One used to grow enthusiastic over the heroism of Disraeli's wife, concealing a finger injured by the carriage door so that concern for her accident might not disturb her husband about to deliver an important speech in the House. And over Mrs. Gladstone, dear, sweet, old lady, sitting on a newspaper throughout an evening so that her husband might not be annoyed by a scurrilous attack it contained "on his policy. But delightful as are these examples of wifely devotion, the partners of our leading statesmen have now advanced to positions of a more definite political character. The connection of women with politics took definite form rather more than a quarter of a century
World Of Women ago, when they began to combine in party organisations.
The Ladies' Grand Council of the Primrose League takes precedence in this respect. It was founded, in 1884, by the late Lady Borthwick, and enrols on an average one hundred members per year.
The first president was Fanny, Duchess of Marlborough, who was in turn succeeded by the late Lady Salisbury, Lady Gwendolen Cecil, and Miss Balfour, sister of the Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour, M.p., who became president in 1903.
The habitations of the Primrose League number about 1,000, and consist of men and women members designated knights, dames, and associates.
The primary work of the habitations is to increase the number of members and instruct them in the principles of the league by means of meetings, lectures, distribution of literature, and personal intercourse. The habitations also work in connection with registration and parliamentary and local elections. The chief objects are the maintenance of religion, the Constitution, and the Imperial ascendancy of the British Empire.
Amongst members of the executive committee of the Ladies' Grand Coun-cil may be mentioned the Lady Gwendolen Cecil, extra-president; the Countess of Jersey, Countess Dowager of Ancaster, v ice -presidents; and the Lady Louise Loder, the Lady Llangattock, and the Lady Knightley of Fawsley, all indefatigable political workers and hostesses.
There is not a woman suffrage association connected with the Grand Council, and the opinions of the Primrose dames on the subject are divided. Perfect freedom of action is permitted to individual members.
I never pass the floral-decked statue of Beaconsfield in Parliament Square on April 19 without feeling how fortunate Conservative women are in their emblem. The very name of "primrose" brings the freshness of spring and the delicate fragrance of the woods to one's senses.
Inspired by the little yellow flower, and the memory of the great statesman which it recalls, women work in every constituency throughout the land, raising money by means of bazaars, theatricals, concerts, whist drives and bridge tournaments for local charities and political propaganda, and they promote social intercourse amongst the members of the habitations by garden-parties and entertainments.
The Primrose dame is a charming figure on the lawn of an ancestral mansion, receiving the neighbourhood in the cause of politics. She is an effective speaker on the public platform, a persuasive canvasser, and an enthusiastic electioneerer. Her influence permeates the landed interests.
The example of Hatfield has been followed in all the country districts, and there is scarcely a village or hamlet where the women are not brought into touch with the Primrose League and their political interest enlisted by ladies of the resident nobility and gentry. Whether one is in political agreement or not with the Primrose League, the far-reaching influence of its dames and the value of their work to the party is a striking testimony to the position now held by women in the world of politics.
Working in harmony with the Primrose League, though not allied to it, is the Women's Amalgamated Unionist and Tariff Reform Association, of which Mary, Countess of Ilchester, is President.
This association is formed by the amalgamation of the Women's Unionist and the Women's Unionist and Tariff Reform Associations, and it is now affiliated to the Central Conservative Office and the Liberal Unionist Council, so represents both wings of the Unionist party. It aims at having branches in every constituency organised, as far as possible, on the same lines as the men's Tariff Reform League. It has centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The work is mainly educational, and a number of speakers and organisers are employed. Some of the lectures are arranged to bring the subject home to housewives in a dramatic way.
The advent of women into politics has shown them to be as diversified in their views as the opposite sex, so we now pass to the Liberal women, who are a large and splendidly organised political force working through two main bodies, the Women's Liberal Federation, and the Women's National Liberal Association.
Lady Aberconway, who, as Mrs. Charles Mclaren, was largely instrumental in forming the Women's Liberal Federation Photo, Elliott & Fry
The Liberal women began indeed to form isolated associations before the Ladies' Grand Council of the Primrose League existed, and the pioneer associations were York, Bristol, and Darlington. By the year 1886 fifteen Women's Liberal Associations existed, and then came the idea of federation.
The Women's Liberal Federation has now (1912) 855 affiliated associations, with a total membership of 130,000. It was formed under its original name of the Women's Liberal Union, at a conference held May 27, 1886, at 22A, Queen Anne's Gate, by the invitation of the late Lady, then Mrs., Theodore Fry, a daughter of the well-known Pease family of Darlington, and the founder in her native town of one of the three pioneer associations. Lady Mil-bank presided over the conference and delegates from the fifteen Women's Liberal Associations were present, together with other ladies interested in the scheme.
Among the group of ladies who were instrumental in forming the Women's Liberal Federation were Mrs. Broadley Reid, the hon. secretary, Mrs. Eva Mclaren, the hon. treasurer, and Mrs. Charles Mclaren, now Lady Aberconway. All these names are a tradition of the federation, and today should be added that of Lady B a m f o r d Slack, the joint hon. secretary with Mrs. Reid.
Among the twenty-six members of the executive committee are Mrs. Lloyd George and Mrs. Winston Churchill. There are six standing sub-committees under the respective titles of Finance, Parliamentary, Temperance, Literature and Press, Council, and Vigilance.
Many of the affiliated associations are grouped in county associations, and under area committees. A recent development is the crusade scheme, which has now been taken up by upwards of 104 associations in the home counties area, where 1,850 crusaders are at work visiting over 52,000 houses each month and distributing political leaflets.
The federation believes in training its workers, a marked sign that women take their political propaganda seriously; and speakers' classes, canvassers' classes, and study circles are held in various areas.
The aim and policy of the federation is thus defined: To promote the adoption of Liberal principles in the government of the country, and just legislation for women and children (including the local and parliamentary franchise for all women, married, single, or widowed, who possess any of the legal qualifications which entitle men to vote, and the removal of all their disabilities as citizens). It also promotes political education in all parts of England and Wales by means of meetings and the distribution of literature, and by forming new branches. Its organ is the "W. L. F. Monthly News."
Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle, was elected president of this great body of federated Liberal women in 1894, and again in 1905, and (1912) continues in that office, to be its inspiring leader. Her predecessors were the late Mrs. Gladstone and the Countess of Aberdeen. As the daughter of Lord Stanley of Alder-ley, Lady Carlisle was cradled in Liberalism. It was, however, temperance reform which first drew her into the political arena, and her strenuous work in the formation of women's Liberal associations and temperance societies in the North, in the vicinity of her homes of Castle Howard and Naworth Castle, has been boundless.
The Scottish Women's Liberal Federation is an influential body in the North working on similar lines as the English federation, under its own executive.
The Women's National Liberal Association was founded in 1892. Lady Haversham was chairman of the first committee, and Lady Fry and Miss Monck were vice-chairmen. Amongst others active in its formation were Lady Byles, Mrs. Bryce, Miss Orme, LL.B., Mrs. Bryant, D.sc., and Mrs. Joseph Pease. It now (1912) has some 260 branches, and a membership of about 50,000. Mrs. Asquith succeeded the Hon. Mrs. Henry Gladstone as President, and Mrs. Mckenna is the treasurer.
Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle, President of the Women's Liberal Federation and a strenuous worker in philanthropic causes