The Part of Women in the Political Arena - A Demure Retort - The "Petticoat" Election - Political Work in Salon and Boudoir - Famous Politicians and their Helpmates - A Mind that Would not Lie Down - A Golden Age for Girls - A Hostess at the Admiralty
Quite apart from the Suffragist movement, women have never taken such an active part in political warfare as they are doing to-day.
It is true that over a century ago titled dames were fighting and winning elections for their male friends and relatives. There was the beautiful Duchess of Devonshire, for instance, who with kisses won the votes of Covent Garden porters for Fox.
Elizabeth Duchess of Northumberland, the Duchess of Portland, the Countesses of Derby and Beauchamp, the Ladies Walde-grave, the beautiful Countess of Carlisle, and Lady Southampton, all revelled in election fights in the days when every man knew how his neighbour had voted, and when polling days were marked by fierce rioting and savage intimidation.
Female politicians, however, were few and far between in these days, and only of recent years has it become the rule rather than the exception for women to adopt the role of canvassers and public speakers on behalf of those whom they wish to see returned to Parliament. At the last three or four General Elections we have seen the wives and sisters of almost every candidate taking a strenuous part in the campaigns. What is more, they have won elections "off their own bat," as the saying goes.
A Witty Rejoinder
There can be no doubt that when Mr. Winston Churchill was fighting North-west Manchester at the by-election, he gained many votes by the platform appeals of his mother, Mrs. Cornwallis-west. Her famous phrase, "Never mind about dear bread. Vote for dear Winston," is still remembered. Mrs. Cornwallis-west has always been a keen political worker, and did her utmost for her first husband, Lord Randolph Churchill.
It was when she was fighting for him and Mr. Burdett-coutts at Westminster, in 1885, that she said to a doubtful voter:
"Well," replied the man, "if I could get what the Duchess of Devonshire once gave for a vote, I think I could promise."
"Thank you very much," said Lady Randolph demurely; "I will tell Lady Burdett-coutts."
A Barbed Retort
Then there was Mrs. Seely, who secured her husband's return as representative for the Isle of Wight at a time when he was serving in South Africa. "My husband has gone to fight for you, so you must vote for him," she told the electors. And they did to such good purpose that Colonel Seely came out at the head of the poll.
Which reminds the writer that Mrs. Alfred Lyttelton won Speaker Peel's old seat, Warwick and Leamington, for her husband when he fell ill in 1903. Possessing a keen grasp of politics, energy, and brilliancy of speech, she addressed public meetings in speeches which were gems in the way of conciseness and freshness, and was generally one too many for the heckler.
"Go home to your old man; we don't want any petticoats here!" shouted a grey-bearded, elderly man at one of the meetings.
Quick as a flash came the retort:
And, talking of women who have won elections, one must not omit reference to the famous "petticoat" election at Eye, Suffolk, in March, 1906, when the Marquis of Graham and Mr. Harold Pearson were contesting the seat. The election practically resolved itself into a duel between Lady Mary Hamilton, at that time engaged to the Marquis, and Mrs. H. Pearson, the newly-made wife of the Liberal candidate. Day after day, both ladies addressed meetings, interviewed electors, and spared no effort to bring voters to the poll. Ultimately Mr. Pearson was returned with a majority of nearly two hundred.
Photo, H. Walter Barnett
At the General Election of 1910-11 scores of wives fought gallantly for their husbands. Lady Ninian Crichton-stuart helped to win a sensational victory for her husband at Cardiff; Mrs. L. S. Amery sacrificed her honeymoon in order to assist her husband in fighting Bow and Bromley; Lady Wolmer, Lady Kerry, Viscountess Helmsley, Lady Gwendolen Guinness, to say nothing of Mrs. Crawshay Williams, Mrs. Russell Rea - all these ladies sacrificed time and pleasure, and worked often for twelve and fourteen hours a day, in the cause of politics.
There is, however, another type of woman political worker who, indirectly, wins perhaps more elections than the feminine orator who seeks to sway voters from the public platform. This is the political hostess, the lady who, in salon and boudoir, works quietly for the furtherance of the party to which she is attached. Her work is of a more social character than that of the orator.
Not that the latter neglects the art of catching votes by social amenities. Indeed, she performs many social duties incidental to the election. She knows full well the value of neglecting none of the calls made upon her time and attention by local affairs. Concerts, dances, bazaars, fetes, and sport gatherings find in her a ready patron and sup-porter. If a Unionist, she will in all probability be a member of the Primrose League, the president of which is Miss Balfour. This league has over two million members, and was founded in commemoration of Lord Beaconsfield. In cooperation with other members of her particular district, the political worker will organise entertainments and gatherings to which supporters of the cause are invited, so that they may fraternise and make a pleasure of their politics.