Friday, September 24, 2010

What Edith Heard that Night!

Another ad in the 1913 Report of the Canadian Council of Women.

Here is an account Mrs. Philip Snowdon's speech. Her first name was Ethel, and she was married to a Socialist member of the UK Parliament. Hmm. In those days, a woman didn't only give up her last name, she also gave up her first. In fact, even in the 1960's, women were referred to as Mrs. John Smith, say, in news reports.

Well, this speech did not impress Edith. It wasn't 'militant enough'. But it is interesting to read after 100 years of galloping 'advances' and a century of "la plus ca change" or same ole, same ole.

Yet again it is stated that the women of the 1910 era have won the right to work in most any profession they want. (It just wasn't true: just because there was one woman doctor, doesn't mean it was easy for any woman to become a doctor. Carrie Derick, who attended this speech no doubt, had fought like Hell to become a full professor at McGill the year before. And her duties and pay did not change with the promotion, either.) starts:
As England was the storm-center of the suffrage movement, she thought it well to refer chiefly to that country, and said that while suffragists at times could not help feeling sick at heart at the difficulty in obtaining their aims, in reality during the past century, their cause had made great strides. For their progress dated from 1832, when the successful agitation in favour of adult male suffrage had been the first step in the direction of political emancipation. A hundred years ago there had been no profession open to women, but now they could be doctors, accountants, clerks, while the other professions would be open in time; even the ministry, she thought, would be open before many years. Women could now sit on the public bodies of every kind, except in Parliament, while in the Civil Service, they were paid on the same basis as men. There had been two women on the recent Divorce Commission, and it had been owing to their pressure that it had been decided to recommend equal cause for divorce for men and women. While on the last occasion when the Suffrage Bill was brought up in Parliament, the Government had refused to give it any times; they had offered to introduce any other bill suggested by the suffragists, and though the efforts of the latter, the Criminal Amendments or White Slave Traffic Bill had been passed, legalizing flogging of procurers and allowing them to be arrested without warrant, while owners as well as tenants were made responsible for the use to which their property was put.

These steps reflected a big change in the attitude towards women and had resulted from the efforts of the suffragists. In effect, the public was converted to the suffrage for women, but the party system of politics stood in their way. Each side was afraid that if women got the vote they would fail to vote intelligently ; in other words, would not vote as they wished. This was the attitude in spite of the vast number of adherents that had been enrolled on their side and notwithstanding the quantities of petitions that had been sent to the Government. Then why did they not win? It was on account of the lack of unity among their adherents; while perhaps the temperance advocates were in their favour, the latter preferred to concentrate their efforts on getting their temperance measures passed, instead of seeing that if women suffrage was secured, their objects would be assisted. It was the same with educational and other reformers. And while the party system prevailed they could only get the vote when they could force Parliament to give it to them.

They had appealed to honour and fair play, but finding this of no avail, most of the suffrage party had cut loose from party associations. It was said that woman’s sphere was the home; this was true enough, and nowadays that politics were simply glorified housekeeping women had all the more claim to their share. A few years ago, it was only foreign questions that were discussed, but now social matters were to the fore. The question of housing the poor, for instance, was essentially connected with the home, as was the question of sweater labour, which involved thousands of women and children. (The power of woman’s vote in politics would be to glorify the value of human life, the real property of women who had brought them into the world- as opposed to inanimate property, which men from the earliest times sought to acquire and thought about. It was a question of property versus human life and honour, championed by women. Legislation where women had a hand in it, in California, New Zealand, and elsewhere, was not revolutionary, but it tended to improve the world for the little children to be born into. A good many perfect homes had been made in the world under the system of men’s legislation, and the speaker thought that if men and women worked together, a perfect state might be evolved. Women would make mistakes, if they go the vote, just as men had, but their cause was righteous and in the interest of common humanity.