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Copy of a circular letter by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

(Carbon copy of a typed transcript, with two handwritten corrections.)


Dated Nov. 4, 1914, 1. a.m.

Election Night.

Although it is one o’clock in the morning, I must try before I sleep to get down some of the impressions of the evening. Miss Doty, whose article in the Century interested me so deeply, and her friend “Elizabeth” (Miss Watson) celebrated the first anniversary of their voluntary imprisonment by dining with me and taking us afterwards to the night court. On the way to the Court we mixed with the Election crowd—The streets were thronged. It was a superb night, the moon just past the full. We reached the Court about 9.30 and were taken to the front place where we could see and hear well. A case was being heard concerning two coloured women—a mother and a daughter. Two detectives, a white man and a coloured man[,] gave evidence of how they had entrapped the younger woman to take into her home first one and the other—The story of detective which was one infinitely shocking {1}—and what I have heard since about this business impresses me still further both with the futility of the system and above all with the terrible power placed in the hands of men against women—a power likely to lead to the most grave abuses. Both mother and daughter poured out a dramatic volume of words and gesture as they sat just in front of the judge, addressing their remarks to him as one would address a man in his office or study—no formalities at all. With what seemed to me extraordinary patience, (after my experience of police courts at home) the judge listened without interruption or comment. Finally he discharged the two women. This action was entirely in accordance with the inner verdict which I had pronounced, (for of course every member in the auditorium has his or her own views on every case)[.] Had I been Judge I should not have hesitated between the two sides—the women excited, voluble, indignant, tearful—and the men whom I would not, I felt as I scanned their faces, have trusted a yard. The Judge then retired to his sanctum and invited us to follow. We were introduced and a conversation ensued. We touched on the case. The Judge I found did not altogether believe the story of the women and was inclined to think them guilty. “But”, he said, “you see in this Court I am both Judge and Jury, therefore I have to give the accused the benefit of every doubt.” When he resumed his seat upon the Bench, he asked me to sit beside him. At the opening of the next case he said to the woman who had been just arrested, {2} “You must understand that you have a right to obtain the services of a lawyer, you have a right to telephone for your friends or mail for them free of charge. You can have your case tried now, or you can have it postponed. But you may have to pass the interval in the detention cells.” The woman elected have her case tried at once. It was a very trivial affair of ringing a house-door bell and causing annoyance to a tenant of the house. The woman denied the wish to annoy and promised not to ring the bell again and was discharged.

Being Election night and the police apparently otherwise engaged, no further cases were forthcoming and the Court rose till midnight. Usually there are many cases of soliciting, which as at home is a penal office {3} for a woman but not for a man. I was told by my friends that women who had to pass through the streets alone at night were constantly pestered by men, but there was no remedy; they just had to put up with it. As in England the legal tradition is that men have to be protected from the temptation of the woman who who† alone is responsible for the social evil. After the Session was over we had another interesting talk with Judge Barlow, who I am told is the best and most fairminded of all the judges, at the Night Court (as in the case of Judge Hoyt) {4} I saw the brighter side of the administration. He invited me to come again on some more typical occasion and was most friendly, reminding me very much of Tim Healy. He wore just a blase† graduate’s gown. I was then taken over the place, introduced to the prison or native police-court Matron, and allowed to enter the cells and to talk to the inmates. The whole place compares very favourably with our police court arrangements. I have not yet seen a prison, but from Miss Doty’s record, the prison conditions seem to be worse than our own.

One great feature of the Court is the total elimination from it of the police. The one or two officers are civilians. This reform dates from 1910. Judge Barlow confessed that he was very much averse to the change at the time, but that its results have been wholly good. Detectives attend as witnesses, but have no privileged status, and are treated exactly as other witnesses, by the Judge. In spite of their good points I am, as I said before, horrified at the methods of the detectives in hunting out prostitutes. In some cases they will take a woman into a saloon and give her drinks for a week, and will tempt her in every way to invite them home. They will confess to letting the women get them supper, to playing cards with them and staying from 11 till 3 a.m. After all this is done they will suddenly turn and arrest them and drag them into court. They have these women entirely in their power, and men being men it is inconceivable that they do not take advantage of their power when it suits them. I would not trust such men, placed in such conditions, one inch. On matters relating to morality and the judicial treatment of sex problems, New York seems to me to be worse than London—though some details of administration are better. The point of view is worse. It seems to me that the women of New York, speaking generally, are much too complacent with regard to this status of their sex in very many respects. We came back and mixed with the crowd again—learnt that Governor Glyn (Democrat) was out and Whitman (Republican) was in, and wondered how this would affect the position of our women comrades Commissioner Doty and Investigator Watson, both holding appointments under State patronage. Could not get any news of Suffrage States, so returned as it was half an hour over midnight already. These two women know New York through and through. If only I could find time to let them take and educate me for a week as they want to do! Miss Watson knows everything there is to be known about women[’]s labour conditions and wages in New York. She is the recognised expert investigator par excellence, and employed on all enquiry commissions. The point of view of both these women is identical with my own[,] while their knowledge of facts is perfectly wonderful. They are completely human in their outlook. We are already great friends and have several plans to carry out together, if time can be found. Truly this is a most fascinating world and I’m learning hard.

Greeting to all friends.
(Signed) E.P.L.


{1} Altered by hand ink from ‘The story of detective [blank] was to me infinitely shocking’. The copyist evidently had difficulty reading the handwriting here.

{2} Comma substituted for full stop.

{3} A slip for ‘offence’.

{4} ‘as … Hoyt’ interlined. Brackets supplied.

† Sic.

Letter from —— to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

The British Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcasting House, London, W.1.—Invites him to prepare and deliver, on stated terms, a radio talk on ‘Lloyd George and other Prime Ministers’ for the General Overseas Service.

(A printed form, with details typed in. Signed p.p. the Talks Booking Manager (the name is indistinct, but is probably Ronald Boswell).)

Letter from —— to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

The British Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcasting House, London, W.1.—Invites him (retrospectively) to prepare and deliver, on stated terms, a revised insert for the programme on Lloyd George in the series ‘British Prime Ministers since 1900’ (cf. 5/123a).

(A printed form, with details typed in. Signed p.p. the Talks Booking Manager (the name is indistinct, but is probably Ronald Boswell). The recording referred to was made on 11 Feb.)

Circular letter by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

S.S. ‘Ranchi’.—Describes their arrival at Aden, and their meeting with Lydia and her family at Port Said.

(Mechanical copy of a typed original.)



November 3rd, 1926.

My dear Friends,

Let me send you my love and greeting. We are now nearing Bombay after a perfectly splendid voyage, with lovely weather all the way—such wonderful light and colour in sea and sky. Many a time I have to pinch myself to make sure it is all real and that I am not dreaming a bright dream, to awake to November in Northern latitudes. Our entry into the Bay at Aden was a realisation of the most vivid advertisement poster you can imagine. The sea was an incredible green-blue, the rocks of Aden a rose-red. The warm breeze fluttered the white and gay filmy dresses of the women on board[;] even the “field-glass” incident and the Kodak camera were not missing. Anything so fiercely barren as Aden looks, I have not yet seen. We had four hours in port from 11–3 o’clock. We did not leave the ship for there is nothing to see but a military fort and some ancient tanks constructed by the Romans, for hoarding the water and supplying the garrison. We shall have a chance to see these in January, when the heat will be less fierce than it is now upon those sun-exposed sunbaked cliffs. The scene from the deck, with the boats coming and going with their merchandise of oil for the ship, and ostrich feathers and fans, and amber necklaces and trinkets to tempt the passengers was most picturesque, and so was the landing of the mails in boats by means of a crane. We had four days before this—a halt of four hours in the Port of the Suez Canal—Port Said.

Some of you will remember that I once had a secretary whose name is Lydia, and that she married an Egyptian student, whom she met in London. She went out to Alexandria with him. They live in the home of his parents, and his father is the Chief Revenue Minister for Ports and Lights under the Egyptian Government {1}, a man with the title of “Bey” who has much influence. When we dropped anchor at Port Said at 6 a.m. in the morning of October 27th we knew by radiogram that Lydia in Port Said was waiting to greet us. But we did not expect her so early in the morning to appear, as she did at our Stateroom door. Her intense joy and delight infected us with the same feeling. Maurice (the husband) and Shafik (the little son) of 2¾ years of age awaited us on deck, and the parents sent their warm greeting. They had both intended to come, but at the last moment “Papa” took ill, and “Mamma” could not leave him. Well before 6.30 we were landed in Maurice’s steam launch (which he had borrowed from a friend) and they gave us a sumptuous breakfast in their hotel, and then we made some purchases. We enjoyed every moment of those four hours and were so very warmly entreated to stay in the Paternal home on our return, that we are seriously considering whether we cannot make some arrangement, though this is difficult as we have contracted for the return journey to the last detail. Nothing could exceed the warmth of the greeting given us. They had made this long journey of about 7 hours, taking the child for the first time in the train. They have already painted furnished and prepared our room in their house, counting upon our visit to them, and they made us feel that it would be almost wicked not to give and receive this mutual delight.

We some times say to each other that if we had to turn back without landing in India at all, the voyage would have been worth while: for we have met so many representative and interesting people and they have given us so readily and warmly, information and personal experience. Our first impression of a crowd of Indian Civil Servants is a very pleasant one—the general idea is that they are comparable to a crowd of Schoolmasters who are proud of their school and deeply interested in the boys. You get the same unashamed keenness which is very refreshing. There are some very highly educated and influential Indians on board and we have had most interesting and delightful talks with them too, and have made friends in particular with Sir Charu Ghose, one of the Judges of the High Court in Calcutta. The women on board are mostly very good to look at, and one cannot help being very proud of them. The young mothers are incredibly young and athletic, there are about 20 children and they enjoy the voyage as much as anyone. They are most attractive. Fred and I have remarked that we have never heard a cross word to or from a single child, and we all agree that they are “a prize lot”. They had a children’s Fancy Dress party on Monday {2}. It was a charming sight. Our Fancy Dress Ball was a great success the following evening. There were 83 costumes all of them good. The decks were beflagged and illuminated and we were all very festive till past the midnight hour.

Within a few hours a very different experience awaits. Gone will be the cool breezes, the hours of leisure and all the immunities of life on board, and there will be heat, flies, and clamour! Let us hope there will be compensating interests and delights! It is all unknown country to me.

Do not forget that letters written up to December 21 will reach us c/o Thos. Cook, Bombay, and let us have a good batch by every mail.

With greetings.



{1} Scander Bey Gabriel.

{2} 1 November.

Letter from Virginia Woolf to Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

52 Tavistock Square, W.C.1.—Thanks her for her complimentary remarks on her book Three Guineas, and expresses admiration for the Pethick-Lawrences’ work for the women’s movement.



52 Tavistock Square, W.C.1
4th July 38

Dear Mrs Pethick Lawrence,

I have just got back from Scotland, & found your letter. None that I have had about Three Guineas has given me such pleasure. I was haunted by the fear that those who had a right to judge would think me impertinent—I have had so little experience myself. But no one has more right to judge than you have, & if the book seems to you useful I am greatly relieved. To me, the facts seemed so obvious that I wondered that they had not been stated before. Whether stating them does any good, I don’t know, but it was the only thing I could do, & silence had become intolerable to me.

May I take this chance of saying how greatly, when I was reading about the womens movement, I admired the work that you & your husband did for it? A wish not to mention the living—perhaps a foolish wish—made me quote the dead—otherwise I should have liked to express my admiration in writing.

I am glad you liked the pictures. They have educed {1}, I am pleased to find, rage in many quarters.

Thank you again for writing.

Yours sincerely
Virginia Woolf

Yes—the cutting you send is very interesting. May I hoard it along with other such facts?


{1} This word is indistinct.

Circular letter issued by Viscount Cecil of Chelwood

National Declaration Committee, 15 Grosvenor Crescent, London, S.W.1.—A number of societies are co-operating to obtain signatures to a National Declaration in support of the League of Nations and international disarmament. Sends a list of proposed questions (1/125) and asks for a contribution towards costs.

Letter from —— to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

The British Broadcasting Corporation,, Broadcasting House, London, W.1.—Invites him (retrospectively) to prepare and deliver, on stated terms, a radio talk on Ramsay MacDonald for the series ‘British Prime Ministers since 1900’ (cf. 5/123a–b).

(A printed form, with details typed in. Signed p.p. the Talks Booking Manager (the name is indistinct, but is probably Ronald Boswell).)

Circular letter by F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

In the train from Bombay to Madras.—Describes the journey to India, and identifies some fellow-passengers. Gives his impressions of Bombay, and refers to meetings with Mrs Naidu and other Indians.

(Mechanical copy of a typed original.)



In the train from Bombay to Madras.
November 8th, 1926.

Though my wife and I have only been three days in India, so many crowded impressions have already been thrust upon us that I feel I must write them down at once for our friends at home before they are blurred by later images.

I must begin however with the voyage out, for our Indian education commenced almost immediately we stepped on the boat at Marseilles. It was a particularly full and representative ship for it was the most favoured date of the year for the return to India of those who had been fortunate enough to spend the “hot weather” in cooler climes than Asia.

Shipboard life makes for rapid acquaintanceship, and our shipmates included judges of the High Court of Bombay & Calcutta, soldiers of all commissioned ranks, civil servants, forest officers, traders, manufacturers, and commercial travellers. A score of Indians on board included Sir C. Ghose a High Court judge of Calcutta, Sir T. Vijagaraghavacharga (!) of Delhi who came straight from representing India with success in Canada, and Sleem {1} the famous lawn tennis player.

Social relationships between English and Indians are very often a little halting but my wife and I early got on to an excellent footing with all sections (Indian and English). In fact every one was not only very kind and friendly but most anxious to impress upon us their own point of view on Indian problems. Sometimes we could not help being amused by the anxiety, shown particularly by our English friends, lest we should come to hasty conclusions and publish them broadcast on our return.

A little later on when my experience has been amplified I will attempt to reproduce for you some of the principal views expressed and perhaps venture some criticism of my own, but for the present I will content myself with saying that we both felt that had we been obliged to return home immediately our ship reached Bombay the voyage would by no means have been wasted.

Our first sight of India was at sunrise on Friday morning, November 5, and before we could sit down to an early breakfast on ship board we were greeted by an old acquaintance in the person of Mr. Sheldon Bunting, son of the late Sir Percy Bunting, editor of the Contemporary Review. He told us at once that he intended us to stay with him during our time in Bombay—a most welcome proposition. After spending all the morning with us assisting us with purchases and arrangements he took us away in his car to his flat at the top of a very high building on a hill, and we spent the afternoon on his verandah overlooking the city.

Bombay has grown enormously since I was here 29 years ago, and has many modern streets and substantial modern buildings. It has also been subjected to a scheme of reclaiming land from the sea which is being at present warmly discussed in England. Part of this scheme consisted in erecting a colossal number of workmen’s tenements. We passed by a small section of them—rows and rows and rows of gaunt concrete blocks. The tragedy of it is that scores of thousands of these flats were put up without first ascertaining either that the people would like them or that the rents would be within their compass. Neither has materialised, and they stand to-day, empty, ugly,—and a heavy financial loss to the community;— {2} as pitiable an example of misdirected energy as it would be possible to find.

The day we arrived in India was the Hindu Festival of New Year {3}, and our host took us a walk in the early evening amid jostling crowds through highly illuminated streets. Afterwards all night through, fireworks and detonating Chinese crackers rent the air reminding us that at home on the same day (November 5th) Guy Fawkes’ day was also being celebrated in somewhat the same manner.

Next morning I had a long talk with one of the principal Labour men in India, widely acknowledged to be of great character and sincerity. I put him several searching questions relating to the effect of wider self government upon the position of the Indian workers. I found that though he fully realised the danger of the capitalist point of view prevailing under self Government, he held that this was a risk in the stage that India had to pass through. Moreover he maintained that the idea that the present British rule really safeguarded the worker against the capitalist had little foundation in fact. He urged however that a wide franchise should be given when the time came not the narrow one proposed in the India Commonwealth Bill.

In the afternoon after a most interesting talk with Mr. Solomon, director of the Bombay School of Art {4}, we both went to tea with Mrs. Naidu who presided last year at the Indian National Congress. She had invited to meet us nearly all the leading politically-minded people (other than Swarajists) in Bombay. We had a most interesting talk with them hearing their point of view, learning why some of them had left the Swaraj party and realising afresh that practically all the differences that divide parties among Indians are matters of tactics and that on principles they all stand unanimous in their demand for Dominion Self Government.

On Sunday {5} we lunched with Mrs. Naidu and this time she had invited her Swarajist friends to meet us and we found many points of contact with our militant suffrage agitation. One of the men was wearing the plain homespun cotton cap and tunic made by a village woman; explaining to us the idea underlying Gandhi’s crusade for the restoration of home industries.

Returning to the home of our kind host for dinner we completed our arrangements and set off at 10 p.m. on our 33 hour journey to Madras.



{1} Mohammed Sleem.

{2} The semi-colon and dash are typed one on top of another.

{3} The festival celebrated on this day was in fact Diwali, the so-called ‘festival of lights’. The date of the Hindu New Year, which varies throughout India, occurs either in March or April.

{4} William Ewart Gladstone Solomon (1880-1965), Principal of the Government School of Art at Bombay from 1919. (The School is also called by the name of its founder, Jamsethji Ji-jabhai. According to Who Was Who, Gladstone Solomon did not become Director till 1929.)

{5} 7 November.

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