The life of an M.p.'s wife is an arduous one. Much of her husband's success depends upon her efforts, and everything she does has to be controlled by the thought, "Will this help or hinder him? Yet in spite of this she is a happy and, very often, a proud woman.
She has the pleasure of being able to go to the House and listen - even behind the detested grille - to the speech her husband may be making on some important measure. She can watch the effect his thoughts have on the other members, and she glows with delight when he is applauded. She feels she is sharing in his success or failure.
When in their own constituency - for, though there is no actual need, most members like to pass part of the year among those they represent in Parliament - she takes her share in influencing the electors to her husband's - of course, the right - way of thinking. Gladly she promises to do everything to turn the doubting ones into his party. She will associate herself with some church or philanthropic work, thus mixing with all classes of society. She will always be ready to open bazaars and meetings, and to assist in every other kind of social gathering. When an election comes, she makes friends with everyone, and accepts each as her equal, for all are equal in working for the same end - the triumph of her husband at the poll. She entertains largely, and is always ready to help anyone who belongs to her husband's party. She attends her husband at all meetings, whenever possible, and often makes a short speech supponing him. While he conducts public meetings, holds out-of-door dinner-hour gatherings, and drives round the town and district in a motor-car gaily be-ribboned with the colours, she has to lay the foundations of his success by visiting the wives of the voters, having ready an answer to all their questions and arguments.
To-day, the wife of a member is almost as important a person as the man himself. His work is considerably assisted by her social efforts, which bring him many voters whom otherwise he might never have reached. When the member and his wife are not living in the constituency, she must not lose touch with its people. She must always be ready to invite the leading voters to her house when they come to town, and entertain them in some way or other.
All this entertaining and social work is often unjustly termed "vote-catching." In almost every case this is untrue. A wife's efforts are nearly always instigated by the sincere desire to do some good to that part of the nation which her husband represents.
The social duties of a member's wife are very many and often onerous. She must always be tactful and discreet, and never introduce a subject into conversation which may cause controversy. When she first becomes the wife of a member, she has the privilege of visiting all the members' wives of her own party - this includes Cabinet Ministers' wives. Naturally, she takes an early opportunity of calling at the houses of representatives of the various divisions adjoining or near her husband's. If a close acquaintance is kept up in this way, party feeling over a whole county may be strengthened and preserved. But each member and his wife must keep strictly to the limit of their own division, unless specially invited to give assistance at any time.
A member's wife has her name put on the party list for all official receptions, and she is sent invitations for them. She will also receive invitations to semi-official receptions, such as those given by members' wives at the opening of a new session and on some special occasion. Officially, she is confined to her own party, whether it be Conservative, Liberal, or Labour, but privately she can make what friends she likes.
At official receptions she will be introduced to members' wives whom she has never had the chance of meeting previously. She finds she can often advance herself in the social scale by these introductions.
If she is the wife of a leading politician or of a man who, by some special Bill, has suddenly focused popular interest upon himself, she may be asked by the Whips to give a reception. This is a coveted distinction, but it is understood that only members who have ample means are asked to do this, as a reception of possibly over six hundred guests is a formidable undertaking.
The wife of a member of Parliament is entitled to ask for a Court introduction, when she will be put on the Court list. Most members and their wives attend the first Levee and Drawing Room held after their seat is secured. Those who do this have the privilege of writing their names in the Visiting-book of the King and Queen once a season, and after any extra invitation to a reception at one of the Royal palaces.
A member and his wife usually have a town house as well as one in their constituency. The wealthier ones, for the most part, live in the Belgrave Square district, for members' wives form quite a circle of society of their own. Cabinet Ministers may, if they please, live in the official residences of Downing Street, but only a few take advantage of this
When in the constituency, a member's wife will be careful not to put forward any views in opposition to those of her husband. She will uphold all his opinions, and. even if she is a supporter of Woman's Suffrage, will not bring this matter forward if her husband's constituents are not, on the whole, in favour of such a measure. She can interest herself in philanthropic work, but she leaves political affairs which conflict with those of her husband's severely alone. She has, in fact, to work entirely for her husband, and to let no other interest come in her way.
When she is in town, if she has time, she can devote herself to any kind of work or pleasure. If she is an ardent supporter of Women's Suffrage, and if her husband is as she can work in this cause without injuring her husband's vote. But most of the time spent in town, if it is not given up to political meetings, is reserved for the social duties which are very nearly as important.
Not only does a member's wife have to support her husband's interests, but often those of her son as well. For parents who have known the excitement and pleasure of Parliamentary representation are frequently eager that a son should find a seat as soon as he is old enough. The social position of a member's wife goes far to ensure the success or defeat of her son in his first Parliamentary contest His mother always has to remember even when he is quite a little boy, that her position and influence will one day help or hinder him. She has to work for the future member as well as for the present. She has to choose his friends carefully and, if possible, arrange a marriage for him that will assist his position. Her daughters, too, have to be trained in Parliamentary matters, for they, too, may some day marry politicians.
But even when a member loses his seat' he and his wife still hold a good social position. But they will no longer be invited to official receptions, unless their services to the party have been so strenuous that a return to activity is generally desired. It depends entirely on a woman's own personality whether the friends she has made during her husband's Parliamentary career remain to her.
A woman must be possessed of extraordinary devotion to her husband's interests not to find substantial disadvantages in sharing his Parliamentary career. Like the wife of a soldier, she has to recognise that her husband's duty is first to his country, then to her and her home. His income will sometimes have very heavy drains put upon it, and she must be prepared to deny herself many luxuries so that he may not lack the very necessary funds which will enable him to be returned at the time of a General Election.
When her husband's fate lies in the hands of his constituency she may have to make great self-denials. Her smart little motorcar, her horses, her servants do not for the time being belong to her, they are for the use of the electors, and she often has to get on as well as she can without these comforts. The inevitable duty of canvassing may be very repugnant to her, and she may dislike the tiring work of trudging up and down dirty streets in wet weather or blazing sunshine, often meeting with insults and rebuffs.
She has to take all these calmly and never be daunted. Another very great sacrifice she has to make is when her husband has secured his seat. His time is no longer his own, he is at the beck and call of the Whips of his party. Often, for days together, his wife may be without him, while he spends exhausting days in the House, which tire him out, and prevent him being a companion to her when he does return.
She may have made all arrangements for a holiday, when some unexpected alteration of procedure may be announced, and all her plans are broken up. She may have to entertain people who irritate her, she may even have to invite to her house for visits political friends of her husband's whom she secretly dislikes, though outwardly she has to be pleasant to them. There are very many thorns in the way of the member's wife. Yet, in spite of all, she will tell you that she is a very proud woman, glad and ready to share her husband's responsibilities.