From "EXIT's AND ENTRANCES" by EVA MOORE - Chapman and Hall London 1923
CHAPTER VII - THE SUFFRAGE
"The sex is learning sense." - Grierson's Way.
I am not going to embark upon a long discussion as to the wrongs and rights of the question. I am not going to attempt to write a history of the movement. I am only going to try to tell you of some of the incidents, the thoughts, and personalities that remain with me.
Why did I become a Suffragist? Because all my life I had been a working woman; I had, and still have, a passionate love for England; I believed that I ought to be able to have a voice in the government of that country; and believed, too, that simply because I was a woman, there were certain very vital questions on which my opinion, and the opinion of my sister-women, might be of value - questions which affected "us" as women, and "us" as mothers.
I did not go to prison; but I had, and have, the deepest respect for the women who did. When you look back on the ordeals which women endured, and what they suffered, as suffer they did, remember that no woman who faced those ordeals or endured those sufferings did it for either notoriety, enjoyment, or bravado! As for the "damage" they did, well, I am content to leave the wisdom of such methods to be justified by wiser heads than mine, and to believe, as I do firmly, that those methods were only resorted to when the leaders believed that all other means had failed. Were we not advised by Mr. Hobhouse to abandon a policy of "pinpricks", and "do as the men had done"?
There were many funny incidents connected with the Suffrage Movement, and not the least funny was Mr. Austen Chamberlain's reason why women ought not to have the vote: "Because women are women, and men are men." It was Mr Chamberlain who said that women ought not to mix at all in political affairs. My sister Decima wrote to him at once, to ask if by that statement he meant that he wished women to discontinue working for the Tariff Reform League, and she received a prompt answer "in the negative".
My first public speech was made at the Queen's Hall. They rang up at very short notice to ask if I would "say a few words". Rather fearful as to my powers of oratory, I went. I remember Christabel Pankhurst was in the chair. I began to speak, and a small blood vessel broke in my lip. I stood there speaking, and between sentences mopping up the small but persistent stream of blood. When my own handkerchief was no longer of any use, Christabel passed me another. By the time I finished my speech a small pile of "gory" looking handkerchiefs lay at my feet, and not a woman on the platform had a handkerchief left. It was a horrible experience for a "raw hand".
What a fighter Christabel Pankhurst was! The hall might be in an uproar, but it did not daunt Christabel; she spoke, and, if no one listened, she went on speaking until they did! She was a brilliant speaker, who never let her brilliance get above the heads of her audience, and never let them feel she was "talking down to them". I have never known any woman who was so ready-witted; no one ever "caught her out".
A man once got up and asked, "Now, Miss Pankhurst, putting all the fun of talking in public on one side, don't you really wish you were a man?" Miss Pankhurst gave the question a second's consideration, looked carefully at the speaker, then gave her head that queer little jerk which always heralded some unexpected answer - the crowds knew it, and used to watch for it. "Don't you?" was all she said.
Another occasion a man got up and commenced a long, rambling question as to what would happen to "the home" if he got into Parliament and his wife got into Parliament too. It took him a long time to say it all, and he drew a really very touching picture. "I don't know your wife, sir," said Christabel; "I've never seen her; she might, of course, be returned for Parliament; but you-oh! (very soothingly) I don't think you need worry!"
Taking the audiences on the whole, they liked her. If there was a row that even she could not talk down, it was an extraordinary thing. They liked her humour, they liked her doggedness, her pugnacity, and her youthful enjoyment of any and every joke, even if one was turned against her. The famous Pantechnicon was Christabel's idea. Everyone has heard of it, and it is exactly the same story as the "Wooden Horse of Troy", only "the horse" was a furniture van, the occupants were Suffragists, and "Troy" was the sacred precincts of the House of Commons.
Mrs. Pankhurst had all the fighting spirit, but she lacked the quick humour of her daughter. She was a wonderful woman, who had worked all her life "for women", and worn herself out bodily - not mentally - in doing so. I have seen and heard her often, but never without a sense of deep admiration for her brain and her endurance. Those of us who remember will recall the placards in those days: "Arrest of Mrs. Pankhurst", followed a fortnight later by "Mrs. Pankhurst Released" - that was after hunger striking - then, "Illness of Mrs. Pankhurst". About three weeks later, when she had regained a little of her strength, you saw, "Arrest of Mrs. Pankhurst". (That was under "the Cat and Mouse Act".) That weary round used to go on, until you wondered how human brain, let alone human body, could stand it. But stand it she did, and came back again and again. I wonder now if all that she suffered, and all that she gained, ever enters the minds of the women voters who go to the polling-booths on election days?
Not only may they remember Mrs. Pankhurst, there are other figures that remain " - Flora Drummond, Annie Kenny, Mrs. Howe Martin, Lady Constance Lytton, and Mrs. Despard. The last was, as Mrs. Nevinson once said, "not a woman, but an inspiration". She was born fifty years too soon; she was an old lady when the Suffrage Movement first began to be a real "thing" in practical politics.
It was a living example of mind over matter that made it possible for her to work as she did. She was, I suppose, the most picturesque figure in the movement; she looked what she is - an aristocrat. You will find her type in the Spanish pictures of Tiapolo. I can think of one at the moment which hangs in the Scottish National Gallery; Mrs. Despard might have sat for the court lady on the left. Now she has become an Irish citizen, and lives outside Dublin, devoting her time to trying to alleviate the sufferings of her adopted countrymen. That I do not see eye to eye with her aims and methods does not shake my belief that those aims and methods are actuated from nothing but rooted beliefs. It was Mrs. Despard who said once, during the most strenuous part of the Suffrage campaign, "Oh! then 'twas good to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!" An idealist, even something of a fanatic, but with her eyes fixed on the stars and her heart full of high purpose and great faith in her cause - that is Mrs. Despard as I saw, and still see, her.
Of the sufferings (and I use the word advisedly) of the women who "dared greatly", I will not write, and for two reasons - first, the fight is over, we gained our objective, and removed from the Statute Book the clause which classed women with "lunatics"; and secondly, because if I did write, and write truly of the things I know, no one would believe me, and I even doubt if anyone could print what I could write, and write in all truth. So I leave that side, and ask you to believe that, even if we admit (and I reserve my own opinion) that many of the things which the Suffragists did were foolish, unnecessary, destructive, even wicked, they had punishment meted out to them in not only full measure, but "pressed down and running over"; and I can tell you only that the courage with which they met that punishment was worthy of the great cause for which they fought, whatever their methods - the Emancipation of Women.
The Actresses' Franchise League was formed after the Women's Social and Political Union, and after the Women's Freedom League. It was "non-party and non-political". Though it did not advocate the extreme measures, it did not condemn; its policy was "The aim is everything". I remember our first meeting at the Criterion; Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson took the chair and spoke for us. He, like his mother before him, has been a warm supporter of anything which will lead to better conditions for women. The meeting was a great success, and from that time we, the Actresses' Franchise League, took its place with the other franchise societies. I remember, in one of the processions which were organised from time to time, the Actresses sent a contingent. Cissy Loftus, May Whitty, Lena Ashwell, and I were marching four abreast. We all wore white dresses, with sprays of pink roses, except Lena Ashwell, who was in mourning. At the end of Northumberland Avenue there was a long wait; we were held up for some time. A man who was passing looked at us and recognised Lena Ashwell. He turned to his friend and said, "See 'er, that third one in that line? I'll tell you 'oo she is; she's the 'Bad Girl of the Family'!"
I think in most of us the work cultivated a sense of humour, but it was certainly due to a lack of that valuable commodity in someone that I was asked to hand in my resignation to the A.F.L. My husband wrote a one-act play, called Her Vote, the story of a "fluffy" young woman who, after persuading everyone she meets that it is "their duty" to attend a big Suffrage meeting, does not go herself, because her "young man" has taken tickets for a fashionable ball. That, roughly, was the story. I played the sketch, and it really was very funny. Two days later, at a meeting of the League, "someone" got up and stated that they had seen the sketch, and that evidently "Eva Moore preferred Kisses to Votes", and suggested that I should be told not to play the sketch again, or resign. I resigned; I felt that one could work as well for a cause outside a society as in one. I may say that I was asked to go back, which I did, still reserving the right to myself to play in any play, without the assumption that I was working anti-Suffrage propaganda. That line, "Prefers Kisses to Votes", has always struck me as so very excellent, it should be used in a play.
I did, however, call down upon my head a terrible storm, and quite innocently. At a time when "forcible feeding" was being resorted to very much, two girls, who were Suffragists, were presented at Court. They were both of very good social position, and very charming. One of them, on being presented to the King, said "Your Majesty, won't you stop forcible feeding?" She was promptly hustled out of the presence, and the Press the following day was full of "the insult offered to the King". It may have been, probably was, the wrong time to do it; it was probably the wrong way to attempt to do it; but I did feel, and still feel, that the girl must have called up every ounce of courage she possessed to say what she did. At a meeting next day I ventured to say just what I have written here, ending with: " Whatever one may feel about the wisdom or the propriety of her action, you must take off your hat to the girl for her courage." Then the storm burst.
That evening I found headlines in the papers: "Eva Moore takes off her hat to the woman who insulted the King", and so on; it was astonishing. The result was rather dreadful; men I had never seen wrote to me, wrote the most abusive, indecent letters I have ever read or even dreamed could be written, letters which left me gasping that people who could write at all should descend to using such epithets and expressions. Had I not already been a Suffragist, those letters would have made me one! However, it came to a end and I survived, though I admit at the time it distressed me very much indeed.
A disagreeable experience was when I was called to give evidence in the case of "Pankhurst and Pethick Lawrence v. the Crown". Mrs. Pankhurst was alleged to have spoken against the Crown and His Majesty's Government at the Albert Hall meeting, and the Pethick Lawrences, as chief organisers of the meeting, were involved, that, so far as my memory serves me, was the case. I was to give evidence for Mrs. Pankhurst. I was instructed not to answer too quickly, not to answer too slowly, and no first-night has ever brought such a torture of nerves as did that cross-examination at the Old Bailey. I remember very little about it all, except the grim air which seemed to brood over everything, and the fear that I might "say something wrong". Sir Rufus Isaacs was "for the Crown", and I was in the witness-box. I remember after some time he said, "- and so you suggest so-and-so. Miss Moore?" It was a question very like the old story, "Do you still beat your wife?" - whichever way you answered, you were wrong. I admit frankly I was paralysed with fright; I tried to collect my wits, tried to think of some "really telling" answer; no inspiration came. At last I said, with what dignity I could muster, "I suggest nothing", and heard him say the most welcome words which, I think, have ever struck my ears, "You may stand down!"
And we were told we went through that kind of ordeal because we liked it and loved the notoriety! What imagination some people have! Some day, when we look back from a distance of years, the things will fall into their right perspective, and we shall be able to tell stories which will fire the imagination of those who hear them; such stories will be the Pantechnicon; the story of "Charlie" Marsh, lying hidden on the roof of Birmingham Town Hall, followed by three months' imprisonment, during the whole of which time she was forcibly fed; the story of Lilian Lenton, who hid for two days in the organ loft in Leeds Town Hall; the story of Theresa Billington and the Dog Whip, and many others.
We are still too near them as actual happenings, we still let our political opinions, on either side, colour our feelings; but in the future we shall see them for what they were: as brave attempts to fight whole-heartedly for a great cause. I think of the great public funeral accorded to Emily Davidson, and remember that a martyr is "one who suffers death or grievous loss in defence or on behalf of any belief or cause"; the worthiness or unworthiness of the cause is a question which only the martyr can answer to his or her own soul. Emerson says: "A man does not come the length of the spirit of martyrdom without some flaming love", and I believe that it was a "flaming love" for their sister-women which was the driving-force behind all they did.
I look back, no longer "dreaming dreams", but seeing "visions" - and the visions I see are of women coming from all parts of England, from the factories of Lancashire, from Yorkshire, from the hunting-fields, from offices, schools, and from every place where women might be found, who wanted to see the dawn of the new era, giving up much which made life pleasant and easy, braving scorn, ridicule, and often bodily danger, to do what they might to "right a wrong". I like to remember that "I did what I could" and was, at anyrate, one of the rank and file in that great army.
I go back to August, 1914, and think how all those women put aside their political ambitions, even their demand for recognition, and declared a truce, so that they might concentrate against a common enemy which threatened their country. "I hated war," one of them said to me, speaking of '14, "I was and always had called myself a pacifist, but, when the war came, well, I worked with the rest of us, to help to win it."
The war was over, and at a luncheon given at the Savoy I met Mr. Lloyd George. I told him that I had not seen him for a long time, and reminded him that the last time was when I came, as a member of a deputation on behalf of Women's Suffrage, to see him at 10 Downing Street. "Yes," he said, "I remember. Well, I always told Christabel Pankhurst you should all have the vote, and I kept my word!"
After nearly forty years of "constitutional methods", of spade-work and propaganda, and after nearly a decade of active work - nearly ten years during which constitutional methods were flung to the winds, and the women fought for the franchise as "the men had fought" - they won that which they demanded: their political freedom - obtained, as all freedom has been obtained, "with a great price", and that "great price" was years of self-sacrifice, culminating in the European War.
Author: Don Gillan, www.stagebeauty.net
Primary Sources: as indicated.
Reproduce this article: This article is Copyright. You may, however, freely reproduce this article provided that a) it is not done for profit (including incorporation in any compilation of materials produced for profit or on any paid access website), b) that the text is reproduced in full and unaltered, and c) that you clearly credit the source, ie. "Reproduced courtesy of Don Gillan (Copyright), www.stagebeauty.net"