Monday, 28 January 2008

The Labour movement

Socialism in Europe
Throughout Europe the period from the 1880s onwards saw considerable labour unrest – some of it violent - in the relatively advanced industrial regions. Much of this discontent arose out of the changes in industrial society: the growth of communications, transport, urbanization and the dissemination of news; newspapers were cheaper, the provincial and national press was growing, and deference was weakening; old craft unions now co-existed with newer unions of the unskilled.

To many workers and intellectuals Socialism – the organization of society on a more collectivist, humanitarian and egalitarian basis - seemed to provide a coherent and relevant alternative economic system. In the 1880s separate working class parties, largely Marxist in ideology, were formed. The German Social Democratic Party, the largest and most effective of the European Socialist parties, was founded in 1875, outlawed in 1878, and began to attract large numbers of votes in the 1880s. By 1890 it attracted nearly 1.5 million votes and elected 35 representatives to the Reichstag. In the elections of 1912 it became the largest single party in the Reichstag.

In 1889 French socialists issued invitations for two congresses in Paris (one for the Marxists the second for the others!), out of which came the Second International. Resolutions were passed in favour of the eight-hour day and the extension of the suffrage, condemning standing armies and advocating the celebration of 1 May by labour demonstrations. By the 1890s it was clear that the Second International was going to be firmly Marxist. From 1889 to 1914 socialist parties grew in strength in every country.

Socialism in Britain
Socialist ideas met with more resistance in Britain. Most British Socialists were not working class and were frequently hostile to the unions. Henry Hyndman, the Old Etonian who, along with Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl), founded the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1883, openly despised what he saw as their narrowly reformist agenda. Other middle-class socialists were William Morris, leader of the Socialist League and the anarchist Edward Carpenter. The Fabians, founded in 1884, were middle class intellectuals (George Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb, Hubert Bland) with little contact with trade unionism.

On the other hand, the Liberal party apparently had much to offer the skilled artisan, nonconformist in politics and proud of his independence. The two first working-class MPs had been elected in 1874 as Liberals. Thomas Burt still revered Gladstone and believed that ‘labour’s’ most realistic chance of success was to function as a group within the wider Liberal Movement. After the 1885 general election there were 11 ‘Lib-Lab’ MPs. This being the case, one of the great questions of the period is why the Liberal party was unable to position itself as the party of ‘labour’.

1. Part of the answer lies in the failure of the Liberals to find seats for working men. The Corrupt Practices Act of 1883 had made elections cheaper but they were still very expensive. The middle classes were moving away from Liberalism and this made party organizations in the constituencies financially weak, if not moribund. Constituency parties were often dominated by minorities and wealthy candidates of good standing were preferred to working-class candidates without resources.
The Liberal party at the centre was acutely aware of the problem. Gladstone donated money for this purpose and proclaimed the urgency of increased labour representation at the Newcastle Conference of 1891. But in spite of all the efforts little was achieved. It was of critical importance in the establishment of the Independent Labour Party that in the late 1880s and early 1890s, men like Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937), and Arthur Henderson (1863-1935) experienced rebuffs at the hands of local Liberal associations, and decided that their future lay elsewhere.

2. The Liberal party was equally slow and indecisive in adapting to the demands of labour measures. The demand for an eight hour day aroused an acute dilemma. Most Liberal employers opposed the demand and many Liberal parliamentarians had ideological scruples about state-imposed limitation of hours. By the time the National Liberal Federation met at Newcastle, the question had not been resolved. The ‘Newcastle Programme’ adopted at that conference put the emphasis on ‘old’ Liberalism: veto on the sale of intoxicating liquors, land reforms, public control of denominational schools, the extension of employers’ liability.

The ‘New Unionism’
Up to the late 1880s trade unions were almost entirely confined to the skilled craft workers. But between 1888 and 1891 a number of strikes demonstrated the future trend of labour politics.

In 1888 the Bryant and May match girls' strike aroused much public sympathy and involved figures of the Left like Annie Besant, now a Fabian Socialist.

In the summer of 1889 the gas workers and the London dockers (10,000 men) struck. The five-week London dock strike, conducted with great flair by John Burns (1858-1943), Tom Mann (1856-1941) and Ben Tillett (1860-1943), caught the public imagination. The dockers demanded four hours continuous work at a time and a minimum rate of 6d an hour (‘the dockers’ tanner). Organizations such as the Salvation Army ran soup kitchens for the strikers. Trade unions in Australia sent over £24,000. The dock strike ended in what Beatrice Webb called a ‘brilliant victory’, partly negotiated by Cardinal Manning. After it the dockers formed a new General Labourers’ Union, electing Tillett as General Secretary.

These events were manifestations of what the Webbs called the ‘New Unionism’ in which unskilled workers became prominent in the union movement. ‘The whole movement was a reflection of the growth of employment in large impersonal units, where there was a tendency for skill differentials to become obscured.’ The dock industry was particularly affected by the contrast between the relatively skilled and regularly employed stevedores and lightermen and large numbers of unskilled casual workers. In the coal areas there was a marked differentiation between those areas producing mainly for the home market and those producing for export, where sliding wage-scales were often in operation. In 1889 the regional mining unions came together in the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain. The development of unionism was also much affected by the attitude of employers, the degree to which they were prepared to grant recognition to unions and the extent to which they themselves were organized.

At first the numerical increase in trade union membership was dramatic. At the TUC in 1889 nearly 885,000 members had been represented; in 1890 nearly 1½ million, and though it dropped back in the face of aggressive actions by employers, it then steadily recovered.

A new generation of working-class activists, many of them socialist, challenged the old TUC establishment, represented in Henry Broadhurst, a man totally identified with the Liberals. He resigned his position as secretary of the TUC’s Parliamentary Committee in 1890.

Keir Hardie
The new activism was represented politically by one of Broadhurst’s critics, the former miner, James Keir Hardie (1856 - 1915), the illegitimate son of a servant from Lanarkshire. In 1886 he was appointed secretary for the Scottish Miners’ Federation. In 1888 he stood as the ‘Labour and Home Rule’ candidate for the mining constituency of mid-Lanark, and finished bottom of the poll; the Liberal won, but with a good deal of working-class support going to the Tories.

Following mid-Lanark, Hardie declared:
‘If the Liberal Party desired to prevent a split, let it adopt the programme of the Labour Party.’
He put forward this view at successive meetings of the TUC, and made the eight-hour day the centre-piece of an independent Labour programme. This created ideological problems for the Liberals and for those in the Labour movement who found it difficult to accept a statutory limitation of hours for adult male workers. The idea of an independent Labour programme and representation found support in many parts of the country, particularly in the north of England.

1892 was a general election year. Hardie decisively abandoned the Liberal party and stood as independent candidate for the constituency of West Ham. His appeal to the voters was deliberately broad. Little was said about socialism (which would have alienated the Irish Catholic vote), but a great deal about unemployment (a newly coined word). The strength of support was such that the official Liberal candidate, a Liberal, withdrew immediately before polling day. Hardie thus had a straight fight with a Unionist and won 57% of the vote. (The election was financed in part by a donation from Andrew Carnegie.) His entry into the Commons caused a sensation because he wore a deerstalker (not, as is often wrongly reported, a worker’s cap), which was to become his trademark in public life.

His most striking contribution to parliament was his speech made on the occasion of the birth of the future duke of Windsor in the summer of 1894. It drew emotional force from the fact that the Salisbury government had refused a request from Hardie to propose a motion of condolence for the relatives of 250 miners who had been killed in a colliery explosion a few days earlier. Hardie wrote an angry newspaper article and on 28 June outraged parliament by what he later called his ‘Royal Baby Speech’. Even the Liberal radicals were unable to support him openly, though in private they agreed with him.

The Independent Labour Party

In January 1893, following the bitter Manningham Mill strike in Bradford, 120 delegates from various local socialist societies, mostly with working-class memberships, came together in Bradford to form the Independent Labour Party (ILP). Though the word ‘socialism’ was not in the programme (and it was unanimously voted not to call the new party the Socialist Labour Party), the party committed itself ‘to secure the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange’. This was a much more socialist programme than the one put before the West Ham electors. But like the Fabians, the ILP were gradualists, seeking to win power through the ballot box. Their ‘ethical socialism’ was very different from the revolutionary Marxism of Hyndman, Eleanor Marx or William Morris. Significantly, the ILP included many husband and wife partnerships: the Pankhursts, the MacDonalds, the Snowdons, and was committed to women’s suffrage. Its leaders, Keir Hardie and Tom Mann, realized that to capture power at local and national level they would have to link up with the wider trade union movement.

In 1895 the ILP had 35,000 members. However in the 1895 general election it put up 28 candidates, but won only 44, 325 votes. All its candidates finished bottom of the poll, including Hardie. Greatly humbled, ILP strategists determined that future success depended on drawing more substantial support from the trade unions. As a result it began to be successful in local elections and in 1898 it joined with the Social Democratic Federation to make West Ham the first local authority to have a Labour majority. At local level, the ILP was doing a good job in pressing for the reform of public services, but parliamentary success was still elusive.

The Labour Representation Committee
In the final years of the 19th century the ILP faced a stark choice. Either it could combine with the SDF or it could back-pedal on its socialism by linking with the trade union movement. Circumstances favoured the latter option. Many trade unionists were worried about the long-term prospects of the movement in the wake of more aggressive attitudes on the part of employers, who were increasingly resorting to lock-outs. Some unions, notably the miners, already had their sponsored Lib-Lab MPs, but others needed little persuading to vote for the resolution at the TUC Congress of 1899 that ‘a better representation of the interests of Labour in the House of Commons’ was desirable. The resolution went on to call for a special congress of unions and socialist societies to secure that objective. Significantly the resolution came from the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, which was still struggling for recognition and was aware that many directors of railway companies sat in Parliament.

The congress convened on 27 February 1900 at the Farringdon Street Memorial Hall, and established the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). The key resolution stated that ‘a distinct Labour Group’ should be established in Parliament, ‘who should have their own Whips and agree upon their policy’. There was no mention of socialism, and no ‘Marxist’ slogans about nationalization of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The LRC was thus an uneasy compromise between trade unions, who were mostly suspicious of socialism, and the three socialist societies, the ILP, the SDF and the Fabians. But the unions were bound to win arguments and votes: there were about 1.2 million trade unionists affiliated to the TUC (25% of adult male manual labourers), while the socialist societies had tiny memberships.

The newspapers were taken up with the Boer War and gave little attention to the congress. Most of the miners and cotton operatives boycotted it, and most regarded the new body as ephemeral. ‘That it turned out differently was mainly due to the work of Ramsay MacDonald, who became the first secretary to the Committee, and to the Taff Vale decision .

The Taff Vale Judgement

In July 1901 the House of Lords handed down their decision in the Taff Vale case. A South Wales railway had successfully sued the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants through its officials for damages sustained through picketing in the course of a strike in August 1900. The decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal, but reinstated by the Law Lords. When the damages were finally settled in January 1903 they amounted to £23,000. This reinforced working-class opinion that the law was something imposed from above.

The case gave the LRC a boost. Ramsay MacDonald told the unions, pointing that their very existence was at stake and that this made a Labour party in Parliament ‘an absolute necessity’. By early 1903 the number of affiliated unions had risen to 127, with a membership of 850,000. A parliamentary fund was set up based on a penny levy per affiliated member.

There were still many tensions. The SDF withdrew from the LRC over Labour’s refusal to accept the doctrine of the class war. The ILP remained within the LRC but continued to argue for full-blooded socialism, while MacDonald wanted to maintain contacts with the Liberals.

This seemed a realistic strategy as the Liberals were beginning to stand aside in elections for Labour candidates. Already in August 1902 a Labour MP was returned unopposed for Clitheroe. In March 1903 Will Crooks, sponsored by the Woolwich Trades Council, captured the Conservative seat of Woolwich. Two months later the President of the Ironfounders’ Union, Arthur Henderson, who was to be the leader of the Labour Party from 1914-22, was returned for Barnard Castle.

In the spring of 1903 negotiations began between MacDonald and Herbert Gladstone, the Liberal Chief Whip. In the summer they reached an informal (and secret) understanding that each party would use its influence to prevent the running of ‘wrecking’ candidates’ whose intervention would risk handing seats over to the Unionists. It was provisionally agreed that in 23 seats Labour should be given a free run. Was the pact a grave mistake for the Liberals, allowing Labour a toehold inside Parliament in the next general election?

Click here for James Connell's socialist anthem, The Red Flag.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

The horrors of nineteenth century warfare

This isn't really related to our course but the photograph is so striking I thought you'd like to see it. It is what was left of Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, after the southern army had left.

See here for a fine selection of Civil War photographs.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

The Fight against the Contagious Diseases Acts

The Acts
Victorian prostitutes mainly served working-class men in squalid conditions. Soldiers and sailors were typical clients, but the middle classes also provided clients, mainly young single (rather than married men). At Oxford in the 1840s the proctors’ records suggest a figure of between 300 and 400 prostitutes in a city of 25,000 people (1,500 students).

The three euphemistically titled Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866, 1869) were an attempt by the British government to regulate prostitution in the manner of other European countries, such as France. The specific goal of the acts was to reduce the sexually transmitted diseases that plagued the British army and navy. Thus, the acts applied to specifically named ports and garrison towns, although the ultimate intention was to include all of Britain.

The first Act (passed by a poorly attended Commons and without debate) stipulated that within a radius of eleven army camps and naval ports, a woman suspected of prostitution had to register with the police and receive a compulsory medical exam. If the exam revealed disease, the woman would be confined to a ‘lock’ hospital for a period of up to three months.

The Act of 1864 was temporary with a limited life of three years. It was replaced by a new Act in 1866, which added Chatham, and Windsor to the number of subjected towns and introduced the enforcement of fortnightly examinations of prostitutes. The third Act of 1869 extended the province of the second Act to cover a total of 18 towns in the British Isles. The maximum period of detention for a diseased prostitute was extended to 9 months.

The CD Acts were administered by units of plainclothes policemen seconded from the Metropolitan Police. They were given sweeping powers to determine who was a prostitute. No warrant or probable cause was needed. The victims were not merely prostitutes but working-class women in general, many of them illiterate, who were locked up without any regard for their legal rights. (One woman, Mrs Percy, was subsequently driven out of her job in a music hall and in 1875 committed suicide.) If a girl signed papers agreeing to an exam, her agreement was a de facto acknowledgement of prostitution. She was then required to be re-examined regularly. If she refused to sign the papers, she could be held in prison for months.

The examinations were often brutal. Typically, the woman's legs were clamped open and her ankles tied down. Surgical instruments - sometimes not cleaned from prior inspections - were inserted so inexpertly that some women miscarried. Others passed out from the pain or from embarrassment. Some women with harmless conditions were misdiagnosed and locked in hospitals without recourse. The lock hospitals were loathed for their harsh regimes. Critics said they merely confirmed the hardened prostitutes in their prostitution.

Attitudes towards prostitution
Because men were not included within the provisions, the Acts thus embodied the double standards of sexual morality. It also summed up contemporary (and very ancient) attitudes to prostitution. W. H. Lecky, History of European Morals (1913):
Herself the supreme type of vice, she is ultimately the most efficient guardian of virtue. But for her, the unchallenged purity of countless happy homes would be polluted and not a few who, in the pride of their untempted chastity, think of her with an indignant shudder, would have known the agony of remorse and despair. On that degraded and ignoble form are concentrated the passions that might have filled with world with shame. She remains, while civilisations rise and fall, the eternal priestess of humanity, blasted for the sins of the people.
The distinguished doctor Sir William Acton was not unsympathetic to prostitutes, and he believed that girls turned to the trade through poverty rather than wickedness. But he did not believe it was possible to prevent them and he saw prostitution as a social problem rather than a moral evil. Unlike those who argued that prostitution was beneficial because it protected virtuous women, he saw it as ‘a powerful evil on all ranks of the community’, especially as the prostitute was the purveyor of venereal disease.

Arguments for the Acts
It was this type of utilitarian argument that lay behind the CDA. The government saw the Acts as a step towards maintaining military efficiency in the teeth of a worrying venereal epidemic. Public health reformers welcomed them as a step towards state-regulated prostitution on the continental model. The initiative for the Acts lay with politicians deeply concerned by the abysmal performance of the British military during the Crimean war. But it was not politic for the British establishment to admit the deep inadequacies of the officer class, and a more convenient scapegoat was found in the poor physique of the fighting man. Infection rates from venereal diseases had risen since the 1820s. Troops returning from India were a particularly grave source of infection. It was estimated that two-thirds of the military patients at Baroda in 1824 were infected, as was 31% of the Army’s strength in Bengal in 1828. In 1864 one in three cases of sickness in the army was due to VD; in the navy 1862 (one in eleven).

Faced with these facts, the military establishment formed a de facto alliance with the public health lobby led by The Lancet to secure a supply of disease-free prostitutes to serve the rank and file. In a speech to the Royal Medical Society in 1860 Acton said that since philanthropists and the clergy had failed to stem prostitution, they should hand it over to scientific regulation. However, in 1859 compulsory medical investigation of soldiers was abandoned because the men were hostile to intimate examinations. So the same thing was proposed for women instead - the problem was that this defined women as agents of social infection.

Far from confining the operation of the Acts to the military, m any doctors wanted them to cover the entire civil population and for Britain to adopt fully the European system of licensed prostitution. In 1867 an Association for the Promotion of the Contagious Diseases Act of 1866.

Arguments against the Acts
The Acts were opposed from the start by Florence Nightingale, who counter-briefed the journalist, Harriet Martineau who wrote a series of critical articles in 1864 for the Daily News. There were also doctors prepared to speak out against the Acts. Their grounds were:
the doubtful effectiveness of periodical examinations to curb the transmission of sexual disease
the Acts were immoral because they condoned prostitution
they forced the degradation of the examinations on women alone.
These doctors who opposed the Acts believed that since the legislation related to women alone
‘these women must find representatives of their own sex to protest against and to claim a practical repentance from the Parliament and government which had flung this insult in their face’.
But this was easier said than done. Sex - particularly sexual disease linked to prostitution - was an acutely embarrassing subject to any respectable Victorian woman. Yet this was precisely why the leadership required a respectable woman.

Following the passage of the third of the Acts, activists decided in October 1869 to form a National Anti-Contagious Diseases Acts Association. This was intended to encompass both sexes, but the women decided to form their own grouping - the Ladies National Association. One of the members, Elizabeth Wolstenholme, saw her friend, Josephine Butler, as the ideal person to lead this campaign.

Josephine Butler
Josephine Elizabeth Grey was born in Northumberland in 1828, the daughter of a Liberal upper class family and second cousin to Lord Grey. She was schooled at home, where she read English and Italian literature, and translations of the Church Fathers. When 24 years old, she married George Butler, son of a former headmaster of Harrow, who subsequently became Vice-Principal of Cheltenham College and Principal of Liverpool College. Having settled in Liverpool in 1866, she helped to establish homes and refuges for friendless women, housing large numbers of them in her own home.

In 1864 she experienced a personal tragedy when her youngest daughter, Eva, was killed falling downstairs. On the move to Liverpool she recalled that she
‘became possessed with an irresistible urge to go forth and find some pain keener than my own, to meet with people more unhappy than myself’.
She was also influenced by her religious and political beliefs. Her family were Liberal and strongly backed the North during the American Civil War. She had an intense, though unsystematic Evangelical religion, and fusing her religion and her politics, she saw Christ as the Liberator. Her role model was the medieval saint, Catherine of Siena. When she received the ‘call’ from Elizabeth Wolstenholme, she saw it as a message from God. After three months hesitation, and with the support of her husband, she agreed to become the secretary of the Ladies’ National Association.

The Campaign
The campaign was launched on 1 January 1870 when the Daily News published a protest against the Acts, signed by 140 women, including Florence Nightingale, the penal reformer Mary Carpenter, the suffragist Lydia Becker and many literary, philanthropic and religious women. The manifesto was a powerful, potentially feminist, attack on the sexual double standard. Butler later remembered being told by an MP:
‘we know how to manage any other opposition in the House, or in the country, but this is very awkward for us - this revolt of women. What are we to do with such an opposition as this?’
The Saturday Review attacked the ‘shrieking sisterhood’. But Victor Hugo wrote a letter of support from Paris: ‘Protest! Resist!’

Within a few months all major provincial cities had repeal societies, and many had ladies’ committees as well. In the first year of her campaign, Butler travelled nearly 4,000 miles and addressed 99 meetings - this at a time when it was rare for women to speak in public. Her hearers were overwhelmed with her physical beauty and the power of her oratory.
The repealers were bitterly angry with Gladstone’s government for passing the 1869 Act, but failed to see that the only chance of repeal lay in converting the Liberal party. It was probably a tactical mistake to launch a frontal attack against Gladstone. In the spring of 1870 when a by-election occurred in the garrison town of Colchester, the Gladstone ministry attempted to secure a seat for a strong supporter of the Acts. The repealers ran a third candidate against him, with Butler canvassing for him. Liberals were incensed at Butler’s conduct, and she risked violence whenever she appeared on the streets. One night she was woken from her hotel bed by the proprietor who told her that a crowd was smashing the windows and threatening to torch the building. She had to run out into the dark and was given shelter by an anonymous housewife. When the election result was announced it was clear that the campaigners had split the Liberal vote and let the Conservative in. They then repeated the tactic at a subsequent by-election in Pontefract, where they reduced the Liberal majority. During the campaign Butler and her friends were pursued into a hay loft by ‘roughs’ who tried to smoke them out. But in spite of her opposition to the Liberals, Butler was shocked and dismayed by the Conservative victory of 1874. In the following year, she suffered a nervous breakdown.

Failure at home forced the repealers to look more closely at developments abroad. In December 1874 Butler left for the Continent. In March 1875 the British, Continental and General Federation for the Abolition of Government Regulation of Prostitution was formed in London. Butler was the honorary secretary. Garibaldi accepted nomination to the Council and Cardinal Manning joined the British section. In 1877 an international conference of 500 delegates was held.

The ‘White Slave Trade’
This was a separate issue from the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act, but it raised the same questions of exploitation and the same people were involved in both campaigns.

Late in 1879 anti-vice campaigners discovered that British women were being held against their will in the state brothels of Belgium. On 1 May 1880 Butler published an emotive attack on the most sensational aspect of the trade - child prostitution. In Belgium a prosecution was mounted, using evidence supplied by Butler, after which the chiefs of the Brussels morals police were dismissed. In May 1881 she drew up a petition calling for
‘such changes ... in the English laws as should make it impossible for any young girl or child in our country to be deprived of her liberty by force’
and presented it in person to the Foreign Secretary, Earl Granville. Granville was sympathetic and moved for a Select Committee of the Lords to investigate white slavery.

The Committee confirmed that a serious problem of procuration by fraud existed while discovering little evidence of child abduction. They called for measures to prohibit solicitation for foreign brothels, the age of consent to be raised to 16, and comprehensive measures to tighten the law against brothel keepers. As suggested by the Committee, Gladstone’s ministry introduced a Criminal Law Amendment Bill into the Lords on 31 May 1885.

The Campaign reaches Parliament
Meanwhile the campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts continued.

In 1882, a Commons Select Committee, set up under the initiative of the MP Sir James Stansfeld, a strong supporter of the campaign, reported into the operation of the Acts. Following this the repealers began an offensive in the winter of 1882-83. They did not ask for total repeal but for the abolition of the compulsory examination of women, declaring it an abuse of Magna Carta and habeas corpus. On 20 April 1883 the House voted on this part of the Acts, with Butler and a deputation of women in prayer outside. By 182/110 the House voted to repeal compulsory examination.

But the 'victory' was not what it seemed. The Contagious Diseases Acts remained on the statute book, and their supporters threatened to reintroduce the compulsory aspects, should the bill fail. It had to be withdrawn from the Lords, and when it was reintroduced in 1884 it passed the Lords but failed in the Commons. In 1885 a third and even weaker bill was passed by the Lords but struggled in the Commons. The debate was adjourned when very few members turned up. With Gladstone’s ministry now tottering, it looked as if Butler’s crusade had failed.

W. T. Stead and the Pall Mall Gazette
William Thomas Stead was a crusading journalist who agreed to use his Pall Mall Gazette to aid the campaign. Yet it was far from clear what he could do. Gladstone's second ministry collapsed on 9 June 1885, replaced by a stop-gap Conservative administration pending a general election. When Parliament was dissolved, unfinished legislation, including the Criminal Law Amendment Bill against the white slave trade, would fall with it. Stead knew therefore that he had to raise the repeal bill to the top of the agenda in a matter of weeks. Stead, Butler and their associates calculated that only a massive sensation could force urgent action.

The most explosive facet of white slavery was the allegation Butler had made in May 1880 that under-age girls were being kidnapped and sent to Continental brothels. Yet despite enlisting the aid of General Booth of the Salvation Army, Stead failed to find evidence.

In January 1885 Butler had been asked by Florence Booth, daughter of William and Catherine, whether she could receive a recent Army convert named Rebecca Jarrett, a former madam, at her House of Rest in Winchester. From this there followed a remarkable friendship, and Rebecca became part of the Salvation Army’s rescue work. When Butler told Stead about Rebecca Jarrett, he asked to meet her. Rebecca told him that she had sold children for £10 or £20. Without Butler’s knowledge, Stead then prevailed on her to take up her former trade and procure a girl to provide the crucial evidence. Reluctantly Jarrett went back to her old haunts and in June came back with a 13 year old, Eliza Armstrong, whom she had bought for £1 from her impoverished mother.

But unfortunately the details of the transaction are obscure. Eliza thought she was going into service and Mrs Armstrong might have thought the same. The father, a chimney sweep, was not present and was not consulted. Stead had Eliza certified as a virgin and then spirited her out of the country to a Salvation Army hostel in France.

Convinced he had proved Butler’s allegations, he wrote four articles headed ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’, published in the week beginning Monday 6 July 1885 (having previously told his readers not to buy the issues as the subject matter was too shocking!). In one of the articles, Eliza appeared as ‘Lily’ and the narrative stated (wrongly) that she had been raped. The fourth article threatened to expose ‘Princes of the blood and prominent public men’, and on the same day the magazine published a letter from Butler which made the same threat.

Public reaction was extraordinary. At mass meetings in London, Liverpool, and Newcastle there were demands for legal protection for children. On 9 July the Home Secretary, Richard Cross, moved the resumption of the second reading of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, and it received the royal assent on 10 August, and included a new clause raising the age of consent to sixteen. [Since 1275 English law stated that men could have sex with a child over the age of twelve. The age limit had been raised to thirteen in 1875.]

But by this time the case was turning sour. By the middle of July Eliza Armstrong’s parents made a formal application to the police about their missing daughter. It turned out that the parents were not the careless drunkards Stead had been led to believe. At the end of August Eliza was handed back to them. On 2 September prosecutions were brought against Stead, Bramwell Booth, Rebecca Jarrett and others for unlawful abduction. Ironically the case was the first of its kind to be brought under the new Criminal Law Amendment Act.

The trial began in the Old Bailey on 23 October. Stead turned against Jarrett. In November Booth was acquitted, Rebecca Jarrett was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, and Stead to three months’ hard labour. Stead served only two months (in comfort), while Jarrett served her full sentence in harsh conditions.

This was gravely embarrassing for Butler, who turned against Stead because of his vainglorious behaviour and rushed into print with a pamphlet defending Jarrett. It had very little impact. Stead had become a martyr and could claim that he had successfully secured the passage of a much-needed law.

Seven days after the passing of the Act, the National Vigilance Association was set up. Butler was initially a council member though she became shocked at its repressive attitudes.
However, for all her disillusionment, the Contagious Diseases Acts were repealed in 1886. In the turmoil of his third ministry, Gladstone needed the support of the pro-repeal MP, Sir James Stansfeld and thus found time for a Repeal Bill, which was passed on 20 March, shortly before the Home Rule crisis destroyed the government

Significance of the movement
1. The tactics used by the CDA repealers were to be imitated by the suffragettes, though the campaigners were over-optimistic in believing that they could create a political machine to rival the Liberals or Tories.
2. The campaign gave rise to other reform groupings to work against the injustices and disabilities affecting women - married women’s property rights, anti-vivisection and anti-vaccination.
3. The state had defined women as the source of contagion. But the CDA campaigners declared that the problem lay with male vice. In 1873 the Social Purity Alliance was founded in order to change the nature and conduct of men. The campaign for sexual purity was tied in with the campaign for women’s suffrage. How could women fulfill their mission to reform men unless they had a say in legislation?

Sunday, 20 January 2008

New biography of John Stuart Mill

You may enjoy reading this review in the Telegraph of a new life of the great Victorian liberal, John Stuart Mill.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Women and employment

How depicted?
The standard images of Victorian women are the angel in the house, the factory girl, and the domestic servant. There are plenty of visual representations of the first, far fewer of the second two. Working women in Victorian art are usually portrayed as wives and subordinate to their husbands. (The exception here is the series of photographs Arthur Munby took of the domestic servant Hannah Cullwick – whome he subsequently married – and other working-class women.) Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton portrays the life of a Victorian working girl. Significantly, she is confronted with severe family problems – an aunt drive to prostitution, a father on strike, and she is threatened with seduction by the employer’s son.

Moralists fretted about female employment. Ashley (Lord Shaftesbury) believed married women should not work outside the home. Henry Mayhew highlighted the dangers of underpaid needlewomen turning to prostitution.

The 1851 census
The 1851 census was the first to record occupations in any detail. It gave a total of 2.8m women and girls over the age of ten in employment out of a female population of 10.1m, forming 30.2% of the workforce. This is almost certainly an underestimate - perhaps by as much as a third. The census showed that women were clustered into certain occupations.
  • 1. Domestic service took by far the greatest number - 905,000, not including 145,000 washerwomen and 55,000 charwomen. (In 1871 – the peak year – 46% of occupied women were in domestic service.) The majority of domestic servants worked in small households – we must rid ourselves of the Upstairs, Downstairs image!
  • 2. Factory work was an important area of work for some women.
  • 3. The next largest group was textile workers, closely followed by those in the clothing trades, most in workshops or outwork.
The overlap between home and work continued to be one of the themes of women’s lives, whether they were engaged in rural industries such as straw-plaiting or working in the ‘sweated trades’ of the great urban centres. A good example of this is the previously all-male tailoring trade. Rising demand for army and navy uniforms and for clothes of all kinds led to a new form of putting out – middlemen employed workers, mainly women, to mass-produce garments in their own homes or workshops. This eventually destroyed the control of male tailors. But the great disadvantage for women was that wages were constantly driven down.
Dundee was one of the great areas of female employment as the jute mills sought to fight off Indian competition by using low-paid female labour. It was described as a city of ‘over-dressed, loud, bold-eyed girls’. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were almost three women to every two men in the city between the ages of twenty and forty-five and a third of all heads of houses were women.

There is also the unrecorded work - seasonal agricultural work, outwork, casual domestic work such as washing, and working in family businesses. An ‘occupation’ was generally perceived as the work performed by a male head of household or a single unmarried person.

Women and change
The history of women’s work in the second phase of industrialization is very different from that of men’s work. Heavy industries expanded: iron and steel, shipbuilding, transport. These industries did not provide work for women but for skilled male craftsmen, who began to build a trade-union movement. The TUC met for the first time in 1868, representing primarily the interests of the skilled crafts, who campaigned for the ‘family wage’. In this kind of movement women had virtually no place. In 1875 Henry Broadbent, union official and later (from 1880) ‘Lib-Lab’ MP for Stoke-on-Trent, told the TUC that the goals of the labour movement included the conditions where
‘wives and daughters would be in their proper sphere at home, instead of being dragged into competition for livelihood against the great and strong men of the world’.
This was not merely an ideology. Industrialization probably reduced the female presence in the formal job market. Official returns in the second half of the 19th century show a steady decline in the proportion of women in the occupied work force from 34.1 % in 1861 to 31.15 in 1891. The majority of these working women were young and unmarried. In many sectors of the economy - such as the Huntley and Palmer biscuit factory – a formal marriage bar operated. Even in the Lancashire textile industry, working mothers were a minority (see below). This is a reflection of the growing prosperity of working-class families. The family wage, though low, was sufficient to allow the mother (called ‘mum’ from the 1880s) to remain at home – a place which could be a place of power for her.

In the following decades more women entered the labour market. By 1911 there had been a significant build up of women working in various branches of engineering: 128,000 – more than the numbers engaged in agriculture and horticulture.

But the most momentous change in the female labour market was the growth of middle-class posts – in teaching, retailing, office work, and nursing. The majority of the teachers in the Board Schools created by the 1870 Education Act were women. Though less qualified, they constituted 75% of the 230,000 teachers listed in the 1901 Census.

Another great catalyst for change was the typewriter, which took off in the 1880s. The first Remington model was sold in 1878; 304 Remington Model IIs were sold in 1880, 27,000 in 1887 and 65,000 in 1890. This drew women into the hitherto exclusively male clerical occupations. It also led to a semi-pornographic novel, Confessions of a Type-Writer (1893)! The new position of telephonist was dominated by women from the start. (Bell delivered his first telephone message in 1876.) The Post Office was a major employer, though women had to be dismissed from the Savings Bank Department because of male opposition. By 1911 the GPO employed nearly 35,000 women in the telephone and telegraph services and as counter clerks. By 1900 women were 20% of all white-collar workers, earning on average 25-30s a week.
Women were paid much less than men even when doing the same jobs, something demanded by both employers and unions. For example, shop assistants earned about 65% of men’s income. But the real problem lay in the notion of a ‘woman’s rate’ (amounting to little more than 10-12s a week, or else a fixed percentage of male earnings. For most girls the best route to advancement still lay though making a ‘good’ marriage. It has been estimated that 10 % of working-class females married into middle-class families.

From the mid 1820s the mechanization of weaving (the application of steam power to the powerloom) for the first time brought women in large numbers into textile factories. (They had already entered such factories earlier as a minority of spinners.) Worsted followed after 1835, wool after 1850, hosiery from the 1850s, and women’s work of seaming and finishing from the 1850s. The timing of the entry by women into factory production varied greatly.
This shows that the character of the female labour force in these industries was quite diverse. Throughout, it remained influenced by the assumptions of the family economy - women’s work was less skilled and poorly paid. The only area where men and women worked together was powerloom weaving in the cotton industry.

In the Lancashire cotton factories, the majority of employed women were young single women, with a minority of poorer married women. They worked as powerloom weavers or in other preparatory work such as carding. One analysis of the census returns of 1851 for seven districts of Lancashire suggested that overall only 27% of women cotton operatives were either married or widowed. The married woman factory worker was the target of much condemnation from observers of the factory system. However the mothers of small children were probably a small proportion of the overall factory workforce. In the seven Lancashire districts only 20% of these married women in work had children under a year in age - though these numbers were gradually increasing. A family’s prosperity depended on how many members were actually contributing to its overall income. A married woman in factory work was most likely to leave employment in her thirties when her first children were old enough to enter employment. Where alternatives existed, married women were more likely to do work which could be done at home. Where there were no alternatives, she would enter factory employment.

The 'Woman Question'

The question of women’s roles and women’s rights came to the fore in public debate in the 1860s. In 1869 John Stuart Mill published his Subjection of Women (1869). The decade also saw the (unsuccessful) demand for female enfranchisement and the (partially successful) demand for women’s secondary and higher education. By 1870 the ‘Woman Question’ was hotly debated. The word ‘feminism’ did not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary of 1901 but it was cited in the Supplement from a French usage of 1895 to mean ‘advocacy of the rights of women’. By 1914 the term had achieved a wider currency.

The dawn of feminism
Middle-class women had first gained valuable experience of political organization and political campaigning in the 1840s in the Anti-Corn Law League. Although anti-slavery campaigning never politicized British women as much as American women, there is some evidence that women from anti-slavery families in Britain began to link abolitionism to the emancipation of their own sex in the years following the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London in 1840. Among the four American women delegates was the influential Quaker, Lucretia Mott. But after a lengthy debate, the women were excluded from the debates. Mott went on to become a prominent figure in the Seneca Falls Convention, 1848.

One group of friends who took a particular interest in the 1840 convention also went on to take a pioneering role in calling for women rights. They included Quakers and Unitarians. From the mid 1850s, Florence Nightingale's illegitimate cousin, Barbara Leigh Smith (1827-1901) and her close friend Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829-1925), a grandaugher of Joseph Priestley, began to rouse public debate over a range of issues concerning the rights of women: education, employment opportunities and family law. This last question led Leigh Smith to form a committee in pursuit of Parliamentary reform of the marriage laws, especially those laws that limited a married woman’s right to own property.

A circle of women was established round Leigh Smith and Rayner Parks, and this was subsequently given focus by the provision of meeting rooms in London, in Langham Place. A vehicle of communication was established, the English Woman’s Journal. The editorship was eventually taken over by Emily Davies (1830-1921), who later became the first Principal of Girton.

The demand for women’s suffrage
In the early 1860s a debating group was formed, called the Kensington Society, which provided women with experience in preparing papers and speaking before an audience. It was in a Kensington Society debate that the question of women’s right to vote was first raised among this circle. The women found a supporter in John Stuart Mill, who was elected as MP for Westminster in 1865. In the debates on the 1867 Reform Act, he introduced an amendment allowing for women householders to vote on the same terms as men. In the same year the first women’s suffrage committee was founded. One of the leading members was Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1912) the wife of the blind MP Henry Fawcett. In 1868 she made her first public speech on the subject.

In the election which followed (1868) a number of Lancashire women with the necessary qualifications cast their vote. The returning officer moved their vote invalid. The suffragists then took a test case to the courts, and among their advisors was a young Manchester lawyer, Richard Pankhurst. In 1870 he drafted the first woman’s suffrage bill, which was introduced by two Radical-Liberals, Charles Dilke and Jacob Bright. This was rejected but Bright secured an amendment to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1869 which gave women with the appropriate property qualifications the right to vote in municipal elections. In 1870 it was also established that women might both vote and serve on the new local school boards. This was the first formal entry of women into public life.

The early suffrage movement was divided over the question of whether or not to include married women in the suffrage demand. The question arose because of the common-law disability of coverture, which debarred a married woman from exercising the vote if the franchise depended on a property qualification. The dilemma meant that demands for the vote were entwined with demands for a reform in the legal position of married women.

Marriage legislation
Since the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 women had been allowed to sue for divorce, though not on the grounds of adultery alone.

The Act of 1870 allowed married women to own their own wages and earnings, certain investments, and property inherited as next of kin of an intestate. They were allowed to inherit personal property of a value of less than £200 under a deed of will but no more. But from the late 1870s a string of judicial decisions showed that the act was not working as intended. In particular a magistrate in Manchester ruled that a wife could not sue her husband for stealing her property even when they had received a judicial separation.

The Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 extended the rules of equity to all married women’s property and was a triumph for the argument that the protection offered to the rich should be offered to the poor. But this was not the same as giving married women the same rights as men, which did not happen until 1935. By preserving (until then) a series of trusts the wealthy classes were able to opt out of a reformed common law (following the Judicature Act) which gave married women considerably more freedom than they had previously enjoyed. In this way rich and poor continued to be governed by different systems. Politicians were reluctant to accept that their own homes should be affected by changes to women’s rights. The married women’s property acts harmonized well with the Victorian desire to improve the morals of the poor.

Protection of a different kind was provided by the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1858, which allowed a woman beaten by her husband to apply for a separation order (though this was often refused).

In 1891 the case of Regina v. Jackson overturned an earlier ruling that a husband cannot legally detain his wife in his house. Two years earlier Ibsen’s Doll’s House had played to crowded and excited audiences in London.

What these measures have in common is a recognition by parliamentarians of masculine bad behaviour – but primarily among the working classes. But it was also problematic because of fears that they would cause discord in the home. There was no place in Victorian ideology for disputes between husbands and wives.

Educational reform began in the 1840s, stimulated by a variety of factors, including the rising wealth and expectations of the middle class, the belief that the mother as the first educator of her children needed a sound education and an increase in the number of middle-class unmarried women.

In 1848 Queen’s College in Harley Street and Bedford College (founded by the Unitarian, Elizabeth Reid) were founded.

1850 saw the foundation of the North London Collegiate School by Miss Frances Buss (1827-94); in 1854 Cheltenham Ladies College was founded; the second principal was Miss Dorothea Beale (1831-1906).
1871: Maria Grey set up the National Union for Improving the Education of Women.
1872: the Girls’ Public Day School Trust established.

There were tremendous obstacles, both social and cultural in the way of higher education for women. In the early 1860s Emily Davies turned her attention to getting girls to sit Cambridge University Local Examinations. She met constant resistance. In 1869 she and Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon founded a college at Hitchin, on the grounds that it was almost as near London as Cambridge, and that if Cambridge did not adopt it, London might. The initial five students took exactly the same Cambridge exams as the men (the Little-Go followed by the Tripos) - this was an important point of principle. But the college situation was awkward. In May 1872 the articles of association for Girton College were founded, and Emily Davies was nominated Secretary. In October 1873 the students arrived at a half finished building.

Others contested the Girton argument that the women should take the same exams as the men. At Leeds in 1867 Anne Jemima Clough (1820-92) helped establish the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women, whose president was Josephine Butler. The Council developed the system that came to be known as ‘university extension’ - a lecture programme for women and special university-based examinations which would give an entry into teaching. When she became the first principal of Newnham College (1871) she was prepared to accept special provisions for women. As a result, Newnham attracted more students than Girton - though Emily Davies also insisted that they had sold the pass.

Newnham arose out of a series of ‘Lectures for Ladies’ which had been started in Cambridge in 1870. The (blind) professor of economics was Henry Fawcett, MP for Brighton, and husband of Elizabeth Garrett (1847-1912). Their circle in Cambridge included the philosopher, Henry Sidgwick. In 1871 Sidgwick rented a house in Cambridge in which young women attending the lectures could reside. He persuaded Anne Jemima Clough, who had previously run a school in the Lake District to take charge of this house. A purpose-built building, Newnham Hall, opened in 1875. Unlike Girton, which was run on Anglican lines, Newnham had no chapel.

In 1879 Somerville College and Lady Margaret Hall were founded. The first Principal of LMH was Elizabeth Wordsworth, daughter of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth. The moving spirits were Edward Talbot, Warden of Keble and his wife Lavinia, daughter of Lord Lyttleton and niece of Mrs Gladstone. In 1884 Oxford voted to admit women to examinations but not degrees.

The resistance to the higher education of women came from a number of groups including (a) doctors who insisted that female students’ health would suffer from serious study (b) parents who feared that their daughters’ lives would be radically transformed.

But in spite of these arguments, higher education for women expanded. In 1878 London University admitted women to degrees on the same terms as men and none of the newly chartered Victorian and Edwardian universities drew sexual distinctions. By 1900 there were 1,476 full-time female students in England and another 1,194 in Scotland and Wales – to say nothing of the hundreds enrolled in teachers’ training colleges. In 1882 a Girton graduate, Constance Maynard, became the first Principal of Westfield, with the support of Lord Shaftesbury. Yet in 1881 women at Cambridge University were allowed only to sit the degree examinations on the same terms as men, but not be awarded degrees.

In 1890, there was a great sensation when Mrs Fawcett’s daughter, Philippa, was ranked above the Senior Wrangler - but she was not awarded the honour! (But in 1897 the proposal to admit women to degrees was rejected. It was only in 1947 that women in Cambridge were awarded degrees on the same terms as men.) Three years late Alice Cooke became the first woman to be appointed to a university teaching post – at Owen’s College, Manchester.

The entry into the professions
Women had a tremendous struggle to enter medicine. Professor Edward Clarke opposed women’s entry into medicine because he thought that such intellectual work would reduce the supply or nervous energy to the female reproductive system, producing
‘monstrous brains and puny bodies; abnormally active cerebration and abnormally weak digestion; flowing thought and constipated bowels’.
The English psychiatrist Henry Maudsley thought the over-expenditure of vital energy in mental activity by women would cause menstrual derangements leading to hysterial, epilepsy and chorea.

Elizabeth Garrett, later Anderson (1836-1917) found that she was only accepted by one medical school, the Company of Apothecaries (because their charter meant that they were unable to refuse any candidate who complied with their conditions). In 1870, just before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, she took her MD degree in Paris. In 1873 she was admitted to the BMA.

In 1868 Sophia Jex-Blake (1840-1912) began a regular course of medical study in New York under Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, but was recalled home by the death of her father. She then began to seek medical education at home but found that all avenues were closed to her. After being refused by the University of London, she turned to Edinburgh where her second application was successful. Regulations were made for the admission of women and for their instruction ‘for the profession of medicine’ in separate classes. Five women matriculated at Edinburgh in 1869 but in 1873 they lost the last of a series of legal actions and were debarred from completing their studies. In 1874 Jex-Blake founded the London School of Medicine for Women. In 1877 the London (afterwards the Royal) Free Hospital opened its doors to women students. In the previous year (August 1876) all medical bodies were empowered to examine women, although the Irish college of Physicians was the first to use the power. Meanwhile Jex-Blake had qualified at Berne. In 1877 she gained the right to practise in Britain and in 1878 she settled in Edinburgh. In 1892-3 the BMA admitted women, though by 1900 there were only 434 women licensed to practise as doctors.

The breakthrough into the professions should not be exaggerated. In 1881 there were 25 female medical doctors, but in 1901 there were still only 212 (compared with 22,000 male doctors). There were no women barristers of solicitors – though in 1906 Christabel Pankhurst graduated with a law degree (First Class) from Victoria University (Manchester), having been refused admission by Lincoln’s Inn .

The employment of women was very much a question of class. Those women graduates who entered the professions overwhelmingly became teachers. In the 1850s elementary teaching was an essentially working-class occupation. But from the 1850s it came to be dominated by lower middle-class women. In 1861 there were 80,000 female teachers, in 1891 150,000.

The great expansion of female employment was in the lower middle-class white-collar occupations, such as clerks and shop assistants. (See other blog.)

Women and politics
The male-dominated political parties put forward contradictory messages in their attempts to attract women to their cause. The Conservative party was ambivalent in its attitude, and their appeal to the popular vote emphasised the male pursuits of ‘football, racing and beer’. But in 1883 the Conservatives founded the Primrose League. This was a political and social society designed to appeal to all strata of society. It soon boasted almost 2 million members and became a formidable force, thanks largely to the enthusiasm of its female members, who became involved in electioneering after the Corrupt Practices Act of 1883 prohibited the payment of election agents. Tory women were organized in their own Ladies Grand Council. However, it was always stressed that the Council was to play a ‘backroom’ role. One of the first ‘Dames’ of the League was Lady Randolph Churchill, who canvassed the Woodstock election for her husband in 1885. But in spite of her high profile role in politics, Lady Randolph was opposed to votes for women.

The Liberals formed local Women’s Liberal Associations throughout the country during the 1880s and joined together in the Women’s Liberal Federation in 1887. The Bristol branch of the WLA, established in 1881 by Anna Maria Priestman and Emily Sturge, was especially feminist. But disagreements among Liberals came to a head in 1892 when Gladstone declared his opposition to women’s suffrage.
The fear I have is, lest we should invite her unwittingly to trespass upon the delicacy, the purity, the refinement, the elevation of her own nature, which are the present sources of its power.
This was not the only reason why many Liberals opposed women’s suffrage. Some argued that the proposal to give women the vote on the same terms as men would simply extend household suffrage and tip the scales further against working-class men.

The three main socialist groups established in the 1880s and 1890s - the Fabian Society, the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party - were unusual in opening their membership to women on the same basis as men. But this involved a dilemma: which should be stressed, class oppression or gender oppression? In practice, priority was given to economic rather than gender questions. However, the ILP provided a platform for women: middle-class lecturers spread not only socialism but feminism among working-class women. At the same time Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth, both middle-class socialists, made women’s suffrage into a trade union matter by linking it with women’s work and women’s wages.

The most consistent supporter of women’s suffrage was the Co-operative Women’s Guild. It began as a conservative movement, insisting that woman’s place was in the home and trying to avoid the antagonism roused by women’s rights. However after 1889, when Margaret Llewellyn Davies, a nice of Emily Davies and a staunch feminist, became General Secretary, it was quick to change its role. A suffrage petition was organized as early as 1893.

However, the cause of women’s suffrage had suffered a blow when ‘An appeal against female suffrage’ was published in The Nineteenth Century in June 1889. It was drawn up by (among others) Mrs Humphry Ward (1851-1920). Among the 104 women who signed were Beatrice Potter (later Webb) and Lady Randolph Churchill. In the July issue Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) wrote a rejoinder. The August issue contained the names of 1,200 anti-suffrage ladies.

In 1894 the cause of women’s suffrage gained a significant advance in the passage of the Local Government Act, but which married women became open for all the local government franchises already open to single women and widows. The issue of coverture was now effectively dead, and the way was clear for all suffragists to work together for equal rights for all women to the parliamentary franchise.

In 1897 the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was formed under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett. In that year too (February) a woman’s suffrage bill passed its second reading in the Commons for the first time.

Progress and regression
In 1894 the term ‘the New Woman’ was invented. ‘The label was most convincingly applied to the young middle-class woman who not only had a job but maintained herself and lived on her own or with another young woman, in an apartment or “chambers”. This entailed a complete departure from the domestic obligations traditionally filled by this age group, and was correctly summed up as “the revolt of the daughters” – another coinage by the press of the day.’

But there were not many ‘new women’ and some of the most spectacular advances also highlighted women’s continuing disabilities. Changes in the law did not always expand women’s rights at the expense of men’s. As late as 1899 a jury’s decision in the case of Regina v. Clarence overturned the standard opinion of judges and legal textbooks by asserting a husband’s right to rape his wife (even when, as in this case, the husband was suffering from advanced syphilis). The Vagrancy Act (1898) which outlawed sexual soliciting, prescribed fines of 40 shillings for female offenders compared with six months’ imprisonment and hard labour for men; but the Act was massively enforced against women, whereas prosecutions of men were virtually unknown.

Some intellectual trends worked against women. The Darwinian, Herbert Spencer, argued that childbirth precluded the female brain from sharing in ‘the latest products of human evolution’, namely abstract reasoning and the sentiment of justice. (These arguments were used against women jurors.)

Not all developments in popular culture favoured women. The late Victorian cult of both upper- and lower-class ‘clubland’ was an almost exclusively masculine sphere.
Growing fears about Britain’s national defence capability and status as a world power tended to intermesh with fears about the changing role of women and the decline in the birth rate. In the 1860s hostility to women’s suffrage had emphasized mainly their lack of property rights. This was no longer such an issue in the 1890s and was replaced by the notion that a female-dominated electorate would subvert military security. Rising concern for Empire, family, and general biological improvement meant that in certain respects gender divisions became more pronounced.

Feminism was a minority cause for women. In purely numerical terms the most successful women’s organization of the period was the Mothers’ Union (1886). The ideology of the MU was expressed in a poem by Lady Dorothy Neville, which appeared in the Mothers’ Union Journal in 1908. [Quoted Sean Gill, Women and the Church of England. From the Eighteenth Century to the Present (1994), 142.]
The Rights of Woman, what are they?
The Right to labour love and pray,
The Right to weep with those who weep,
The Right to work while others sleep.