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Letter from Keir Hardie to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

10 Nevill’s Court, London, E.C.—Returns a book by Fielding-Hall (The Passing of Empire). Is pleased to find that the author agrees with his own view that village councils should be recreated as a basis for popular government.

Letter from Virginia Woolf to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

Monk’s House, Rodmell, near Lewes, Sussex.—Thanks him for some pamphlets. Hopes that his wife’s meeting at Oxford was successful.

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Transcript

Monk’s House, Rodmell, near Lewes, Sussex

Dear Mr. Pethick Lawrence,

It is very good of you to lend me the pamphlets. I am very ignorant of the subject,—shall {1} be much interested to read them. I hope your wife’s meeting at Oxford was successful.

With thanks

Yours sincerely
Virginia Woolf

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{1} Query whether the mark preceding this word was intended to represent an ampersand.

Copy of a letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to G. M. Trevelyan

Explains his view of the historical importance of the women’s suffrage movement (in response to views expressed by Trevelyan).

(Carbon-copy, with handwritten alterations.)

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Transcript

3rd. October, 1949.

My dear Master,

You may remember that when I had the honour of dining in Trinity last June {1} I mentioned to you that I should like some day to have a talk with you about the woman’s militant movement for the franchise at the beginning of the century. Thinking it over I have come to the conclusion that it will probably suit you better if I put what I have to say in writing.

I must begin by apologising for troubling you at all about the matter but as you know I have been for a great part of my life a propagandist and I am still incorrigible in my old age. I do not like to think that you, our foremost British historian, should have, as it seems to me, the wrong slant on this movement which I hold to have been of considerable historic importance. The fact that I played a prominent part in it myself entitles me to speak on its behalf though I am free to admit that it also entitles you to charge me with bias. But then you have said (and I agree) that even an historian is none the worse for bias.

My case is:— 1) that any section of the community that has no political rights should endeavour to win them by reason and argument, but that if prolonged peaceful agitation fails to influence those who have the power, then it has no alternative but to use extraordinary and extralegal methods unless it is prepared to acquiesce in its own subjection.

2) that such methods should be designed so as a) to rouse the largest number of the unenfranchised section to a consciousness of their subjection b) to create the greatest difficulties for the Government, and c) to win the support of the bulk of the population by casting odium on the Government for its repressive counter measures.

3) that the militant suffrage agitation acted broadly on these lines (though it naturally made some mistakes), and that it was instrumental—though not exclusively—in creating a situation from which there was no escape except by conferring a measure of enfranchisement on women.

I do not think you will substantially disagree with me on either of the first two points which are borne out by countless examples, the latest of which come from Asia—India and Indonesia, in the former of which I was acting for the Government—but I gather that you do not accept my version of the facts as to the third.

It is to this point therefore that I will specially devote myself.

I was brought up, like you, in the Liberal fold and I still think that we owe much of our national democratic heritage to the great Liberal statesmen of the 19th century. Nevertheless I think that the Liberal Party bungled the case of the women and of the working man and lost its prestige and pre-eminence by so doing. By the time that the militant suffrage movement began women had grown tired of asking politely for the vote and being fobbed off it by discreditable political devices; and some younger spirits had become rebellious.

The militants directed the spear-head of their attack upon the members of the Liberal Government because they were the most vulnerable in that it was contrary to Liberal principles to deny enfranchisement to a section of the community which paid taxes and was subject to the laws made by a parliament in which they were not represented. In the earlier stages of the agitation they abstained from violence and concentrated on questioning Cabinet Ministers, campaigning against Liberal candidates at by-elections and committing technical breaches of the law. As a consequence they were subjected to considerable violence at the hands of stewards at meetings and of the police in the streets and they suffered terms of imprisonment.

I think it is indisputable that in this way they succeeded in rousing the sympathy of a very large number of their own sex. Many thousands enrolled themselves in the militant organisations. They included such prominent women as Dr. Garrett Anderson the Mayor of Aldeburgh, Mrs. Saul Solomon widow of the Cape Premier, Lady Constance Lytton, and leading actresses, novelists and others. Funds were contributed running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. The paper Votes for Women the weekly organ of the movement had a circulation of 30,000 to 40,000. About a thousand women served terms of imprisonment. Moreover after militancy began (and in my opinion, and in the publicly expressed opinion of Mrs. Fawcett the leader of the “constitutional” suffragists, largely in consequence of it) the membership of the non-militant suffrage societies showed a marked and rapid increase.

They succeeded also in directing the attention of the general public to the question. At one time from 100 to 200 meetings were being held every week, some of them vast open-air demonstrations, others in the largest halls of the country which were packed to overflowing. I do not suggest that all the members of the audiences were supporters though many were, but there was little or no hostility; and in the street demonstrations the crowds were mostly sympathetic. In fact in the so-called “raids on Parliament” the women counted on the crowd to protect them from the police.

How far electors were influenced at by-elections to vote against Liberal candidates by suffragette orators and canvassers can never be proved one way or the other but the press frequently alleged that they were, and there is no doubt that Cabinet Ministers were greatly embarrassed and hard put to to defend their attitude. Naturally, as is always the case when coercive action is taken by a Government, the British public opinion reacted against the Government.

During this period of the agitation there was a growing feeling among all parties in the House of Commons that the question of woman suffrage ought to be treated seriously and sympathetically and in 1910 an all-party committee devised a compromise proposal which came to be known as the “Conciliation Bill”. In order not to prejudice the chances of this compromise the militant societies were asked to desist from any militant action. They agreed; and for several months they carried out strictly constitutional and non-provocative activities. But in the end the Liberal Government made it quite clear that they would have nothing to do with the Conciliation Bill and Mr. Asquith remained adamant in his opposition. Militancy was therefore resumed in all its forms. Women continued to go to prison in increasing numbers and suffered violence in the streets and at Liberal meetings for their insubordination.

It was then that some militant women decided upon a change of tactics in the direction of actual violence against property. They were influenced to take this course 1) by the preference for being arrested quickly rather than after being knocked about and 2) by the taunts levelled against them by Cabinet Ministers that their rebellion was trumpery and not of the same account as the riots indulged in by men agitators in the 19th century. The form of violence adopted was that of breaking windows. At first the leaders of the militant movement opposed and tried to restrain women from taking this course but later they recognised it and organised it. A great shop-window breaking raid took place in London and created a sensation. The Government took action by arresting the leaders of the militant movement on a charge of conspiracy. I was one of those leaders and I made a speech in the dock at the Old Bailey in my own defence. I enclose with this letter, a verbatim report of it which you may feel disposed to read (not the biographical note which precedes it which has no relevance to the present issue.) It gives a number of further facts which I have not repeated in this letter. The trial, which was given immense prominence in the press, ended in our conviction, the jury appending a sympathetic rider, and we were sentenced to nine months imprisonment. At the same time several hundreds of the rank and file of the movement were also imprisoned. After serving part of our sentence the prisoners adopted the hunger strike. Some of us were forcibly fed and then released.

Subsequently there was a division in the leadership. Mrs. Pankhurst decided on new and more violent tactics which did not appeal to my wife and myself and we parted company. The Government also adopted new tactics and instead of applying forcible feeding the hunger strikers, took powers in a special Act of Parliament—The Cat & Mouse Bill—to release them and to rearrest them when they had recovered their health. The agitation continued with increasing bitterness on both sides up to the outbreak of the first world war.

Meanwhile of the purely political side there had been many developments. Supporters of woman suffrage did not succeed in inducing Mr. Asquith to support a woman suffrage measure. Instead, he promised that the franchise Bill which would be introduced to extend the male franchise would be open to amendment to include women. In the event the Speaker ruled that the Bill could not be so amended. This created an impasse in which it became evident that though the supporters of woman suffrage were not strong enough to insist on the passage of a Bill to enfranchise women they were strong enough to prevent the passage of a Bill to enfranchise more men from which women were excluded.

The external war brought a truce to the domestic militant campaign and during the war women rendered great services to the nation. When in the middle of the war a new registration and franchise reform measure became necessary a Speaker’s conference was constituted to frame the basis of its provisions and a partial enfranchisement of women was included among them and was accepted as a reasonable compromise and as such was enacted.

I am in no doubt that the women’s war service reconciled a large number of doubters to the inclusion of women in the future lists of electors. But I equally have no doubt that the prominence given to the question by the pre-war agitation made it impossible to ignore their claims and that, without it, gratitude to women for their help in critical hours might easily have fizzled out without the accordance of any tangible recognition of their right to participate in the future governance of their common country.

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{1} 21st. See PETH 6/279.

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.

Note introducing Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, with a short history of the Women's Freedom League

(Typed, with handwritten alterations.)

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Transcript

Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence is President of the Women’s Freedom League. This society was founded in 1907. Its objective was to secure the equality of women with men in political, social, professional and industrial life. Its first objective was to win the political enfranchisement of women. Realising that propaganda carried out for fifty years has {1} produced no result, they determined to bring the movement into the political arena by means of spectacular protests.

In the Parliamentary session of 1908, two of the members of the Women’s Freedom League took up their posts in the Ladies Gallery which at that time was fenced all round with an iron network so that women were entirely screened from the members of Parliament who were debating on the ground floor. They chained themselves to this iron work and threw away the key and this gave them the opportunity, though they themselves were unseen, to address the members of Parliament and to urge them to do justice to women. Police were sent for to remove the women from the Ladies Gallery but since they could not break the chain they had to hammer out a piece of the iron barricade and all the time that this work was being done, the ladies addressed the members of Parliament below.

This incident caused great excitement and the story was sent all over the world by press reporters.

During the same year some of the members showered handbills all over London from a balloon and on another occasion members of the Lords and Commons were address[ed] from a steam launch close to the Terrace of the House of Commons.

In 1909, the House of Commons was “picketed” during the whole Session lasting from July 6th until October 28th. During those months women stood throughout the heat, the rain and the cold all the time that Parliament was in Session and often they had to remain all through the night because there were a number of night Sessions. They stood there holding placards which attracted a large public, & secured a great deal of press publicity.

Then in 1909 the policy was adopted of Tax Resistance. “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” This is a well know[n] political slogan which has been honoured for centuries by men. Women determined that until they could sent their representative to Parliament they would refuse to pay imperial taxes. Many were prosecuted, fined and imprisoned and their property was sold at public auctions. Their demonstrations brought wide publicity and added crowds of new members to their Cause {2}. Caravans toured the country villages during the Summer. Huge open air meetings were held in London parks. In seaside places the women drew great crowds at in† the holiday season and woman’s suffrage became the main topic of conversation throughout the entire country.

During the war, the Women’s Freedom League organised the Woman’s Suffrage National Aid Corps whose chief object was to render help to women anc† children and to nurse in hospitals and convalescent homes. They also formed the Women’s Police Corps and women police volunteers who became known later as the woman’s† Auxiliary service. At the end of the war the first woman’s enfranchisement bill was passed in Parliament.

Years in, years out the Women’s Freedom League continued to work for complete political equality. This was achieved in 1928. The W.F.L. is still active in calling the attention of Parliament to any and every unfairness to women protesting by letter, by deputations, by prompting friendly members of Parliament to put questions in the House. The chief question with which they are concerned at the present moment, is the economic equality of women. The League stands for equal pay for equal work. It claims that all protective industrial legislation should apply to both sexes equally and deprecates restrictions applied only to women because this kind of protection has a tendency to relegate women to the more poorly paid occupations. The League stands for the same right for women to dertermine† their nationality as is exercised by men and also for their right to decide whether they will continue their career when they marry. It advocates the appointment of women in the Police Force and women in Prison Administration. It supports the return of women members of Parliament and advocates the inclusion of women to official positions in the League of Nations.

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Typed, with a handwritten alterations. At the top of the first sheet is written ‘February 1935.’ and ‘Only Copy.’

{1} i.e. ‘had’.

{2} The following words are struck through here: ‘all this time. Indoor meetings and outdoor meetings were held over the country. They were explaining to the public the need for women in political life.’

† Sic.

Account by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence of her visit to Germany

(Carbon copy, with a handwritten alteration.)

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Transcript

On Sunday October 5th, the German Parliament House in Berlin was filled to overflowing with a great gathering of people, who met to celebrate the memory of the friends of peace in all lands, and especially of those who had devoted themselves in life and in death to the furtherance of international understanding and friendship.

The speakers were Dr. Frithjof Nansen (Norway) Senator Henri La Fontaine (Belgium) Senator Ferdinand Buisson (France) Herr Paul Loebe (Leader of the German Social Democratic Party and late President of the Reichstag) and myself as representative of England and also of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom which is now established in 33 countries. Every speech was received with great enthusiasm and ardent desire for Peace permeated the spirit of the meeting.

There is a great movement of reconciliation growing rapidly between the German and French women and also between the youth of both countries. The German women have collected money to build a Reconciliation House in the North of France which will consist of a library, public halls, and club rooms. The German Youth Movement has arranged with the inhabitants of the devastated areas to send its qualified members in large numbers to rebuild with their own hands the houses of the peasant land owners. The French working women of Paris have received 300 children from the Ruhr into their own homes. A procession of French children marched through the streets carrying little banners inscribed “German children and French children are brothers and sisters” and the German children were met thus at the station loaded with flowers and gifts and brought home in loving triumph. Those women whose homes were too small and overcrowded to take an adopted child, give or collect 30 francs a month for the support of some particular child in the Ruhr with whom a correspondence is carried on, and many hundreds of children in the distressed areas are supported in this way. Not the money only, but gifts of clothing and good things find their way by post to the adopted little ones.

I addressed a great meeting of one thousand young men and women in Berlin organised by the German Youth Movement for Democracy and Worldwide brotherhood and peace. A young man told the story of how he had walked through France (for as he had no money he could not travel in any other way) to attend the recent International Peace Conference organised by the French Youth Movement. As he was at last, after many days, nearing the place of meeting he was met by an old French peasant woman, of whom he enquired the way. “Are you going to the young people’s Peace Conference” she asked. He pointed to his badge. “Over there” said the old woman solemnly pointing to a military burial ground in the distance, “lie my three sons.” “Over there” replied the young German student, “lie my three brothers.”

The old woman bent down and gathered some earth in the palm of her hand. Showing the dust to him and touching it, she said slowly, “Earth! The same earth covers my three sons and your three brothers,” then lifting herself and pointing upward she added, “Heaven—the same heaven is over us all.”

In company with Marcelle Capy (French) and Gertrud Baer (German) I went from town to town speaking about International Brotherhood. Magdeburg is a large town famed for its iron and steel industry two hours by express train from Berlin. There we met an audience of over three thousand men and women. They listened in intense silence with occasional bursts of applause, and when the meeting was over many of the audience walked with us to our train and gave us a send off with cheers.

Frankfurt, Heidelburg, Rastadt, Karlsruhe, Freiburg, Offenburg, Schopfheim, Stuttgart, Goppingen, Dresden were amongst the towns visited, and there were many more invitations that could not be accepted. Everywhere we found the same eager response.

The German and French people are far more deeply concerned with the subject of peace than we in England are. Listening to their impassioned words I realised that speaking comparatively we know little in England of the miseries and devastations, physical and moral—of war.

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A few typing errors have been silently corrected.

{1} i.e. ‘had’.

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