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WOMEN'S FRANCHISE.

The women of England are indulging in a battle-royal amongst themselves concerning the vexed question of the extension of the franchise to their sex; and the contest is being waged with considerable ability, and not a little feminine pugnacity. There is no "give and take "in this encounter. It is all fair hitting, straight from the shoulder. There are those who deprecate the admission of women into the political arena, and there are others who will not be satisfied with anything less than perfect equality with the masculine element in all public affairs. As the same question has been raised here and is likely to crop up again, a brief resume of the arguments on each side may not be without interest and instruction.

The gauntlet was thrown down by the opponents of women's suffrage in the form of "A Women's Protest," which appeared in the 'Nineteenth Century,' worded thus: " The undersigned protest strongly against the "proposed Extension of the Parlia- " mentary Franchise to Women, which " they believe would be a measure dis- " tasteful to the great majority of the " women of the country, unnecessary, " and mischievous, both to themselves

" and to the State." This document is headedbythe Dowager Lady Stanley,of Alderley, and Lady Frederick Cavendish, and signed by 104 ladies of rank and social influence ; but who, with the exception of Mrs Lynn Lyntok and Miss Emily Lawless, are chiefly known as the wives of their husbands. In the "Appeal" which accompanies the Protest, the argument against granting women's suffrage is thus succinctly set forth:—" To men "belong the struggle of legislation " and debate in Parliament; the hard " and exhausting labor implied in the

"administration of the national re- " sources and powers; the conduct of "England's relations towards the " external world; the working of the "army and navy; all the heavy, " laborious, fundamental industries of "the State, such as those of mines, " metals, and railways; the lead and " supervision of English oommerce, the "management of our vast English " finance, the service of that merchant " fleet upon which our food supply "depends. In all these spheres " women's direct participation is made " impossible, either by the disabilities "of the sex or by strong formations "of customs and habit, resting ulti"mately upon physical difference, "against which it is useless to contend." They go on to admit that they are affected " in some degree " by all these national activities, and that, therefore, they ought also "in some degree " to have an influence in them all. And then, with charming ingenuousness, they say that they already possess this influence —an influence which, they say, is now beneficent largely because it is indirect—and they will have more as the education of women advances, and therewith they are satisfied. With the efforts recently made to give women a more important share in affairs where their interests and those of men are equally concerned, they declare themselves to be heartily in sympathy. "As voters for or mem"bers of school boards, boards of "guardians, and other important " public bodies women have now opportunities for public usefulness " which must promote the growth of "character, and at the same time " strengthen among them the social " sense and habit. . . . The case

"of the sick and the insane; the treat"ment of the poor; the education of " children; in all these matters, and " others besides, they have made good

"their claim to larger and more ex- " tended powers." But they modestly aver that, when it comes to questions of foreign or colonial policy, or of grave constitutional change, women's nominal experience does not provide them with such materials for sound judgment as are open to men. Further, they gracefully acknowledge a "growing sensitive ness " to the claims of women, and the rise of " a new spirit of justice and sympathy among men." And, finally, they express a conviction that " the pursuit " of a mere outward equality with men "is for women not only vain but "demoralising." Such is the case against women's suffrage as stated by its female opponents. A counterblast was issued without delay in the columns of the 'Fortnightly Review.' It was briefly headed thus :—r" The undersigned de- " sire to express their approval of the " proposed extension of the Parlia- " mentary franchise to women, which "they believe would be beneficial, "both to themselves and the State." This is a direct issue. Not to be outdone by their opponents, the fair signatories also commenced their list with a dowager peeress and a long array of titled dames. In all, upwards of 2,000 names, representing all grades and classes of society, are attached to this "declaration," as it is termed, commencing with the Dowager Marchioness of Huntley and ending with Sarah Chapman, described as forewoman, "on behalf of "780 members of the Matchmakers' "Union." It has also been signed "by 50 pit-brow women, 22 nail and " chainmakers, andupwardsof 100 other "working women." Then there are the signatures of 89 ladies—authors and journalists; 97 "following aro or music as a profession "; a goodly number of "social and philanthropic workers " ; 46 registered female medical practitioners, and 87 sweet girl graduates from Girton and elsewhere;

and a long list of Poor Law guardians, members of school boards, and about 280 other 3 engaged in the work of education. Strange to say, notwithstanding this imposing array of literary talent, the task of setting forth the case for the extension of the franchise to women is committed to other, and apparently masculine, hands. The editor is careful to explain that " the ladies who sign the '• declaration in favor of women's <; suffrage are responsible only for "that declaration, and not for the "article which precedes it." This article traverses all the allegations in the "protest," replying categorically to each. But the main argument is based on tjie alleged <-tlucational titnesn of women. « j{» it i s u ,-ged, "personal fit- '* ness for the intelligent exercise of the *' franchise be the main consideration, " the women who would be enfranchised "cannot be held less fit to vote " than the chimney - sweeps and " laborers who vote already." . . . C: AH over the country, women, <: as employers of labor, enable " a number of men to possess votes ; t: while they, whose education and ■*' means of forming a judgment on " political questions may be presumed "to be superior to that of the men "they employ, are precluded from " voting." If the demand was for extending the suffrage to female propertyowners or householders, such an argument might fitly be applied. But the demand, by enthusiasts, is for the extension of the suffrage to all women, including the wives of the chimneysweeps and laborers, and the " pit-brow women" aforesaid. Employers of labor ai*e comparatively few, and " those others " are many. It is selfevident that, by such a general extension as is asked for the educated female, employers would find themselves in a greater minority than ever. And although the argument is used it is repudiated in almost the next sentence, wherein it is alleged that the demand for women's suffrage does not proceed from women of property who feel themselves aggrieved by the denial of the Parliamentary vote ; and the ladies who signed the * Nineteenth Century' Protest are taunted with having but '* fed on the roses and lain in the lilies of life." Amongst other grievances which are declared to need the bestowal of women's suffrage for their removal are the nonrecognition of a mother's legal right over her children; the inequality of the divorce law; and of the law of intestacy and the anomalies of the probate duty, which fall entirely on the woman. As to any disability arising from physical inability, the writer contemptuously spurns the notion. Did not Miss Nightingale perform a great work in the Crimea ? Yes, truly ; but it was exactly the kind of work that the signers of the protest declare women to be best fitted for. But most surprising is the admission that having a vote or not having a vote will not affect women's influence, " except in so far as it affects character." Of a truth, this is " a very pretty quarrel as it stands." Of course, only u brief sketch of the attack and the rejoinder is possible in the columns of a newspaper. But the main points on both sides have been fairly stated, and for further and fuller information the reader is referred to the magazines whence the information was derived.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18891015.2.2

Bibliographic details

WOMEN'S FRANCHISE., Issue 8038, 15 October 1889

Word Count
1,398

WOMEN'S FRANCHISE. Issue 8038, 15 October 1889

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