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Schreiner, Olive Emilie Albertina (1855–1920), author and social theorist
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Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

(Place of writing not indicated.)—Praises his work at The Echo* and refers to various items in the press. Has finished the Board Schools today, and is just off to see Miss Montagu.

(Dated Tuesday.)

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Transcript

Tuesday afternoon.

Thank you for your letters dearest[—]am interested in your measures at the Echo—& am quite sure that you have done the right thing—have infinite confidence in the Jew-man Freddy.

Did you see Ouïda’s letter about Olive Schreiner in the D.N this morning? {1}—Is that the truth do you know?—Did you read what the coster said yesterday in the police court—when asked if he had anything to say in answer to the policeman’s evidence (charge of obstructing traffic) “Taint no use, not a bit—He uses the truth so careless.” Rather sweet nicht wahr? & very applicable to affairs in general in these days. The Education question seems to have got a few days reprieve.

Have done the Board Schools today—& am just off to see Miss Montague who has telegraphed for an interview.

It wants Its Freddy a bit—got a headache principally in the backbone: would like the feel of Its Freddy’s big broad shoulder to night—but will take it “by faith”[.] Meantime loves Its Freddy more than a Bit.. This It

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{1} On 16 July 1901 a long letter by the novelist Ouida appeared in the Daily News protesting against Olive Schreiner’s treatment by the British in South Africa.

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’.

Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

Colville House, near Lowestoft.—Welcomes him home, and suggests meeting as soon as possible. Is distressed by the accounts (of the war) in the papers.

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Transcript

Till Saturday Sept. 8th
Colville House, nr Lowestoft

My dear Comrade,

There are two words from me you must find waiting for you—Welcome and Thanks! It has been a great joy to me since I received your letter on the 25 to think of you on your way home, to think of seeing you so much sooner than I expected, and it is now when I think of this letter greeting you in England.

Thank you for your letters; they have been so much to me, and I thought it so good of you to give me your thoughts and the picture of your surroundings so fully.

And now since we are persons “of purpose and of action” (I can’t help it, I always want to say wicked things when I’m happy!) it beseems us to be very business like, and having such important affairs to talk over, it is well that we should meet as soon as possible. I therefore take this opportunity of saying that I have a wholly free Sunday {1}. Of course you have a great deal to do and a great many to see, and you must not disappoint anybody or embarrass yourself in any way. It occurs to me that you may be spending the Sunday with your family. In that case you might be able to come early, say about 10 o’cl. on your way, and we could have a talk for an hour or two before you meet them at lunch. But if you can stay to lunch with me, or give me any other part of the day as well, you know how glad I shall be and you must consider me as being quite free to fall into your arrangements. All the other days of the ensuing week I am more or less engaged, and time would have to be arranged; you would hardly be likely to find me at home if you came on the chance of it.

Send me a word to say if you received my second letter and the little things I sent you. I hope you did, but I tremble. I never dreamt that you would not stay, even longer than your own outside limit. They will be all right anyhow, and I took every care with the directions. I have been writing to you as if I were on board ship this last week, an answer to your letters. You shall be your own postman and shall read it at your leisure—not now.

Yours,
E.P.

P.S. I have just received your second letter from the Cape, telling me just what I wanted to know. Thanks. You don’t know how very deep has been the interest with which I have read it. I have avoided all mention of the political question in my letters to you. I could not and would not presuppose your conclusions after such a very different sort of evidence from that to which hitherto we had both had access. But it is only by an effort of will that I can read the Papers every day; it is so heartrending, if there is any imagination at all to see. I do not wonder that Olive Schreiner with her intense sympathy for the weak against the strong does not believe in God. I think no man can know the horror of brute-force, as a woman knows it. A woman sees and feels that everything she holds best and most sacred in life can be crushed in a moment by the assertion of brute-force. Once she sees that triumphant and her foothold in life is gone. Olive Schreiner’s passion has identified her always with the worsted. I know that even with me there has been this sort of feeling during this awful year—the appalling sense of brute force trium-phant as the god of this world, the soul crushed, beaten down, vanquished.—I did not mean to be led into talk now.

I suppose you have had the one letter only, that first one, written first after a big strain was over and the gates of life and joy lifted up!—a mood of almost inexpressible happiness. I can only hope that it fell in harmoniously with a mood of yours. And now I am waiting. I shall be home at 5 o’clock on Saturday. If possible let me have a line or telegram to say when you are coming. I leave here soon after noon on Saturday, so do not risk my missing a letter here. I hope that you can come on Sunday. Oh, I do welcome you home. The thought of you has come to be lately like the feel of the earth under my feet, the strong foundation. God bless you, my dear dear Comrade. There never was a time when a man’s championship of the soul and truth could have been so saving to my spirit and faith. For this, you have the thanks of my heart and soul.

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{1} 9th.