The Men's League for Opposing Woman Suffrage was founded on 19 January 1909.  The newly formed association replaced the Men's Committee for Opposing Woman Suffrage, which had been founded in 1908. The following year, 1910, the group changed its name again after merging with the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League to form the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage.

The first president of the Men’s League for Opposing Woman Suffrage was no less a person than Evelyn Baring, first Earl of Cromer.  Incidentally, Lord Cromer was opposed not only to female suffrage, but also to government-subsidised secondary education.  His traditional colonialist attitudes, coupled with his staunchly ‘establishment’ view of the social sphere, made him the perfect candidate to represent the ideals of an organisation that wished to prevent women enjoying the same political and social rights as their male counterparts.  Interestingly, although unsurprisingly, the Men’s League for Opposing Woman Suffrage was thinly veiled in a ‘quasi-chivalric’ and patriarchal view of the role of women in both public and private life.

Opposition to Woman Suffrage here in Manchester…

Cover of book The Woman MPIn 1910 the Manchester branch of the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage, with its headquarters in Princess Street in the heart of the city, published a curious booklet entitled The woman MP: a peril to women and the country [shelved at Suffragette Movement: Box 1].

Contained within the pamphlet are six reasons why those opposed to women’s right to vote believed that it was to the detriment of women and society as a whole.

Extract from the text:

  1. The giving of votes to women, with its consequence, universal adult suffrage, and its corollary, the woman M.P., would lower the quality of our legislation, would increase the number of capricious, emotional, meddlesome laws, and would therefore in many cases bring the law into contempt and render it a dead letter.
  2. The giving of votes to women would lower the whole tone of politics.
  3. The giving of votes to women would minimise their influence for good, both socially and politically. It would make a difference for the worse in their treatment by men, and it would have an evil effect on the character of women themselves.
  4. The giving of votes to women would have an effect for the worse on the upbringing of the young and the future of the race.
  5. The giving of votes to women would be disastrous in our relations with foreign powers and with our dependencies, especially those which, like India, are inhabited by races not European.
  6. The giving of votes to women is not desired by the overwhelming majority of the women of this country. It is actively opposed by numbers greater than those comprising the whole of the suffrage societies, and it is passively opposed by millions more. Women do not desire the duties and responsibilities attached to the Parliamentary Franchise, and above all, they strongly object to being ruled by women.
    Leaflet from Mens League for Opposing Woman Suffrage

    A leaflet from the Men's League for Opposing Woman Suffrage, recently purchased as part of our project

This wide and varied readership highlights the growing concern for the issue of woman suffrage and the moral and social implications of it being granted. The booklet is at pains to point out and expand upon: “The giving of votes to women would introduce into the foundation on which our Constitution is built a false quantity and a weakness of such a nature as to render our government unstable and the lives, liberties, and property of the citizens of this country.”

The above extract highlights both the concern of the ruling elite about the potential dismantling of the established norm and the perceived ‘moral’ danger of woman/universal suffrage.

As you will see, the greatest fear of a politically literate and active female population, coupled with universal suffrage (votes for all citizens over the age of 21) struck at the very heart of the establishment.

It threatened to overturn a deeply patriarchal and hierarchical social structure; it was feared that universal suffrage in ‘The Home Country’ would have political and positive democratic consequences for the British Empire. The established social order in which everyone ‘had a place’ and perhaps more importantly for those wielding power, ‘knew their place’ within that class structure, was under attack.McGill 1929 postcard - PHM collectionThis booklet is a reprint of a series of twelve articles which were written specially for the Manchester Evening News, and which appeared weekly from 9 August to 25 October 1909.  Among the newspapers reproducing them word for word were the Nottingham Daily Express, Kent Messenger and Maidstone Telegraph, Bethnal Green News and Shoreditch Guardian, and the Oldham Daily Standard.

A similar attitude prevails 20 years later... Donald McGill postcard from 1929, bought by People's History Museum as part of our joint project

 

 

Societies such as the Men's League for Opposing Woman Suffrage called into question the very notion of what we now take for granted as the universal and free expression of one’s political and social rights. The opposition to female suffrage was rooted in a deeply entrenched view of the capabilities of women, their judgement and the perceived effect that their political emancipation would have on their assigned gender role within British society.  It was in direct opposition to these attitudes that the women’s suffrage movement (and later the women’s movement at large), took a stand.

Here at WCML we have recently taken receipt (thanks to Heritage Lottery funding) of several new materials pertaining to this episode in our history.  We will also be holding a series of events and promoting our archive material for your enjoyment over the course of this year. We warmly invite you to participate in the first of these – on Saturday 1 April drop in any time between 12 and 3pm for a special showing of items from our extensive collection relating to women's fight for the vote.  Come and read for yourself the opinions of the Men's League for Opposing Woman Suffrage and the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage... More details here.

James Hinchcliffe, volunteer

Sketch from Illustrated London News January 1908 with a more nuanced view of women's credibility as voters

Sketch from the Illustrated London News,1908, with a more nuanced view of women's credibility as voters. Also recently bought as part of our Voting for Change project