The Role of the British and American Suffrage Movements in Achieving Women's Rights PART-3

(Afzal RAZVI, Adelaide-Australia)

In 1870, a journal for women ‘Woman's Journal’ was established by Lucy Stone; the Journal was edited by Mary Livermore for its first two years. After that, Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry Blackwell, assumed full editorial control. Later, Alice Stone Blackwell joined her parents on the editorial staff. The Woman’s Journal became the leading woman suffrage newspaper in the United States. In Britain, the Woman's Journal was well known and read by suffragists and those interested in women's rights and women’s issues. In May 1888, the Englishwoman’s Review described the Woman’s Journal as the best women’s paper in America, or indeed in any country.23 |

The suffrage papers in Britain and America were major connecting links between the two movements. In Britain, Lydia Becker’s The Women’s Suffrage Journal, and the Englishwoman’s Review, edited by Caroline Ashurst Biggs until her death in August 1889, and afterward by Helen Blackburn, discussed the progress of the suffrage campaign in both Britain and the United States. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who, with Lucretia Mott, called the 1848 gathering at Seneca Falls, founded with Susan B. Anthony were popular among Britain suffragists likewise, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who played a major role in the British suffrage movement during its entire duration, became increasingly well known to American suffragists during the 1870s and 1880s. Readers of the Woman’s Journal became familiar with Fawcett through the frequent mention of her in the pages of the newspaper. In June 1872, Mary E. Beedy described Fawcett and her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, as two of the British movement’s most prominent leaders. Characterizing the sisters as well balanced and practical, Beedy observed, “No one can find any reasonable ground for criticism in these women, judged either by the standard for men or for women, they are equally satisfactory. They can think and work like men, while they have the manners and bearing of women.”24

The Women’s Franchise League was founded. The organization was committed to including married women in any woman suffrage bill. Members included Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, Harriet McIlquham, Alice Scatcherd, Emmeline and Richard Parkhurst, Clementia and Peter Taylor, Jane Cobden Unwin, Ursula Bright, Florence Fenwick Miller, and Harriot Stanton Blatch. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Isabella B. Hooker were corresponding vice presidents who supplied information regarding the progress of woman suffrage in the United States. An active member of the organization, Harriot Stanton Blatch later wrote, “Mrs. Pankhurst and I, burdened as we were by young children and domestic cares, were the admiring neophytes of the circle.”25

Dohm wrote in 1873, the stronger the emphasis on the difference between the sexes, the clearer the need for the specific representation of women. She blamed men for wilfully ignoring the necessity of women's vote, and chided them for their fears that somehow the entire female sex might disappear along the unfamiliar path of voting rights.26 In 1876, Dohm returned to the issue in her book Women’s Nature and Right citing historical precedents for women’s exercise of political power. She disputed the range of arguments made against woman suffrage. She remarked:

We cannot conscientiously blame the men for not caring to place women on equality with themselves. We find it but natural that they should hold fast the prerogative of their sex. What rank or class ever voluntarily ceded their privileges? We find it perfectly natural that they do not care to cook or look after their children; for the presence of women in governmental affairs is to the cleverest men inseparable from the idea that they themselves must in such a case spend part of their strength in the kitchen and nursery.27

After the election of 1874 and 1884, the main parliamentary supporters of the women’s suffrage bill insisted on including in the bill a clause explicitly excluding married women from the suffrage. At this point Becker argued that the suffrage movement should support the 1874 women’s suffrage bill put forward by William Forsyth Q.C.28

On this matter Becker was fully supported by the leader of the suffrage movement, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who was becoming increasingly important in the whole suffrage campaign. She said:
I really don’t care whether married women have votes or not. I cannot enter into the feelings of those who violently object to married women having votes. I do not think that there would be an end to domestic virtue and domestic affections if they had votes; but I do recognise that there is a strong feeling in the country against married women’s suffrage, and that there is not a strong feeling against the suffrage being exercised by single women and widows who possess the necessary qualification; and believing as I do, that all practical grievances will be removed by the enfranchisement of single women, I, for one, should be perfectly contented with a Women's Suffrage Bill which, did not enfranchise married women.29

The very nature of nineteenth-century feminism made the question of imperialism a central one; in seeking to establish the political basis of women’s oppression and to demand the recognition of women’s place in the nation, mid-Victorian feminists embraced existing ideas of that nation, and, by extension, of the empire. In the 1890s and more particularly the early twentieth century, the question of women's rights finally became a matter of intense public and political debate. After decades of discussion of the “woman question” amongst activists, writers, artists, scientists, moralists, and educators, questions about the nature and the situation and the demands of women began to feature in the popular imagination, as Punch cartoons of the late 1880s and 1890s, featuring powerful and athletic women on bicycles or cricket fields, or bullying effeminate men at cocktail parties, serve to show.30 Public discussion and press coverage became even more extensive with the advent of militancy and the massive suffrage demonstrations which developed after 1907.31The nature of the “woman question” changed in this period too: extensive discussion of the “new woman” in the 1890s raised a number of questions about marriage and sexuality that had rarely been publicly debated previously.32 The new methods of campaigning used by militant suffragettes and moderate suffragists alike, with the ever-expanding use of banners, posters, pageants, plays, and marches, ensured that the battle for political rights was accompanied by an equally powerful battle of representations. In the course of this, the conventional Victorian feminine ideal was challenged by contrasting images of women: as militant and martyred in the style of Joan of Arc; as strong and composed professional women, especially doctors, lawyers, and Members of Parliament; or, for anti-suffragists, as drunken slatterns, shrewish housewives and neglectful and immoral wives and mothers.33 for a hostile literary representation of suffragettes. The increasing prevalence of images and discussions of the “woman question” at this time bore witness to a massive increase in feminist organization, agitation and activity. This was most notable in the rapid increase in suffrage societies and suffrage activity in the early twentieth century.34

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About the Author: Afzal Razvi

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Educationist-Works in the Department for Education South AUSTRALIA and lives in Adelaide.
Author of Dar Barg e Lala o Gul (a research work on Allama
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