at the Royal Albert Hall
February 28, 1912 — The Royal Albert Hall, London, England
Lord Cromer, my lords, ladies, and gentlemen, I beg to support the resolution, which has been moved and seconded in such weighty and such eloquent terms, by the Lord Chancellor and by Lord Curzon. Four years ago, in a small hall in Kensington, it was my privilege to speak at the first Anti-Suffrage meeting held in London. We were a small band in those days, but we stuck to our job. Public opinion, in the interval, has mounted like a great wave.
To-night, this great hall is all too small to hold the men and women, who have come to protest against a policy, which they hold to be disastrous to the Empire, disastrous to the nation — last, but not least, disastrous to the cause of that womanhood, which it sets out and professes to serve.
I leave to the great statesmen, here to-night, the task of dealing with the more directly political issues of the situation. As a woman, I address myself to the woman’s side of the question. And, first of all, what are we here to-night to affirm? — because it is on the affirmative, not the negative, side of our work, that I take my stand.
In the first place, we are here to affirm that a woman’s citizenship is as great and as real as that of any man, that her service is as vitally necessary to the State. But unlike our Suffragist friends, we do not fly in the face of hard facts and natural law.
We believe that men and women are different — not similar — beings, with talents that are complementary, not identical, and that, therefore, they ought to have different shares in the management of the State, that they severally compose.
We do not depreciate by one jot or tittle woman’s work and mission. We are concerned to find proper channels of expression for that work. We seek a fruitful diversity of political function not a stultifying uniformity.
I do not waste your time or mine in combating the statement, that we Anti-Suffragists regard our sex as inferior beings.
I treat that suggestion, and you will treat it, too, with the contempt it deserves. We, on our side, do not challenge the sincerity and good faith of many admirable and distinguished women, in the Suffragist ranks. But, in return, we demand from them the recognition, no less frank, that our faith and zeal for womanhood is as great as theirs.
THE NATION’S GOOD.
And secondly, we stand here to-night for the principle, that you can only judge great national issues by the standard, no of what is good for this or that section or class, but by what promotes the highest interest of the nation as a whole. We are told that women want votes and therefore they must have them. In the first place, the majority of women do not want votes.
But even so, it is not a question of what women want, or what men want for the matter of that. It is a question of what is best for the State.
We do not think it will increase the efficiency of the State to put the balance of political power in this country into the hands of women.
Obviously if you are going to enfranchise women at all, adult suffrage is the only way out of the injustices and anomalies of any limited Bill. I agree with every word of that fine tribute, paid recently in this hall by Mr. Ramsay Macdonald to the working woman. That is the woman a large section of the Suffragists are practically prepared in a large measure to disfranchise under the Conciliation Bill, so-called.
But, obviously, you must not take the picked women of every class, and then hold up your hands in surprise that they prove more capable than the gardener and the coachman.
You must compare like with like.
Franchise questions are questions of averages. Until you repeal Nature’s Salic Law, the average political experience of the average woman is bound to be less than that of the average man. Man is and man will continue to remain the business spirit of the world, and the work of Imperial Parliament, work such as defence, commerce, finance, tropical administration, is, in the main, work of a nature which lies outside woman’s practical experience, and with which man is best fitted to deal.
On these grounds we reject this policy. We say it will not promote true liberty or true democracy. You must discriminate carefully between real and nominal extensions of those great principles. We say, even granting it might bring some advantages to women, those advantages would cancel out against obvious disadvantages to the nation as a whole.
Further, what is bad for the nation can never in the long run be good for women themselves, for what is not good for the beehive can never be good for the bee.
Thirdly, while women are seeking to control branches of public life for which they are not particularly fitted to deal, they overlook and neglect other important public duties for which on the contrary they have special aptitudes.
Suffragists claim that once they have the vote they will reform and moralise England.
But I want to know if they are honest in these professions why they do not make a better use of the rights and votes they already possess.
If the work of Imperial Parliament belongs more naturally to men, the work of Local Government, with its splendid opportunities for civic betterment and the uplifting of the race belongs more naturally to women.
Here her powers of citizenship and service can find the fullest and noblest expression.
And yet while Suffragists tramp streets and smash windows, what do we find? — this great field of equal rights and opportunities with men is practically neglected.
Think of it, in the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, there are only 21 women elected on Town Councils, only 3 on County Councils, and you have no less than 232 Boards of Guardians, without a woman member on them.
Those figures are the most ironical commentary, as they are the most crushing condemnation of the whole Suffrage agitation. They expose its essential hollowness in a dramatic manner.
The Suffragists are always prating about social reform. But I want to know why, as ratepayers, they tolerate slums and insanitary dwellings, infant mortality, indifferent education ,and child labour, ever one of the gravest blots on the escutcheon of a great nation — all manner with which a municipality can deal if it chooses — all matters with which existing legislation has power to deal if only these powers are put into vigorous execution — all matters which go to the very root of a nation’s strength and well-being.
It is not humbug to talk about women having no share in the national life when, a small minority excepted, they have shown so little practical interest or sympathy in causes which concern the aged, the sick, the destitute, the erring, the welfare of little children?
Local Government does not lend itself to limelight and self-advertisement — and fine phrases about democracy and liberty and natural rights. It means hard work — unsensational work, conscientious work, generally in a stuffy Boardroom. Ventilation is more than Imperial or Local Government can ever hope to achieve.
But it is work on which the whole future of the race turns.
One more word in conclusion. The Suffragists tell you that the possession of the vote is the symbol of liberty. I ask you to consider that its absence is a symbol of something even greater — the symbol of disinterested service.
Think of what it means to the deeper, more spiritual life of the State, that it holds within its ranks bands of devoted workers, who are giving of their best, for the love of the faith within them without one thought of profit or reward.
The ugly scramble for place and power, for the loaves and fishes of preferment and offices — that is all part and parcel of these political rights of men some women are anxious to assume.
Fighting and struggling for your own hand — we say that this is a bad game when played by men; it would be an abominable game played by women.
Suffragists claim to stand for the spiritual forces of the future. I tell them that they have not yet learnt the elementary spiritual truth that renunciation is eternally a greater thing than possession.
In opposing the demand for the vote we claim to stand for the true view of woman’s place in the State.
One of the greatest democrats the world has ever known, Joseph Mazzini, laid down the noble proposition that the sole origin of every right is in a duty fulfilled. And we hold that it is through the faithful fulfilment of duty, through service, not self-assertion, that woman will arrive at a true conception of her place in the body politic.