Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Teachers and the Vote: 1912

Edith Nicholson. I'm guessing these men are from St. Francis College, where Edith taught in 1914-16.


Well, as I write Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, the follow up to Threshold Girl it has occurred to me that the murder mystery plot is not enough.

Yes, Edith loses her fiance in a fire at the Rossmore Hotel in Cornwall and she learns it was all her fault. Very engaging, I think.

But I need to add a 'social welfare' aspect as I did in Threshold Girl. And I have to look no further than the magazine Votes of Women, the magazine of the WSPU.


This magazine, which a friend gives her, will inspire Edith to become who she becomes.

Here's an article from the April 19,  1912 Votes for Women about Teachers and the Vote.

(I think this article, in particular,  will be read out by Edith. In Threshold Girl Edith takes younger sister Flora to a suffrage talk- in early May, 1912.  Around that time she also decides to quit her teaching job. Indeed, all the teachers at her missionary school quit. So I will have Edith organize this mass exodus.)

In Canada, many teachers were suffragists. Indeed, Macdonald College only reluctantly absorbed the  McGill Normal School in 1907. The founders of the Macdonald Movement wanted women to be trained as housekeepers or homemakers.

Cristabel Pankhurst as a witch. From Votes for Women Magazine

(Here's the article. The reporting captures the energy of the meeting. This magazine is a great read for so  many reasons. (See how the older woman union member mocks some more radical young ones.)

From Votes for Women Magazine, April 19, 1912: The Question of Women's Suffrage was again discussed by the national congress of teachers at Easter. As was the case last year there was a very heated debate.

The Yorkshire Observer refers to Women's Suffrage as "the great bone of contention at Aherysteryth in 1910 and as the topic hotly discussed by local associations throughout the year and, again, as the dividing whirlwind at Hull. 'No man,' it said, "could hold the storm. It broke with the violence of a northerly gale. Again and again the meeting was stopped by rival cries and calls. The assembly heaved with crosswinds and currents of feelings churned by an angry sea."

Eventually, the previous question was carried and the discussion was once more shelved as far as the Congress is concerned.

But we shall be greatly disappointed if the women teachers, who are in an enormous majority as members of the NUT allow the question to remain where it is.

When the Congress arrived at the motion of Parliamentary Franchise for Women, it was met with deafening applause.

Miss Isabel Cleghorn, M.A. ex President of the Congress, moved the following resolution.
That this conference expresses its sympathies with those members of the National Union of Teachers,
who desired to possess and exercise the Parliamentary Franchise, but because they are women, and for that reason alone, are by law debarred from it.

She remarked that there were three reasons given last year why the suspension of standing orders should not be carried so that this resolution could be discussed: 1)That the motion had been sprung upon the executive; 2) that the associations had not had the opportunity of discussing it; 3)that this was a political question and should not be discussed by the National Union of Teachers.

This year they could not advance these reasons.

The association had discussed the motion and the result was that the motion was now sent forward by 17, 062 votes for its discussion and 6,728 against it. (Applause)

In addition, the associations had sent it up as the number 3 resolution to be discussed among the members.


Parliament from the London Eye, 2006. Taken by Me.

With reference to the argument that it was a political question, she said that the conference would agree, that  the parliamentary influence of their union was one of their greatest assets (Applause) that they were continually in their meetings and in their conferences discussing politics. They had not only discussed the question of the franchise but they had expended union money to extend the franchise to people who resided in their schoolhouses. (Applause.) And in the past they had discussed education bills. It seems to her that if their political power (and they had political power)depended on the vote, then if they were going to add more of their members as voters it must increase their political power. (Applause). Women were earning their own living. They were teaching in the schools of the country. They had to teach their children citizenship, loyalty patriotism and all that was necessary to make them good citizens of the future and  yet they had not the power of the vote which made for the good of the  country in the making of its laws. (Applause)

Mr. Dakers VP seconded the resolution and amidst cries of dissent reserved his remarks.
Mr. A E Cook NW London was loudly cheered on rising to move the previous question. He belonged to a large association in connection with which was an active ladies committee and they unanimously decided that it was not part or parcel of the union to interfere in this question. One of the objects of the association was to unite the member and this would bring disunion. Another object was to extend influence and dignity of the profession. The only cause of their object which touched the question was that which referred to securing of effective representation in Parliament. But this was not an education question: it was absolutely a political question.

Mrs. Bergwin seconded. She said all the sophistry, all the arguments of the suffrage association dissolved when she thought of the  actualities of life as she knew them. (Loud and prolonged applause and one call of Traitor). She had been asked if her position was not illogical. She reminded council that she had to support illogical things before when common sense opposed them.
It was no argument at all to say that because men had the vote women should too. What women would have the vote? ( Cries of ‘That’s the question’ and an interruption from some young women delegates who Mrs. Bergwin addressed as ‘dear girls’, adescription which created great laughter.

They might soon be happy wives but they would commence their married life with a grievance. “See what I have had to give up? I am not fit to have a vote now.”
I have a personal grievance, said Bergwin. We have had a government who would have carried social reform, remedied evils burning to be remedied.(Applause). But that government has been hampered and hindered…(Cries of dissent drowned out final words of sentence..
And this in atime that men’s passions may have been easily aroused. It was the job of her sex to shout PEACE. Peace with honour. Because her sex, womanhood and motherhood convinced her that this was not the time, nor was it opportune to give votes for women.
Mrs. Allan Croft said he was responsible for the appearance on the motion on the agenda. And he was proud.
Mr. Cook had missed out the very object of the NUT which was the justification for the motion on the agenda.  Object number 5 is to secure effective representation of education in Parliament. What better way could we devise to secure effective representation of education in Parliament than by greatly largely augmenting the ranks of voting members of the NUT.(Here. Here.)

The women members of the NUT provided the greater part of the parl. Fund. (Here here.) Over 4,000 pounds went every year into the fund directly from the pockets of the women members of the union.

Mr. Dakers pointed out that there was one department of social life in which women had a special interest. The department of the home. Therefore he claimed women had a special interest in the laws and regulations which determine the education of their children. Children were the shuttlecocks .of the party politicians. With their special interests in the welfare of the children who were a part of the home women would make a much better case of it.