Although the Liberals have not a league so strong numerically as the Primrose
League, they have the Women's Liberal Federation, the president of which is the Countess of Carlisle, and the Women's National Liberal Association, which spread the views of the party in the manner of the Primrose League.
Leading political hostesses, of course, take a keen interest in the doings of these leagues and associations, which may be said to keep the rank and file of the parties together. But they also have the responsible duty of furthering the interests of their husband and party by extending to the principal members of the latter cordial hospitality at all times. "Given average ability, the young politician who marries a clever wife is bound to come to the front," remarked Lord Beacons-field on one occasion. He was referring more particularly to the clever wife who can maintain a brilliant home, charm people with her conversation, prove a discreet and tactful friend and adviser, imbue others with her enthusiasm - in a word, make people want to cultivate the acquaintance of herself and her husband.
"Dizzy's" wife did all this and when she died, in 1871, he referred to her as "the perfect wife."
The great statesman was thirty-five years of age when he married the rich widow of his colleague at Maidstone, Mr. Wyndham Lewis. She was his senior by a number of years, but the marriage proved an ideal one in every way. For, although Lady Beaconsfield confessed that she took little interest in practical politics, she proved of invaluable assistance to her husband.
She was in this respect like Mrs. Gladstone and Lady Salisbury, who were ideal political hostesses and helpmeets of the men they had married, although they took no active part in politics. Their great aim was to save their husbands anything in the shape of distracting worries, and seldom did Lord Beaconsfield or Mr. Gladstone, for instance, go to St. Stephen's unaccompanied by their wives, who attended to their creature comforts as a mother would a child.
While, however, the wife of the Prime Minister has a number of duties to perform as a political hostess, particularly in connection with the receptions and dinners which it is usual for the Premier to give during a session, the most prominent political hostesses are generally the wives of other members of the Cabinet. Thus, for instance, in regard to the members of the Government in 1912, we have Lady Crewe, the Countess of Aberdeen, and Mrs. Mckinnon Wood, somewhat overshadowing Mrs. Asquith as a political hostess; while on the Opposition side Lady Lans-downe's "lead" is followed by Lady Doreen Long, wife of Mr. Walter Long, Lady Londonderry, and Mrs. Lyttelton. Of course, this does not comprise the total list of political hostesses. Amongst the younger school might be mentioned Mrs. Austen Chamberlain, Mrs. Runciman, Mrs. Mckenna, Mrs. Winston Churchill, Mrs. F. E. Smith, Viscountess Helmsley, and Mrs. Herbert Samuel; while the Duchess of Abercorn, the Duchess of Buccleuch, the Marchioness of Ormonde, the Marchioness of Waterford, the Countess of Derby, the Countess of Aberdeen, the Countess of Cromer, and the Countess of Dalhousie are amongst the wives of the leading representatives of the Second Chamber who have for many years past done much valuable work for their respective parties.
A Social Leader
It is generally acknowledged, however, that no one in the political world has gained more prominence as a hostess than Lady Lansdowne. The political receptions and entertainments held at Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square, are unequalled in regard to magnificence and brilliance, and to secure an invitation to one of them is an honour much coveted by young politicians. It would indeed be interesting to know how many rising young politicians owe their first success to Lady Lansdowne, for she possesses the happy knack of quickly discovering young genius, and never fails to encourage it. Lady Lansdowne, by the way, is the mother of that clever young politician, the Earl of Kerry, the Marquis of Lans-downe's eldest son, who represents West Derbyshire. Lady Kerry, whom he married in 1904, is among the younger political hostesses, too, and entertains largely at their residence in Portman Square.
Although she is thirty years younger than Lady Lansdowne, the position of Lady Crewe as a political hostess may be gathered from the fact that a short time ago she held a reception at Wimborne House on behalf of the Government. An exceedingly clever, tactful, and witty woman, Lady Crewe has proved of great service to her husband in his political work.
As the daughter of Lord Rosebery, she made a brilliant debut some years ago, she and her sister, as a mark of favour, being "privately presented" to Queen Victoria.
It was Lady Crewe who, when on one occasion she noticed her father seated between Mrs. Asquith and the late Duchess of Cleveland, said: "Look at papa sitting between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries!" As a child she is reported to have said to a careful attendant, who wished her to rest on a sofa: "Nurse, I can't make my mind lie down." Now "the mind that would not lie down" has made her one of the best hostesses in London, and a dinner-table conversationalist without equal.
Almost equally prominent is Mrs. Lewis Harcourt, who at her country residence, Nuneham Park, entertained the late King Edward. A thoroughly practical woman, Mrs. Harcourt has proved of great social help to the Liberal party. She is one of the few Americans connected with the present Ministry, being the daughter of the late Mr. Walter Burns, of New York, and a niece of that interesting multi-millionaire, Mr. Pier-pont Morgan. She is the proud mother of four children - one son and three daughters; and reminds one very much of Mrs. Herbert Samuel, the wife of the Postmaster-general, who has three sons and one daughter. Both Mrs. Harcourt and Mrs. Samuel are passionately devoted to their homes and their children, but, with characteristic energy, they manage to get through a tremendous amount of political work.
What it means to be the wife of a Cabinet Minister is strikingly illustrated in the case of Mrs. Samuel, who is president of a dozen Women's Liberal Associations in the Cleveland District of the North Riding - the division which Mr. Samuel represents in Parliament - a County Council school manager at one of the Paddington schools, a member of the Parents' National Educational Union, chairman of the executive of the Women's Industrial Council; while her name is also among the vice-presidents of the Women's Liberal Federation.
Equally energetic as a political hostess is Mrs. Alfred Lyttelton, the wife of the ex-colonial Secretary, who since her girlhood has been interested in all questions dealing with the betterment of conditions of labour, particularly amongst girls.
A Golden Age for Girls
Mrs. Runciman is another hostess whose practical-mindedness is well illustrated by a speech which she made some time ago to the girls of the Notting Hill High School, in the course of which she said:
"This is a century in which, if one could choose, one ought to be born a girl. Why? Because this is the day of secondary education, when girls have a right to as good an education as their brothers. Not so long ago it was considered very improper to teach girls Greek, Latin, and mathematics. People used to feel almost uncomfortable in the presence of a learned woman, but now there are few who think that if a woman learns Greek or Latin she will become unfit for home life, and that if she really masters mathematics she will not be able to hold a baby properly or to pin her hat on straight."
Such words may seem somewhat unnecessary, perhaps, in an age which has witnessed the placing of a woman above the Senior Wrangler in a domain hitherto considered peculiarly the preserves of the male sex; but Mrs. Runciman knew her ground. It is still a, common prejudice, especially in certain humbler ranks of society, that the learned woman and the political woman are alike inferior as wives and mothers to their less gifted or less highly placed sisters. And, as prejudice dies hard, it was in no wise unnecessary of Mrs. Runciman, in addressing those of a rising generation, to emphasise the futility of such a fallacy. Indeed, it will be many years yet before the old error is finally relegated to the limbo where repose the many similar and once popular superstitions of what may be termed with truth, so far as the status of women is concerned, the dark ages.
Mrs. Winston Churchill, Mrs. Austen Chamberlain, and Mrs. Reginald Mckenna, too, are winning golden opinions as political hostesses. Both take the keenest interest in their husband's work, and not only assist their respective party's cause very materially by their social influence, but also by speaking from the public platform.
Shortly after Mr. Mckenna married Miss Pamela Jekyll he was the hero of a most amusing scene in the House. He was arguing in favour of the Government's Old Age Pension scheme, and in the course of his speech declared that it was relatively cheaper for two persons living together than one. There was a roar of laughter on all sides, for it was only a fortnight before that Mr. Mckenna had been married.
"You ought to know, anyway!" cried a laughing voice from the Labour benches. A blush spread over Mr. Mckenna's face, then he smiled. "Well, I hope it. will be cheaper," he remarked quietly; and the House broke into renewed guffaws.
It is doubtful, however, if Mr. Mckenna really does find it cheaper, for he and his wife entertain largely and magnificently, and spend large sums of money in providing those social entertainments which the wife of a Cabinet Minister is called upon to give. In such circumstances, therefore, considerations of economy can never hold a first position; such a policy would be disastrous to political success.