Thanksgiving and Consecration
February 10, 1918 — City Temple, London, UK
Ours is only one battle in a great campaign. Let us now forget the bitterness of hope deferred, resentment, betrayal, and disappointment, but let us not forget what it is to be defeated, disappointed, betrayed. Of all that we have learned from our great fight, let us forget what might make us bitter or rebellious, but let us forever remember what links us to all the struggling causes of freedom.
Some of you who have stood at street corners to plead with men for what seemed to you the barest justice, do not forget what it is like to be a beggar. Those who have been deprived of opportunity, given perhaps too little education, set down to work that is uncongenial because the traditional work it was convenient for society that women should do, do not forget what it is like to be exploited, to be poor, solitary, betrayed. You who have worked long and remember when the fight went against you, do not forget what it is like to meet great odds.
Some of us in this great fight could not easily have understood the suffering of the world. Women rich, protected, respected, went out where they were not known, where wealth and position were no protection to them, and learned for the first time how the world looks to those who have no wealth, no position, what it is like to be received with insult, derision, contempt, indifference. All this is nothing, my sisters, tonight, but do not forget what the world is like to those who have neither position nor wealth. Some of you who have undergone the unnameable brutalities of our prison system, forget your terrible experiences, only do not forget that there are prisoners still, that that detestable desecration of the human body that was practiced against some of you goes very near to poison the soul. Nothing the you have suffered will be in vain, you will grudge none of it, far less resent any of it, if it has given you the key to the suffering of the world.
But if it has not, if women should ever forget what it was like to be pressed, laughed at, derided, scorned, insulted, then our fight would indeed have been in vain, thought every woman in the country had a vote. It is the fellowship of all who are oppressed that we have won.
From all the terror teaches,
From lies of speech and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
Form sale and profanation
Of honor and the sword
For sleep and from damnation
Deliver us, good Lord!
Do not be comforted by easy speeches, you who were fed with them so long; none of it matters now so long as you do not forget.
What shall women bring to the civilization of the world? For one thing, a greater sense of the sacredness of human life. I sometimes think that the true harvest of our civilization in future shall be this. Men shall say, as they have said in the past, that life itself may be scarified to a great ideal. They hare proving that today on the battlefield and in prison. Women say amen to that — but for nothing less shall human life be sacrificed; not for the convenience of society; for cheap labor, for the lusts of men; not to heap up wealth or to increase the material riches of Empire not for the convenience of one class, sex, or nation. By human life we mean life that is human, not mere existence. To die is not the worse of tragedies, but life that is made inhuman – shall not women everywhere strive against that sacrifice? That children should be born insults, that girls and boys of thirteen should be put into factories, because you want the rents of slums and the cheap labor of industrialism -shall women summit to that kind of exploitation? No; we are citizens of a great Empire, and we have to consider lives not only here, but abroad. From India, from Egypt, yes, and from Ireland, comes the plea to which we cannot ever be deaf. No race any more than a class exists for the convenience or glorification of another. You who as a sex so long have ben exploited for another sex, will you submit to the exploitation of a race or a class for another race or class, even if it be your own?
Rather let us pledge ourselves that none shall be exploited for the convenience of another. It is a great ideal, a tremendous task; we have so much leeway to make up; but it is a task which shall make us feel that the struggles of those who went before us have not been in vain, that we have indeed found the work to which to set our hand.
Nothing is too great to hope for tonight. Do you realize that it is in fat of the greatest display of material force the world has ever seen that we make this great affirmation of the supremacy of spiritual force? We used to be told that the only argument against the enfranchisement of women was the greater physical strength of men, and it is during a war when physical strength is glorified that our country has affirmed that it believes that freedom belongs to all who are spiritually equal, and that it is spiritual, not physical, howe which in the last resort governs the world. The enfranchisement of women means nothing less than that. The bill that has brought us freedom is not a very logical one, certainly not entirely just, but the principle that women shall have a share in the government of the country means nothing else than the sealing of our faith in the greatness of spiritual power. No task to which we can set ourselves is too great for us. Even in the midst of this tragic war, it is possible for us to cry to the world ,”Life up your hearts,” and to get the answer, “We life them up until the Lord.”
In great humility, with the consciousness that we are unworthy of all that has been done and sacrificed for us, let us consecrate ourselves to the service of God, of our country, and through our country, of all the world. Let us make ourselves one for all time with those who are oppressed, exploited, betrayed. Let us remember, as our great American international president reminded us, that while there are any oppressed, disenfranchised, unfree, no one of us is altogether enfranchised or wholly free. And “seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us; and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”
Source: Women at the Podium: Memorable Speeches in History. ed. S. Michele Nix (New York: Harper Resources), pp. 346-349.