1906 — Report to the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association
I would like to speak tonight, about some Canadian women. I would like to tell you that we have had in Canada such splendid women as Dr Emily Stowe, Mary MacDonald, and Dr [Augusta] Stowe-Gullen, who have devoted much time and money to the cause, but as the President distinctly gave me to understand that my work tonight was to be a report of the International woman Suffrage alliance held in Copenhagen in August, I therefore take great pleasure in presenting it to you, especially so at this time when the press of Toronto has bene so busy with adverse criticisms and cartoons in reference to the action of some women in England who are fighting for what they consider their rights.
Most progressive thinkers are evolutionist, but history shows that in many cases the evolutionary process has bene so extravagant in its use of time, that reformers got tired and resorted to revolution.
Many of the women of England are possibly getting tired, and are anxious to bring about reforms by a quick process. However, having heard Mrs Montifiore [sic], the English delegate for the woman’s Social and Political Union in England, I am inclined to think that the press has woefully exaggerated the behavior of the women who are not lunatics or fanatics, but earnest women, anxious and willing to sacrifice themselves that the race may be benefited and moved nearer an ideal civilization of co-operative brotherhood and sisterhood.
Since many may not know the platform of the organization called the International Suffrage alliance, I am going to read the Declaration of Principles.
- That men and women are born equally free and independent members of the human race; equally endowed with intelligence and ability, and equally entitled to the free exercise of their individual rights and liberties.
- That the natural relation of the sexes is that of interdependence and co-operation, and that the repression of the fights and liberties of one sex, inevitably works injury to the other, and hence to the whole race.
- That in all lands, those laws, creeds, and customs which have tended to restrict women to a position of dependence to discourage their education; to impede the development of their natural gifts, and to subordinate their individuality, have been based upon false theories, and have produced an artificial and unjust relation of the sexes in modern society.
- That self-government in the home and the state is the inalienable right of every normal adult, and the refusal of this right to women has resulted in social, legal and economic injustice to them, and has also intensified the existing economic disturbance throughout the world.
- That governments that impose taxes and laws upon their women citizens without giving them the right of consent or dissent which is granted to men citizens, exercise a tyranny inconsistent with just government.
- That the ballot is the only legal and permanent means of defending the rights to, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” pronounced inalienable by the American Declaration of Independence, and accepted as inalienable by all civilized nations. In any representative form of government, therefore, women should be vested with all political rights and privileges of electors.
The International Suffrage Alliance I attended was the third conference held by that body, and must have bene a source of joy and satisfaction to every women [sic] interested in its cause.
Mrs Chapman Catt, Pres. Of the Alliance was in the chair at every meeting. Meetings were held for five days, and generally three meetings a day. Each day found the interest increasing, especially noticeable by the large number of men who attended the last few.
A personal word about Mrs Chapman Catt must here be said. She is among the most eminent of the many able women of the United States, and is widely known as a speaker and writer. While still very young her attention was called to the terrible wrongs suffered by wage earning women, and this led her to investigate the condition of women in general. She found not only in the domain of work, but everywhere, they were at great disadvantage, and that the laws, customs and public sentiment discriminated against them.
The more deeply she studied the question, the more fully she was convinced that the root of this injustice lay in their disfranchisement, and that the most important service which could be rendered women, was to secure the ballot for them.
It was indeed a privilege to listen to any word Mrs Chapman Catt might utter. She is clear, logical and forceful, converting the most skeptical to a belief in the justice of her cause. Her beautify as well as her sweet womanly dignity does much to enhance the power of her eloquent words, while her tact and graciousness in dealing with both men and women, fit her admirably for the position of leader.
To those who have had the privilege of visiting in her beautiful and well managed home, she is convincing proof that public life does not impair the domestic qualities. Mrs Catt was received by the Queen of Denmark, and hospitably entertained for over an hour, which placed the conference under Royal Patronage.
Beside and supporting Mrs Chapman Catt were the officers of the association and I may say I was amazed by the expedition and able manner in which the work of the Alliance was dispatched.
The Secretary, Mrs Kramer, too the minutes in three languages. The interpreters seemed to speak any language required of them. There were present delegates and alternatives from ten countries, besides fraternal delegates from twelve associations.
The meetings were held in the Oddfellows Palais which was beautifully decorated with the flags of Denmark. A shield with the name of each country represented was placed beside the respective delegations, while each delegate’s seat was marked by a banner with her National Flag.
In view of the course pursued by the National Council of Canada, in convention at Hamilton, a few weeks ago, it gives me great pleasure in being able to show the sincere sympathy existing between the International Council of Women and the International Woman’s Suffrage Alliance.
Five of the fraternal delegates were sent to Copenhagen by the International Council, and each one made it clear that she considered political equality the most important plank in the platform of any woman’s organization, and the International Council of woman has itself established a standing committee for woman Suffrage.
It would take too long to even give a summary of what was said by the different speakers, but I must not omit saying something of the attitude of both factions in England.
Mrs Millicent Facwett rejoiced all hearts by saying there should be no disunion between factions of women who work for Woman Suffrage. She showed by examples from history, how every extension of the suffrage had been obtained not only by philosophical scientific argument, but by revolution as well, and although rough methods were not for her, she had no reason to cry shame upon the women who might accomplish more for the cause than she was able to.
It was plain to be seen that interest centered around Mrs. Montifiore [sic], and what she herself might say with regard to the situation in England as she represented the society of rough methods, and at that time three of its members were in jail. There must be some truth in the saying: “Saxon and Norman and Dane are we,” for surely a drop of Viking blood is needed to keep up such a valiant struggle for the suffrage, against the authority of the government, and the opinion of the public , as these women have done.
Years before Mrs Montifiore [sic] had started the first Woman’s Suffrage Association in Australia, and afterwards joined the woman Social and Political Union, founded in London to facilitate the collection of funds to defray the expenses of labor representation in Parliament. It seems that among the trades’ unions which contributed, many were composed of women, so in some cases 60% of the necessary sum was paid by women. Who then should wonder at the fact that at length those women wanted a member of parliament to really represent them in their claims.
Mrs Montifiore [sic] does not seem to doubt, since the battle has been won in Australia, that we shall soon see women politically enfranchised, in England, fi the English woman of the working classes remain as unflinching and true to their purpose as hitherto.
A resolution of congratulation to Finland is too important to pass b: “We rejoice in the granting to the woman of Finland of the full suffrage and the right to sit in Parliament, and we commend to the men of all nations, that sense of justice which impelled the men of Finland to make the woman [sic] who shared with them the degradation of disfranchisement, equal sharers in the honor of enfranchisement.”
I may be pardoned if I tell with what favor and enthusiasm the report from Canada was received. It was written by our esteemed President, Dr Stowe Gullen, who so ably stands for all that progressive womanhood means, and thought in it, she could not tell of much advancement of the cause, for the pat few years, it was probably owing to the favorable impression made by this very able report, that the delegate from Canada received as much kindness and consideration, both from subsequent audience, the press, and the people of Copenhagen.
Possibly the most important of all reports was the message from Australia, where political equality is enjoyed It has bene found that women have not neglected homes because they have occasionally gone to a political meeting, where before, they might have been to afternoon tea or to the theatre.
Experience has falsified every objection raised against woman suffrage. The state is only an enlarged home, and women are in the state what they are in their homes. Australia’s experience should case tot the four winds of heaven and fears of domestic, social or political disaster.
Personally, I was most interested in the Russian delegates, since the strife for women’s rights there was of a peculiar character compared with that of other countries, and the terrible social conditions existing in Russia has enlisted the world’s sympathy. The women in Russia are almost equal to men, and both are conspicuous in their absence of “rights.” These beautiful scholarly and cultured women who talked to us in good English had the history of centuries of oppression written on their faces, which told the tragedy of their nation.
With gratitude and pleasure, they received the hearty greetings and friendship of women made their sisters, by this great international gathering, and although they risked much by coming to such a meeting, they added hope to their courage while there . . .
Today, one country secures political equality, tomorrow, another. Time will bring it everywhere. We ask the boon of suffrage, not from our enemies, but from our dearest friends — our husbands, brothers, sons. We cannot therefore feel any bitterness, since this right is not ours, for it is our own who withhold it.
We trust in the spirit of justice and enlightenment, which in time will conquer all. It is significant that those countries which have suffered the greatest oppression are the first to give women the full rights of citizenship. Here in peaceful Denmark, which has never taken anything by force, our Danish sculptress has drawn a woman who stands quietly, with the scale of Justice in her hand. This woman has been accepted for our badge, and is the real emblem of our cause.
Know you, all men and women who are not yet standing with us, it is only justice we demand.
We should help to build better homes and better institutions, and for those reasons, we ask the right to partake in the privileges of the general suffrage. I think you must ass agree that political equality has for its champions women who will compare favorably in intellect and dignity, with any body of either men or women.
Mr Chairman and Madame President, I will close this report by reading a paragraph from Mrs Chapman Catt’s message: “We can certainly find much encouragement in the events of the past two years, and may well feel that our Alliance came into existence at the exact moment to be of use to our cause. In the period of 1848, there was a very general enfranchisement of men, now, after half a century, we are apparently in the midst of another movement which will end only when it has affected many changes in the suffrage of women.
One man, one vote” is the war cry of the new movement. It is important that women should be alive to the opportunity this time may afford, whatever may be the plan of the future, adopted by the Conference, I feel that we must not neglect to extend every encouragement to agitate for educational organization in every land.
The enfranchisement of women upon the same terms as men, is as certain to come as the sun is sure to rise tomorrow. The time must depend upon political conditions and the energy and intelligence with which the movement is conducted. The future belongs to us.”
Source: University of Toronto, Fisher Rare Books, Flora McDonald Denison, 15, box 2, file 14, “Report on the Woman Suffrage Alliance held in Copenhagen, Denmark, August 1906.
Also: Documenting First Wave Feminisms, Vol II: Canada — National and Transnational Contexts, ed. Nancy M. Forestell, Maureen Moynagh (Toronto: University of Toronto Press) 2014, pp. 128-133.