Support This Movement With Money
May 30, 1907 — Exeter Hall, London, UK
The other day I heard of a Boys’ School which met to debate the aims and methods of the Women’s Social and Political Union; they passed a resolution approving heartily of the methods, but not of the aims of the Society. This verdict pleased us greatly, for it had the charm of novelty.
“Oh yes, I approve of your aims, of course; I have always believed in the justice of the claim that taxation and representation should go together. But I don’t approve of your methods, you know; they are unpleasant, they are unladylike; they do more harm than good.”
We get a little tired of this sort of thing, we hear it so often. When men say this, we smile. Sometimes they are Members of Parliament, who we know by experience would have preferred to be left alone to forget all about us. But even other men pretend to be shocked sometimes.
They know perfectly well in their own hearts that it is all nonsense, they know that women have at last adopted the only political methods that will win a political victory for those who possess no foothold I the political constitution. You may depend upon it that men’s enthusiasm for women’s enfranchisement is a very frail and tender growth, if it is chilled by our militant methods. In fact now that e are succeeding so well, the doubters of yesterday begin to affirm that they always knew that women would get the vote if they made a sufficiently loud and determined demand.
We accept the objection of women to our methods much more seriously. We do not expect that women will understand and approve all at once the straight and directly method of winning a concession from an opponent. The direct method is so completely new to them In the past they have been so hampered and bound by legal and conventional restrictions that, finding direct resistance to opposition useless, they, like any other people in a similar position, have been forced to adopt indirect methods in order to attain their end. Women have been not only individually helpless, but they have been in the past isolated in their respective homes, economically dependent on their respective owners. They have been forced, I the absence of any standing ground of equality as human beings, to fall back upon the only power which they could bring to bear upon men. the power of sex attraction. The use of this power has been developed into an art, with all sorts of refinements and delicate differentiation. Women have learnt to gain their end by flattery and cajolery, by pleading persuasion, by smiles ad frowns, by sweet and pleasant manners, by display of personal attractions, by assumption of helplessness and admission of inferiority.
They are now beginning to learn that though the practice of these arts may be potent to win favour from those individuals who come under the spell of their personal fascination, they are of no account whatever in the sphere of political or industrial competition. The game of practical politics is played by another set of rules altogether. Women of spirit and pride welcome the direct methods of striving for their human rights. But the timid say that it does not do for women to use unpleasant and unladylike methods: they are sure to lose by it.
Lose what? Lose the approval of men, the smile and favour of the social world?
Yes, we know that we lose that. Women who work for women politically, lose socially; women who work for men politically do not lose socially. We lose more than that, for we recognise the law of life which decrees that no new extension of life can be purchased for the human race except by those who are content to lay down their personal life to gain it. It may be that some of these women who are not prepared to join us or to help us, thought they want the end for which we are striving, have come into this hall tonight. If thee is one such here, I would say “My dear madam, are you not like the little boy who, when asked what we would wish to be when he was a man, replied “A missionary — at least, I mean, a returned missionary;” certain pictures of cannibal feasts had put him off the methods of a missionary’s career, without destroying his ultimate ambition. Like many older people, he preferred the verb achieve to have one tense only, and that the perfect tense.”
You would like to have the vote. You would like, as a woman, to have the dignity and honour that only free citizenship in the State can give, but you are not prepared to pay one jot of the price! But you who approve of our aims and not of our methods do not see that in politics, as in every department of life, people who want to succeed and to win have to “play the game.” We have not invented the game. We have to take it as we find it. We have to understand its rules and play as other people play. Practical politics is a game. We women who want ay reform carried must make as much noise as they can, must hit as hard as they can, and must bring as much pressure as they can to bear on the Government which is in power, for the Government is a machine which can only act under pressure. The worst Government is that which does not respond to any pressure until it becomes a danger and a menace.
I want to ask the fathers and mothers here a question. “If you had two babies and they both awoke together in the night at the hour when they are accustomed to receive refreshment, and one of them lay smiling and contentedly sucking its thumb, and the other began to scream loud enough to wake up the whole house, which of these babies would you attend to first?” I see there is no hesitation about the answer. You would go to the one that was making the most noise.
But what about your theories of patience and good temper that should be rewarded, and all that sort of thing? Well, they are forgotten at the moment in the desire to stop that child’s mouth; so you see that even human fathers and mothers are to a certain extent machines that act under pressure. Is it ay wonder, then, that a Government is a machine that acts under pressure? Then the Government is in a much worse position than you could be as parents of two children simultaneously demanding your attention, for the Government has more than two children; it has any number, and they are all crying for its attention, and all these babies except one are screaming through a metaphone, for you know the ballot box is a megaphone which lends volume and significance to quite a small cry, whereas we women have no megaphone. We cannot cry through a ballot box, therefore we have to make it up by exercising our own lungs to the fullest possible extent. That is our only hope of getting any attention at all. It would be of no use for us to wait patiently until all the others were attended to, for long before then the poor old paternal Government will have tumbled back into bed and have gone to sleep, quite worn out with its exertions . . .
I have been talking about playing a game, but I have also have something to say to-night about fighting the fight. You know the two things are very closely connected. A battle is a game, and most games are mimic battles. The soldier, at the moment when he is under fire, thinks of little beside the game, and how best to play it, but, behind the confusion of the battlefield, where, for the best to play it, but, behind the confusion of the battlefield, where, for the moment, everything seems given over to violence and strife and death, there are great causes and great ideals, and the dearest faiths of a nation.
So it is with the women’s movement, and I the din and strife of strenuous political warfare we women realise the greatness of the cause for which we are fighting. There are great forces behind this movement — forces of nature, forces of destiny, forces of divine and human will. There are great ideals — the old ideal of human and civic freedom which has fashioned the modern world, freedom which is as dear to women as it has been to men in the past, freedom for which, if men now wish it, women can die as men themselves have died in the past, with women to console them and women to mourn for them. There is a great faith behind it, faith in the future, faith in the possibilities of race evolution, when women have won the right to their own bodies and souls, when they no longer have to sell themselves for bread, either in the city streets or in the economic-marriage market, when, as citizens, economically, politically and intellectually free, they can join together with men in building up a more perfect human race, and can help to make and mould the human world in which their children have to go out and live.
There are forces behind this movement of which the politician has no conception, which he has never for one moment taken into account; forces which are bound to sweep away all resistance. You cannot stop the awakening of the soul of women. I have called our movement a great fight; I go further and call it a great crusade. “But,” you say, “the crusaders wore as their sign and symbol a cross. Do you claim that you are soldiers of the cross?” We do.
Evolution means conflict. When a great new ideal is born into the world, it runs counter to the whole conception of life which has been accepted by the world. The new ideal crosses the old conception. And this is the Cross upon which the regenerators of Humanity are crucified. They are sustained by the vision of the Future, for they now that by their pain and shame they pay down the price of a new redemption of Mankind.
The new conception of life which has been given to us is that of the woman, possessor of her own body and soul, free from degrading servitude, and also from ignoble exemptions from honourable service, free to develop within herself the thought and purpose of her Maker, unsubservient to the will or desire of man, responsible for the conditions of the human world in which she lives, and responsible for the future generation. This new ideal is not only the cross, it is also the sword. “I came not to bring peace on earth, but a sword.” This word, spoken by the Prince of Peace, is one of the great paradoxes of which life is full.
I call upon the men and women here to-night, those who have vision, to take up the cross, to grasp the sword of this new conception, and with it to wage holy warfare against prejudice and custom, and the instinct of dominance, which enforce bondage and hold the woman’s body and soul in subjection, and thus crush out the possibilities of race evolution. Come and join our crusade. You do not know, if you have never tried, the wonderful worth and dignity which participation in such a movement as will lend to your personal life.
I appeal to the men and women here. I appeal first to the men, you who love the freedom which your fathers won for you; pay your debt to our forebears by winning freedom for your daughters. I have spoken of warfare, but this crusade is no sex war. The best men are on our side, and every woman who joins us brings on e man at least to take his stand beside him. I am not going to tell the men here how they are to help us. Men, by their work and vote, have freed the slaves in the past, have emancipated the working-man, have saved the little children from commercial servitude, and they can free the women of this country if they will, and they will know the best way to set about the business.
I appeal especially to the women here. I can tell them just what they ought to do. Every woman, loyal and self-respecting, and worthy of her womanhood, must be with us and out. I appeal to you to join our Union. Can you speak? Can you organize? Are you inventive and resourceful? Come, then, and help us. Come and teach us. The work is so great and so growing, we are desperately in need of more good teachers, good organisers, inventive and resourceful initiators. Do you say, “I have no gifts. I cannot organize, I cannot speak, I cannot do anything!” Come and join us; we will teach you. We will organize your work, and develop in you some gift. We need you badly. At the present moment we can organize the services of hundreds of women just like you. Send your name to-night or to-morrow to the Honorary Secretary, Women’s Social and Political Union, 4 Clement’s Inn. You will soon see how much help you can give us. If you have an influential position, socially or professionally, we want you. If you have much to lose by joining our movement, you should be happy, for that means that you have much to give. If you are a working woman, burdened with incessant labours and manifold cares, we want you. We want you specially; it is your sympathy we crave most of all, for it is your battle essentially that is now being fought. If you are a woman we want you, and want what you have to give — time, service, heart, everything.
I also appeal to all men and women who are with us to generously support this movement with money. I am never afraid to ask for money. I know both how much and how little money can do, of how much and of how little value it can be. I know that where the spirit is, there it will draw to itself the material. I know that where the spirit is, there it will draw to itself the material. I know that money will come. Money that represents enthusiasm, self-sacrifice and devotion. That is the money we want. When I came into this movement a year ago, there was no money at all. There was not a penny to hand over to me as treasurer. There was love, devotion and self-sacrifice. Bills were paid out of the personal savings of half a dozen women dependent upon their own work for their livelihood. Since then money has come in and money has been spent to the sum of nearly £3,000 as you may see in the first year’s Report of the Union.
The movement will still go on, with our without money. A year ago I found the leaders of this Union coining their very flesh and blood. They are still prepared to do it, I know. There are more ways than one of the laying down one’s life. But I say to you men and women that we dare not allow it. We cannot afford it. We shall want our leaders more than ever when the vote is won, for then the real work of this Union will begin. You must do your part. Money must be forthcoming to do the work of money and human flesh, and blood and spirit will do the work that no other power can accomplish.
To win this great reform, there must be a great national agitation, as great as any national campaign that has ever been fought in the past. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were raised as a campaign fund by the men who brought about the repeal of the Corn Laws. Great sacrifices were made by men and women who took their political and moral faith seriously. The emancipation of the slaves in our own Colonies cost several millions of pounds. The emancipation of the women of our race and country is worth more than can be expressed in terms of finance.
We must go into every town and village in the land if possible, and preach to the women there the word of freedom, and bid them rise up now and work out their own salvation.
Railway fares are amongst those things that cannot be paid for in flesh and blood, or spirit, but must be paid for in hard cash. Halls must be taken for public meetings. At every bye-election, the women’s cause must be kept to the front. The electorate must be education by letters and circulars sent through the post. This national propaganda work must be supported by a National Fund. You may depend upon it that in this Union not a penny is wasted. Women know how to economize. They know how to make a pound do the work of twenty shillings, and a little more.
Our greatest asset is the inspiration, the love, the courage and devotion of the women who are in the forefront of this movement. Is there anyone who says: “I care very much for this question and I wish I could help, but I am really not in a position to give anything towards its support.” Well, then I say: “Sir or Madam, you never cared for anybody or anything in this world, otherwise you would know that love must give, love cannot help giving; it is the very law of its being. If you care, you must give.”
It is because we count upon the true heart of the people of this country that we boldly and confidently ask for the sum of £20,000 for this great national campaign. We ask for 10,000 names of men and women who will give a pound a year until women are enfranchised, and we ask those who can give larger sums to raise the remaining £10,000 between them. Help us to fight this great crusade. We go forward into the future with glad heart, regardless of opposition, violence, imprisonment. Victory is assured, for ultimately Truth prevails.
Source: The New Crusade (London: The National Women’s Social and Political Union) 1907.
Also: Literature of the Women’s Suffrage Campaign in England, ed. Carolyn Christensen Nelson, (Toronto: Broadview Press), 2004, pp. 65-70.