy continues the House of Commons will do nothing. Only a new movement altogether can now bring women to the goal of political emancipation; and it will have to be a sane, hard-headed, practical movement, as full of liveliness as you please, but absolutely divorced from stones and bombs and torches. When it arises the friends of the Women’s cause will begs to take heart again.


"And what did she get by it?" said my Uncle Toby.
"What does any woman get by it?" said my father.
"Martyrdom," replied the young Benedictine.


The present situation of woman suffrage in England recalls the old puzzle: What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable body? The irresistible force is the religious passion of myriads of women, the fury of self-sacrifice, the righteous zeal that shrinks not even from crime; the immovable body may be summed up as Mr. Asquith. Almost as gross an incarnation of Tory prejudice as Squire Western, who laid it down that women should come in with the first dish and go out with the first glass, Mr. Asquith is all that stands between the sex and the suffrage.

The answer to the old puzzle, I suppose, would be that though the immovable body does not move, yet the impact of the irresistible force generates heat, which, as we know from Tyndall, is a mode of motion. At any rate, heat is the only mode in which the progress of woman suffrage can be registered to-day. The movement has come to what Mr. Henry James might call "the awkward age": an age which has passed beyond argument without arriving at achievement; an age for which words are too small and blows too big. And because impatience has been the salvation of the movement, and because the suffragette will not believe that the fiery charger which has carried her so far can not really climb the last ridge of the mountain, but must be replaced by a mule that miserable compromise between a steed and an anti-suffragist—the awkward age is also the dangerous age.

When the Cabinet of Clement’s Inn, perceiving that if a woman suffrage Bill did not pass this session, the last chance—under the Parliament Act—was gone for this Parliament, resolved to rouse public opinion by breaking tradesmen’s windows, it overlooked that the English are a nation of shop-keepers, and that the public opinion thus roused would be for the first time almost unreservedly on the side of the Government. And when the Cabinet of Downing Street, moved to responsive recklessness, raided the quarters of the Women’s Social and Political Union and indicted the leaders for criminal conspiracy, it equally overlooked an essential factor of the situation. The Cabinet of the conspiracy was at least as much a restraint to suffragettes as an incentive. It held in order the more violent members, the souls naturally daring or maddened by forcible feeding. By its imposition of minor forms of lawlessness, it checked the suggestion of major forms. Crime was controlled by a curriculum and temper studied by a time-table. The interruptions at meetings were distributed among the supposed neuropaths like parts at a play, and wo to the maenad who missed her cue. With the police, too, the suffragettes lived for the most part on terms of cordial cooperation, each side recognizing that the other must do its duty. When the suffragettes planned a raid upon Downing Street or the House of Commons, they gave notice of time and place, and were provided with a sufficient force of police to prevent it. Were the day inconvenient for the police, owing to the pressure of social engagements, another day was fixed, politics permitting. The entente cordiale extended even in some instances to the jailers and the bench, and, as in those early days of the Quaker persecution of which Milton’s friend, Ellwood, has left record, prisoners sometimes left their cells for a night to attend to imperative affairs, or good-naturedly shortened or canceled their sentences at the pressing solicitation of perturbed magistrates. Prison was purified by all these gentle presences, and women criminals profited by the removal of the abuses they challenged. Holloway became a home from home, in which beaming wardresses welcomed old offenders, and to which husbands conducted erring wives in taxicabs, much as Ellwood and his brethren marched of themselves from Newgate to Bridewell, explaining to the astonished citizens of London that their word was their keeper. A suffragette’s word stood higher than consols, and the war-game was played cards on table. True, there were brutal interludes when Home Secretaries lost their heads, or hysterical magistrates their sense of justice, or when the chivalrous constabulary of Westminster was replaced by Whitechapel police, dense to the courtesies of the situation; but even these tragedies were transfused by its humors, by the subtle duel of woman’s wit and man’s lumbering legalism. The hunger-strike itself, with all its grim horrors and heroisms, was like the plot of a Gilbertian opera. It placed the Government on the horns of an Irish bull. Either the law must kill or torture prisoners condemned for mild offenses, or it must permit them to dictate their own terms of durance. The criminal code, whose dignity generations of male rebels could not impair, the whole array of warders, lawyers, judges, juries, and policemen, which ali the scorn of a Tolstoy could not shrivel, shrank into a laughing-stock. And the comedy of the situation was complicated and enhanced by the fact that the Home Office, so far from being an Inquisition, was more or less tenanted by sympathizers with Female Suffrage, and that a Home Secretary who secretly admired the quixotry of the hunger-strikers was forced to feed them forcibly. He must either be denounced by the suffragettes as a Torquemada or by the public as an incapable. Bayard himself could not have coped with the position. There was no place like the Home Office, and its administrators, like the Governors of the Gold Coast, had to be relieved at frequent intervals. As for the police, their one aim in life became to avoid arresting suffragettes.

Such was the situation which the Governmental coup transformed to tragedy unrelieved, giving us in the place of ordered lawlessness and responsible leadership a guerrilla warfare against society by irresponsive individuals, more or less unbalanced. That the heroic incendiary Mrs. Leigh, who deserved penal servitude and a statue, had been driven wild by forcible feeding was a fact that had given considerable uneasiness to headquarters, but she had been kept in comparative discipline. Now that discipline has been destroyed, it is possible that other freelances will catch the contagion of crime; nay, there are signs that the leaders themselves are being infected through the difficulty of disavowing their martyrs. The wisest course for the Government would be to pardon Miss Pankhurst, of Paris, and officially invite her to resume control of her followers before they have quite controlled her.

But even without such a crowning confession of the failure of its coup, the humiliation of the Government has been sufficiently complete. Forced to put Mrs. Pankhurst and the Pethick Lawrences into the luxurious category of political prisoners, next to release them altogether, and finally to liberate their humblest followers, their hunger-strike on behalf of whose equal treatment set a new standard of military chivalry, the Government succeeded only in investing the vanished Christabel with a new glamour. The Women’s Social and Political Union has again baffled the Government, and come triumphantly even through the window-breaking episode. For if that episode was followed by the rejection of the second reading of the woman suffrage Bill, second readings, like the oaths of the profane, had come to be absolutely without significance, and the blocking of the Bill beyond this stage has been assured long before by the tactics of Mr. Redmond, whose passion for justice, like Mr. Asquith’s passion for popular government, is so curiously monosexual. The only discount from the Union’s winnings is that it gave mendacious M.P.’s, anxious to back but of woman suffrage, a soft bed to lie on.

One should perhaps also add to the debit side of the account a considerable loss of popularity on the part of the suffragettes, a loss which would become complete were window-breaking to pass into graver crimes, and which would entirely paralyze the effect of their tactics.

For the tactics of the prison and the hunger-strike depend for their value upon the innocency of the prisoners. Their offense must be merely nominal or technical. The suffragettes had rediscovered the Quaker truth that the spirit is stronger than all the forces of Government, and that things may really come by fasting and prayer. Even the window-breaking, though a perilous approach to the methods of the Pagan male, was only a damage to insensitive material for which the window-breakers were prepared to pay in conscious suffering. But once the injury was done to flesh and blood, the injurer would only be paying tooth for tooth and eye for eye; and all the sympathy would go, not to the assailant, but to the victim. Mrs. Pankhurst says the Government must either give votes to women or "prepare to send large numbers of women to penal servitude." That would be indeed awkward for the Government if penal servitude were easily procurable. Unfortunately, the women must first qualify for it, and their crimes would disembarrass the Government. Mrs. Leigh could have been safely left to starve had her attempted arson of that theater really come off, especially with loss of life. Thus violence may be "militant," but it is not "tactics." And violence against society at large is peculiarly tactless. George Fox would hardly occupy so exalted a niche in history if he had used his hammer to make not shoes but corpses.

The suffragettes who run amuck have, in fact, become the victims of their own vocabulary. Their Union was "militant," but a church militant, not an army militant. The Salvation Army might as well suddenly take to shooting the heathen. It was only by mob misunderstanding that the suffragettes were conceived as viragoes, just as it was only by mob misunderstanding that the members of the Society of Friends were conceived as desperadoes. If it can not be said that their proceedings were as quintessentially peaceful as some of those absolutely mute Quaker meetings which the police of Charles II. humorously enough broke up as "riots," yet they had a thousand propaganda meetings (ignored by the Press) to one militant action (recorded and magnified). Even in battle nothing could be more decorous or constitutional than the overwhelming majority of their "pin-pricks."

I remember a beautiful young lady, faultlessly dressed, who in soft, musical accents interrupted Mr. Birrell at the Mansion House. Stewards hurled themselves at her, policemen hastened from every point of the compass; but unruffled as at the dinner-table, without turning a hair of her exquisite chevelure, she continued gently explaining the wishes of womankind till she disappeared in a whirlwind of hysteric masculinity. But in gradually succumbing to the vulgar misunderstanding, playing up to the caricature, and finally assimilating to the crude and obsolescent methods of men, the suffragettes have been throwing away their own peculiar glory, their characteristic contribution to history and politics. Rosalind in search of a vote has supplied humanity with a new type who snatched from her testifyings a grace beyond the reach of Arden. But Rosalind with a revolver would be merely a reactionary. Hawthorne’s Zenobia, who, for all her emancipation, drowned herself in a fit of amorous jealousy, was no greater backslider from the true path of woman’s advancement. It is some relief to find that Mrs. Pankhurst’s latest program disavows attacks on human life, limiting itself to destruction of property, and that the Pethick Lawrences have grown still saner.

There might, indeed, be—for force is not always brute—some excuse and even admiration for the Terrorist, did the triumph of her cause appear indefinitely remote, were even that triumph to be brought perceptibly nearer by forcibly feeding us with horrors. But the contrary is the case: even the epidemic of crime foreshadowed by Mrs. Pankhurst could not appreciably delay woman suffrage. It is coming as fast as human nature and the nature of the Parliamentary machine will allow. To try to terrorize Mr. Asquith into bringing in a Government measure is to credit him with a wisdom and a nobility almost divine. No man is great enough to put himself in the right by admitting he was wrong. And even if he were great enough to admit it under argument, he would have to be godlike to admit it under menace. Rather than admit it, Mr. Asquith has let himself be driven into a position more ludicrous than perhaps any Prime Minister has occupied. For though he declares woman suffrage to be "a political disaster of the gravest kind," he is ready to push it through if the House of Commons wishes, relying for its rejection upon the House of Lords, which he has denounced and eviscerated. He is even not unwilling it shall pass if only the disaster to the country is maximized by Adult Suffrage. It is not that he loves woman more, but the Tory party less.

All things considered, I am afraid the Suffrage Movement will have to make up its mind to wait for another Parliament. There is more hope for the premature collapse of this Parliament than for its passing of a Suffrage Bill or clause. And at the general election, whenever it comes, Votes for Women will be put on the program of both parties. The Conservatives will offer a mild dose, the Liberals a democratic. Whichever fails at the polls, the principle of woman suffrage will be safe.

This prognostic, it will be seen, involves the removal of the immovable Asquith. But he must either consent to follow a plebiscite of his party or retire, like his doorkeeper, from Downing Street, under the intolerable burden of the suffragette. Much as his party honors and admires him, it can not continue to repudiate the essential principles of Liberalism, nor find refuge in his sophism that Liberalism removes artificial barriers, but can not remove natural barriers. What natural barrier prevents a woman from accepting or rejecting a man who proposes to represent her in Parliament? No; after his historic innings Mr. Asquith will sacrifice himself and retire, covered with laurels and contradictions. Pending which event, the suffragettes, while doing their best to precipitate it through the downfall of the Government, may very reasonably continue their policy of pin-pricks to keep politicians from going to sleep, but serious violence would be worse than a crime; it would be a blunder. No general dares throw away his men when nothing is to be gained, and our analysis shows that the interval between women and the vote can only be shortened by bringing on a general election.

There are, indeed, skeptics who fear that even at the next general election both parties may find a way of circumventing woman suffrage by secretly agreeing to keep it off both programs; but the country itself is too sick of the question to endure this, even if the Women’s Liberal Federation and the corresponding Conservative body permitted it. That the parties would go so far as to pair off their women workers against each other is unlikely. At any rate, now, when other forms of agitation are more or less futile, is the moment for these and cognate bodies to take up the running.

But even if these women workers fail in backbone, and allow themselves, as so often before, to be lulled and gulled by their male politicians, there yet remains an ardent body to push forward their cause. Mrs. Humphry Ward and the Anti-Suffragists may be trusted to continue tireless and ever-inventive. Mrs. Ward’s League to promote the return of women as town and county councilors is her latest device to prove the unfitness of women for public affairs, and since the Vegetarian League for combating the carnivorous instincts of the tigress by feeding her on blood, there has been no quite so happy adaptation of means to end. If anything could add to the educative efficiency of the new League, it is Mrs. Ward’s scrupulousness in limiting it exclusively to Anti-Suffragists.


There was a time in England when all the laws were made and executed by the King.

Later he appointed certain favorites who acted for him, and these were paid honors and emoluments accordingly.

Still later, all soldiers were allowed to express their political preferences. And that is where we got the idea about not allowing folks to vote who could not fight.

It was once the law in England that no Catholic should be allowed to vote.

It was also once the law in England that no Jew could hold real estate, could vote at elections, could hold a public office, or serve on a jury.

Full rights of citizenship were not given to the Jews in Great Britain until the year 1858. Deists, Theists, Quakers, and "Dissenters" were not allowed to testify in courts, and their right to vote was challenged in England up to 1885.

For centuries, Jews occupied the position of minors, mental defectives, or men with criminal records.

Women now in England occupy the same position politically that the Jews did a hundred years ago.

Until very recent times all lawmakers disputed the fact that women have rights. Women have privileges and duties—mostly duties.

All the laws are made by men, and for the most part the rights only of male citizens are considered. If the rights of women or children are taken into consideration, it is only from a secondary point of view, or because the attention of lawmakers is especially called to the natural rights of women, children, and dumb animals.

Provisions, however, have always been made in England as well as all other civilized countries for punishing Catholics, Jews, Quakers, and women.

In old New England there was once a pleasing invention called a "ducking stool," that was for "women only." For the most part,—the punishment for these individuals who were not citizens was very much more severe than it was for the people who made and devised the punishment for them.

Women are admitted into the full rights of citizenship in New Zealand and Australia, and in several States in the United States.

There will surely come a time when we will look back and regard the withholding of full political rights from women in the same way that we now look back and regard the disfranchisement of Jews and Catholics.

There is no argument that can possibly be presented against the right of women to express their political preferences which does not in equal degree apply to the right of male citizens to express theirs.

Every possible logical argument has been put forward and answered.

The protest in England by certain women who are working for equal suffrage has taken what is called a militant form.

These women, m many instances, have been guilty of violence.

The particular women who have been foremost in this matter of violence are not criminals in any sense of the word. They are not plotting and planning the overthrow of the government. They are not guilty of treason; and certainly they are not guilty of disorder along any other line than that springing out of their disapproval of the failure of the government to grant the right of political representation to women.

"Taxation without representation" was the shibboleth of the men who founded the government of the United States of America.

This shibboleth, or slogan, came to them from across the sea and was first uttered in England before the days of Magna Charta.

That every adult individual, man or woman, possessed of normal mentality, should be thoroughly interested in the government, and should have the right of expressing his or her political preferences, is beyond dispute, especially under any government that affects to derive its powers from the governed.

The right to govern is conferred by the governed, and this is now admitted even in the so-called monarchies. And the governed are not exclusively males; the governed are men and women, for women are responsible before the law.

So thoroughly are these facts fixed in the minds of a great many men and women everywhere that a few men are possessed by the righteousness of the cause to a degree that they are willing not only to live for it and fight for it, suffer for it, but also to die for it.

Some of these women in London, who have been throwing stones into windows, thus destroying property, have signified as great a willingness to injure themselves as they have to injure the property of their fellow citizens, provided by so doing they can bring to the attention of the men in charge of the government the absolute necessity of recognizing the political rights of women.

If certain people in the past had not been willing to stake their all on individual rights, there would to-day be no liberty for any one.

The saviors of the world are simply those who have been willing to die that humanity might live.

It may be hard for an individual of average purpose to understand or comprehend this mental attitude where the individual is fired with such zeal that he is willing to suffer physical destruction for it.

In England, the test has come to an issue of whether these women, intent on bringing about governmental recognition of the rights of women, should be allowed to die for the cause or not. And from all latest reports, John Bull does seem troubled abort it.


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Women's Suffrage

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Chicago: Jane Addams et al., "Woman Suffrage:The Movement Comes to the Front by Its Triumph in California," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 21 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed July 22, 2024,

MLA: Harper, Ida Husted, et al. "Woman Suffrage:The Movement Comes to the Front by Its Triumph in California." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 21, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 22 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Harper, IH et al., 'Woman Suffrage:The Movement Comes to the Front by Its Triumph in California' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 21. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 22 July 2024, from