Women no longer sway politics only from the salon as did Zenobia. Such has been the onward march of women into active political work that a great lady presiding over a modern political gathering may be followed by a brisk, capable woman worker from a Lancashire cotton mill, who will speak for "labour" with clear, practical eloquence.
Women of all classes are organised workers in every constituency. Women's political organisations of all parties cover the land; the annual meetings in connection with these organisations are times of refreshment and awakening, when the delegates from a remote district exchange ideas with women representing great cities.
A Woman's Parliament
No one who has attended the meetings of these political "parliaments" of women will question the skilful, tactful, yet firm conduct of the "chair," or the ability of the speakers to be lucid, practical, and to the point. There are no long-winded orations, the president's bell settles the time-limit of each speech almost to the half-spoken word. The lady of title and the humblest delegate obey rules.
I recall, however, a diverting exception at one of these meetings. A gentleman from the provinces was representing his local society. He was a kind, chivalrous man, and began his speech with profuse compliments to the ladies on the businesslike manner in which they were conducting their meeting, and he waxed so eloquent in his theme that the lady president's warning bell sounded before he had said one word upon the resolution which he had risen to support. Women in politics are the most businesslike people under the sun, neither the most flowery compliments nor the tea-hour have power to draw them from their course. Though they have not been called upon to face the ordeal of all-night sittings in the House of Commons, they have had their patience and endurance tested by almost equal ordeals at prolonged sittings of executive committees in strenuous times, as Lady Aberdeen and Lady Carlisle could testify in their experience as leaders in the Women's Liberal Federation. The subjects on the agenda of a woman's political council embrace the questions of the hour, particularly with regard to social legislation, and.the speeches and discussion would be admitted by the most casual visitor to be practical, eloquent, and exceptionally well informed, rising at times to impressive oratory. An outsider might perhaps wonder how women, to use a colloquialism, can get up so much "steam" in the passing of resolutions and amendments on party questions regarding which they have technically no voice. This is the most speaking testimony to their enthusiasm. It is a triumph of principle and conviction.
It seems an impertinence to one's sister women to affirm that the woman politician is tremendously in earnest.
Every member of Parliament knows it. His writing-table groans under the weight of her letters urging his support of various Bills before Parliament, and enlightening him as to needed reforms which ought to be the subject of Bills. Tea on the Terrace will not save him from these epistolary attentions, or from vigorous lobbying. To his fair visitors these are the sugar and cream of the beverage. Women are "out," if not to vote, at least to make known their political views, and in these days of social legislation there is not a session which has not some Bill before Parliament directly affecting woman's own sacred sphere of home.
In the wider questions of the day, such as Home Rule, Disestablishment, and Electoral Reform, an increasing number of women, allied with all parties, take a vital interest. The patriotism of the Irishwoman, the devotion of the Churchwoman, and the sense of justice of a strenuous section of womanhood are called into play by these three measures of the hour. Small wonder that visions of the petticoat cause nightmare to political candidates, and make them burn midnight oil in the preparation of their election addresses.
The advent of the women organisers in a constituency makes the election agents alert, for they know that neither mice nor men will prevent the ladies holding meetings anywhere and everywhere, at street corners, or in the biggest halls of the town. They fly the colours with effect, the decoration of their cars dazzles the rustic mind, they convince Hodge with ease, and have arguments ready for the most skilful artisan. Their courage, their pluck, their endurance survives the most arduous electoral campaign, and their eloquence does not abate until they cheer "their man" at the usual balcony after the declaration of the poll, or weep over him in defeat.
The pretty wife or the engaging daughter driving round the constituency in becoming millinery is no longer a political candidate's chief feminine asset. If he has not the women of one or other of the local political organisations on his side, he runs the risk of being a lost man.
In the realm of politics, therefore, woman has undoubtedly triumphed as a power over the parliamentary candidate, and behind the legislator, and as an educative influence upon the voter. Endymion would stand still more in awe of woman to-day now that to her social influence as a political hostess she adds real, hard spade work down in the trenches of the constituencies.