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Letter from Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

Holloway Prison.—Discusses business relating to properties and investments, and refers to a forthcoming Exhibition.

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Transcript

Holloway Prison
March 4th 1909 {1}

My dear Husband.

I knew that there would be many matters of private business you would want to discuss with me & that if possible you would obtain a permit for an interview so that we could discuss them verbally which is of course the only satisfactory way. Since however that is not possible, I am glad to be able to tell you what I wish about the one or two matters which you mention. As regards “The Bungalow” property. The tenant you tell me leaves when the lease runs out. That is this month I believe. You say he has friends who will take it on at a lower rental. But I am not inclined to lower the rent, at any rate for the present. This is a good time of the year for letting such a property. And I do not think there will be any difficulty in finding tenants. I do not wish to sell in any case. You know I have always considered that we do well to hold that land. Being so near to London, it is bound to go up in value.

“The Mascot.” If you are renovating or decorating, the colour which I should wish to predominate is the blue that is the real dutch blue. You have a sample of it in the almanak† that hangs over my little desk in the Mascot dining room. I know you will superintend what is necessary in the garden. Rapley knows a great deal about the work & my wishes with regard it. I know how perfect & how beautiful everything will be. My special joy is in those May tulips. Some beautiful flowers were brought into the ward this morning—daffodils & some double golden tulips. Though no one told me where they came from, my heart told me. Flowers are a great joy to those who are here. So is music. Every afternoon when I am out at exercise I hear music. A Band in the street plays well known airs.

With regard to “The Sundial”. This house is let until the end of May. Will you write to the George Foxes & ask if they want it for June, or if not whether I shall reserve any other time of the year for them. From middle of July to end of August, it is let to the Esperance Club. I have not seen the books which you have presented to the Library. But no doubt I shall do so in good time. I have Shakespeare & other literature. I have not been at all dull. The week has gone quickly. I sleep like a baby—& feel that I haven’t a care or worry in the world. No news comes from the outside world. But I know perfectly well that everything is happening as I should wish. I have absolute confidence that all is well. No newspapers, not even our own could tell me more surely. You say hard work suits you. Well, a quiet life with domestic occupations seems to suit me, for I too feel very well & mean to come back thoroughly rested & fit for work. I hope you will fill up my dates for beginning of May. I shall not entangle myself with the machinery until after the Exhibition. Lady Connie will go to Annie in Bristol before Easter but do not make any other engagement out of London for her. Lady Connie should open the Exhibition on one of the three days. If this commends itself to you you can proceed to arrange it without delay. I am sure it would be the right & appropriate thing.

Dont you think it strange that out of over fifty people charged with the same offence, I am the only one to get sentence of two months. Two or three have been arrested twice before for the same offence. & Mrs Despard the leader of another deputation was sentenced to a month only. Why this divergence? I should like it explained.

I have had a letter from Mort about the business of the investments in trust for me under my Father’s will & estate. He says that he is inclined to sell the Columbian National Railways. There has been a considerable rise lately, he says, but he is not impressed with the stability of the investment. I told him I should like to see him & my brother Tom about this & various other matters, but if that would cause delay in this particular case, he can refer to you & if you think well he can sell. He also mentioned important developments in the Gazette. Have I not a legal right to see our family solicitor & trustee to transact private family business? This right should be claimed if it is a right.

Our financial report & balance sheet should receive my signature. Will you ask if the M.S. or proof can be sent to me to sign. If this is not granted, the explanation should be given in the Report, of the reason it goes out to the world without the signature of the Treasurer.

Now Goodbye. And “God bless us all—every one”[.] There is every reason why joy & love & infinite thanks should fill all our hearts. To me, this is a time of expectancy, of happy waiting for the spring. The bursting of new life & beauty—the eternal miracle & revelation. Just as the earth keeps already the joy of a great secret, so I keep already the promise of the future & hold its festival in my heart. My thoughts go to you all, & yours,—the thoughts of you all—come to me full of blessing. Special love to my Mother & to Aunt Ellen, who—

Your
Emmeline Pethick Lawrence

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The letter is written on a printed form. Other handwritten details on the sheet include the number (2141) and name of the prisoner, and some pencil notes in Fred Pethick-Lawrence’s hand.

{1} ‘Prison’ and ‘190’ are printed.

† Sic.

Biographical note on Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

Transcript

Biography of Mrs Pethick Lawrence

Mrs Pethick Lawrence realised when quite a child the very deplorable position of unprotected women in this country[,] especially those who belong to the working class. Upon the completion of her education she offered her services to the West London Mission then controlled by the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes and became one of the “sisters of the people”. She helped to found and organise the Esperance Club for working girls which has since established a reputation all over the country for its revival of folk dance and song.

Incidentally she had to do with many sad and difficult cases of human misery and she was often appealed to by the police on behalf of unfortunate women. In connection with these cases she attended Police Courts and became responsible to the magistrate for the woman prisoner in the dock.

After five years work in the West London Mission she went to live in a block of artisan buildings and tried the experiment of how much a working girl could live upon. She decided that the minimum was 15/– a week, whereupon she started with her friend Miss Mary Neal a co-operative dress-making establishment which paid its workers a miminim† wage of 15/– a week for an eight hour’s day. Several other schemes have been launched with her co-operation, including a holiday hotel for working girls at Littlehampton. Her marriage in 1901 did not put an end to any of these interests and the last twenty-two years of her life have been devoted to the social service of the community.

But every attempt at social and economic reform only drove more deeply home her conviction that so long as women were politically outside the pale of citizenship, the necessary leverage to life {1} working women and girls out of the morass was lacking.

In 1906 she became the first National Treasurer of the Women’s Social and Political Union. In the October of that year she suffered imprisonment for taking part in a protest in the lobby of the House of Commons. In 1909 she was arrested for leading a deputation for the purpose of presenting a Petition to the Prime Minister. In 1911 she was again imprisoned for a repetition of this offence. In 1912 she was arrested on a charge of Conspiracy and sentenced to imprisonment. On this occasion she adopted the Hunger Strike as a protest against the prison treatment and was forcibly fed. In the October of that year she was requested by Mrs Pankhurst to resign from the W.S.P.U. as Mrs Pankhurst had decided upon a development of the militant policy and did not want to be hampered by a Committee.

Great pressure was put upon Mrs Pethick Lawrence to found another Suffrage Organisation. To this she responded by forming the “Votes for Women” Fellowship—not a Suffrage Society, but an association of co-workers and Fellows to further a common enterprise, namely the establishment of the paper “Votes for Women” as the expression of the Suffrage Movement in its wide catholicity of ideal and purpose.

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Carbon copy of a typed original. ‘About 1912’ has been added at the top of the first sheet by hand, as well as the file number ‘2069’.

{1} A slip for ‘lift’.

† Sic.

Biographical note on Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, by F. W. Pethick-Lawrence, for a broadcast in Australia

(Carbon copy, with handwritten corrections.)

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Transcript

Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence is well known all the world over as an ardent champion of liberty and as an opponent of war and all other antagonisms of race, class, or sex which threaten the freedom of the human spirit.

One of her earliest recollections is of the great fight which her father put up in Weston-super-Mare for the right of free speech over a Salvation Army case; and his ultimate victory [in the Beatty v Gilbanks judgment] {1} establishing an important tradition of liberty made her very proud to be his daughter.

When she was only eight years old she fought her own first battle for democracy. At her school a barbarous and antiquated rule forbade the pupils to speak to the domestic servants in the house. Emmeline Pethick broke this rule and was “sent to Coventry” for a whole week as a punishment. On another occasion, when one of the head mistresses was relating to the girls with great approval an assault made with rotten eggs upon the late Henry Bradlaugh, she horrified the school by protesting in the presence of the lady and before them all that Bradlaugh’s atheism was preferable to the kind of Christianity that resorted to such cowardly persecution.

In her teens her spirit was fired to a sense of injustice by the reading of many books such as “Adam Bede”, Goethe’s “Faust[”], and “The Story of a South African Farm”.—Later in life Olive Schreiner the author of the latter was to become one of her intimate friends.

Determined to do her part she enlisted as a “Sister” in Mrs. Prior Hughes’ West London Mission. In these {2} days the working girls of London had no holiday at all during the year except Sundays and bank holidays. “Sister Emmeline” personally visited a number of employers and persuaded them not to sack their girls if they absented themselves for a week in the summer. Of course they got no wages but Sister Emmeline herself took them away into the country.

Later she and another sister founded the Espérance Working Girls Club which became famous through introducing the old Morris Dances into every county of England.

It was during a performance by the Esperance Club that she first met her future husband, and their common Cornish heritage at once drew them together. The guests at the wedding included the old women of St. Pancras Workhouse, the members of the Canning Town Men’s Club, and Mr. Lloyd George then known mainly as an opponent of the Boer War. After marriage they decided to unite their two surnames of Pethick and Lawrence and for a time their interests were absorbed in the London Evening paper of which Mr. Lawrence was the editor.

But it was not long before the militant suffrage movement with its insistent challenge to Authority was to claim all their attention. The name of Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence coupled with those of Mrs. Pankhurst and “Christabel” was on everybody’s lips. Six times she faced arrest and imprisonment, once going through the hunger strike and being forcibly fed. As Treasurer of the W.S.P.U. (Women’s Social and Political Union) her speeches at the Royal Albert Hall, London, were famous and her success was demonstrated by the gathering of no less than a quarter of a million pounds for the movement.

She and her husband edited the weekly newspaper “Votes for Women” which rapidly attained a large circulation. It chronicled at one time two hundred meetings a week on behalf of the organisation & reported that at a demonstration in Hyde Park the audience had been estimated by the Times newspaper in the neighbourhood of half a million.

On one occasion when Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence was announced to take the chair at a meeting from which it was intended that women should start a march to the House of Commons, a body of students broke into the hall for the express purpose of preventing the meeting. Mrs. Lawrence came in and mounted the platform and addressed the students. She told them that as men who had already secure[d] the rights that women were struggling for she was confident that their sense of fair play would not allow them to stand between women and their freedom, and she called upon them one by one to withdraw. So great was the power of her personality that they went out row by row and the meeting took place as originally arranged.

On another occasion addressing the jury in a law court she explained and defended the militant methods of the suffragettes in the following words:—“This great movement is, as you heard counsel for the plaintiff say, gathering momentum every day like a great flood. Now, when a tide is dammed back it overflows, and inevitable destruction is wrought. But men do not argue with a flood; they do not put the responsibility on the flood; they put the responsibility upon, and they argue with, those who have dammed back the stream and prevented it from flowing in its ordinary channel.”

“The Story of the progress of the human race is the story of the birth of great moral ideas, new ideas that have pushed their way into the common life, either by the process of evolution or by the process of revolution. Evolution is the natural and the right process, but there have been occasions in history, as you know very well, where the process of evolution has been obstructed by those who held the sceptre or rule. That is the position at the present moment.” Mr. Justice Darling who tried the case said at the opening of his summing up that hers was the “most eloquent speech he had ever heard in that Court”.

During the years of the great war Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence used all her powers as a speaker and writer to urge upon her countryment the need for securing a Peace by negotiation and reconciliation rather than one dictated by victories on the field of battle.

Summoned to the U.S.A. in the Autumn of 1914 to address a vast suffrage meeting in the Carnegie Hall (inaugurating the campaign which two years later led to the adoption of the women’s vote throughout the whole of the United States), she made a tour of that country speaking both on questions of peace and of women’s disabilities. Largely as a result of her campaign the American section of the Women’s International League was formed with Jane Addams as its President; and the two women sailed with fifty American delegates to take part in the International Conference of Women held at the Hague in April, 1915.

Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence strongly disapproved and protested against the terms of the Versailles treaty which she clearly foresaw contained the germs of future trouble in Europe. After the war was over she travelled over the Continent and was the first English person to address meetings in the principal cities of Austria. She also spoke in the Reichstag in an international conference.

Many parts of the British Empire have secured visits from her. In Canada, India, and South Africa she has held many public meetings. On more than one occasion she has hoped to come to Australia to return the visit of Miss Vida Goldstein, but so far circumstances have always intervened to prevent her.

During recent years she has continued to urge the claims of peace and disarmament and to champion the right of the married women to the choice of her own nationality and the character of her employment. In all her activities Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence has had the active support of her husband who was Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the late Government in England.

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At the top of the first sheet is written the file number ‘2069’ and the following note: ‘Compiled by F.W.P.L August 1934 & sent to Mrs Littlejohn in Australia for a Broadcast in Sydney.’

{1} The square brackets were added in pencil.

{2} i.e. ‘those’.