Equality With Men
June 21, 1909 — Fourth Quinquennial Meeting, International Council of Women, Convocation Hall, Toronto, Canada
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very glad indeed to have the opportunity of saying a few words in support of the resolution which has been placed before you, and I do so in the capacity of President of the International Council of Women. While my husband occupies the position he does, it is not considered desirable that I should speak on any subject of public controversy. But having the honour and privilege of being President of this great Council, binding together as it does, the women workers of the world, who to-night have again solemnly reiterated their conviction that the basis of all progress lies in the granting of Political Suffrage to women, I feel that I cannot remain altogether silent to-night. Quite a number of requests have reached me to express my own personal opinion on this matter. If any one consider it really worth while the trouble to inquire what my views and opinions are on this important subject, they can readily obtain them, considering my long connection with the Women’s Federations of England and Scotland as President. We have heard to-night from those who can speak with deep conviction and experience upon this question. It has always seemed to me that it is a most understandable thing why it should be made such a terrible bogey. I think it is a pretty safe prophecy to say that within the next few years suffrage will be granted to women in most countries of the world having a representative Government, and it is also safe to say that when that time comes we shall look back and wonder what in the world caused all this shindy about so simple and elementary a privilege of citizenship. I do think, notwithstanding all that has been said about it —all that has been urged for and against it — that the real object of the Suffrage Movement is, for the most part, largely misunderstood; that where the rights of women are to the front it is considered by some to be something which we should rather be ashamed of. It is the object of this movement that women should exercise the rights which have been alluded to by the different speakers here to-night, which means that we have to do our duty towards our home, towards our city, and towards our country; that is why this privilege of the suffrage is demanded by our women workers — that we may be in a position of doing our duty, for the sake of the home, city and country, remembering the loss that accrues to every city and country where the women are not in the position to give it all the contribution which lies in their power to give to the life and work of the community. Then again it is often said that our main object and aim is simply to claim equality with men. Oh, my dear friends, is it not really time that this phrase should be given up? Is it not enough that we should realise that as women we have a great and wonderful mission to perform? And it is just because we are women that we want to be able to fulfil that mission in its fullness side by side with men. Often we hear of wonderful pictures being drawn of a time when women will, as a body, vote against men. Can you fancy that, ladies? Do you think that human nature would ever sanction such a proceeding? You women are here as women workers in one sphere of activity or another, and I ask every one of you whether it is not due to the fact that we have men at our sides — our husbands, brothers, fathers and sons — that we get a great deal of the inspiration and the power to be able to do what little we are trying to do. I speak from experience in this, ladies, and I know many of you have enjoyed a similar experience yourselves. You who like myself know what it is to have your husbands stand by you in all your interests, in all your efforts made for the welfare of humanity — you cannot but have a high idea of the reason why it is we want to be able, in the fullest sense, to work side by side with the men of our families in our efforts for the good of our families, of our communities and of our country. True it is, however, that there are, I suppose, many of us who have known the difficulty from time to time of having to run counter to the feelings and the wishes of men who are very dear to us, full of chivalry, and who in their mistaken chivalry want to save us from soiling our hands with the work of the world. Some of the very best of men hold this view, but it is for us to appeal to them, to show them that it is not the truest kindness to us, any more than to any other human being, to allow us to shirk our responsibilities, but rather to help us to fulfil them. Perhaps the reason which impels them often to try and save us from this soiling of hands is because they have not too exalted an idea of politics and government; but if that is so, may it not be in a great measure because the women of the community have not taken their part in it, because they have not brought up their sons and daughters from earliest infancy to look forward to the time when it would be their high privilege to serve their community in some direction or another — however humble a place or however high a place — to make themselves ready for the call, and to realize that to every one there must come that call to serve the community and the country in some way or another? Often do we hear fathers and mothers saying that they wish to save their children from contact with politics because that contact would soil them. Remember that danger, ladies and gentlemen, in our efforts to obtain suffrage, and when we obtain it, in our efforts to use it aright, let us remember that it may be given to us to raise the whole ideals of Government, whether of Local Government, or Municipal Government, or Political Government of the country. In so doing we may be able to realize the ideals of which we are now speaking. We have heard from Mrs. Dobson, in speaking of the effect of the granting of the vote in Australia, that social legislation has been very much emphasized, that much more interest is taken in these affairs, and that many measures for the good of the community passed. We see that the trend towards social legislation is manifesting itself in all countries of the world, which, in itself, constitutes a call to women to take the part which they only can take in such legislation. And we must remember that one of the main reasons why women workers must desire to hasten forward this movement is not so much on account of those like ourselves who are here to-night, who, in our sheltered homes, have much power and influence, but it is for the sake of the working women on whom all such social legislation bears so severely and so harshly; it is for them that we desire especially to claim the power of voting. I don’t think that we would care to have it if it were only granted to women of property. It is the women of the working class, whose position in the industrial world necessitates the power of voting, to whom these things come home most. It is they who should possess the power of expressing themselves through their votes. I am very glad indeed to have had the privilege of addressing to you these few remarks upon the resolution which has been put forward this evening.
Source: The International Council of Women. Report of the Transactions of the Fourth Quinquennial Meeting Held at Toronto, Canada. June 1909, With which are Incorporated the Reports of the National Councils and of International Standing Committees for 1908-1909, ed. The Countess of Aberdeen (London: Constable & Co., Ltd.) 1910, p. 219-221.