The letters that follow are arranged chronologically, in a pattern somewhat different from the one in which they appear in the scrapbook. The first, to the editor of the Sunday Times, reflects the tenor of her essential argument throughout the collection: the fitness of women for full citizenship, the fierce opposition women face from sectors of society doomed to extinction in the onward progress of social enlightenment, women’s determination to win their cause no matter the personal cost. The letter is typical, too, in its citation of examples drawn from international public affairs, references to contemporary events and people, like Frances Maud Wright, the metropolitan policewoman decorated for bravery. Its opening, typical of most of her introductions, invokes a well-known concept; here she invokes Hamlet’s reflection on whether to suffer without end or to rise up and oppose “a sea of troubles,” and by opposition, achieve victory (Hamlet III, I, ll?). There was never any question about what Davison would have done in Hamlet’s place.
Sir,– My hint that evolution might have to be hastened by revolution has aroused a storm of hysterical protest from several opponents. I, of course, am quite ready to
take up arms against a sea of Anti’s.
Several of these gentlemen, noting my threat that Englishwomen will stick at nothing, delightedly assert that I am proving that, after all, “physical force is the ultima ratio” of politics, and that, therefore, in an appeal to such a tribunal the women are bound to be worsted. Not at all! It is just one of those examples where the sex which claims to be logical makes glaring errors through its inability to see anything which is not under its own nose. It is not physical force nowadays which rules the world, and that is why the women will win. They will win it probably through intense suffering to themselves, some of which they have already gone through in taking up this terrible fight against convention and prejudice, which has led them to face ridicule, abuse, personal ill-treatment, indecency, deadly insult, which has led them to face exposure and discomfort, to face the hunger-strike, and that “torture of tortures,” which is not practiced in Russia, forcible feeding, besides other sacrifices which will never be known, not to speak of the loss of friends, position, and livelihood. Women have all along faced the fact that in order to win the final victory some of their number may probably have to pay the last and extreme penalty, because physical force is still so strong. They have faced it already, and will face it again, and therein lies their power. They have the moral courage to face it! Christianity itself is an evidence that physical force does not rule the world. This nation has a conscience and cannot afford to have its fair name forever sullied in the eyes of the civilized world.
The next argument brought forward by my excellent foes is that women do not perform citizen duties and therefore have no claim to citizen rights. These criticisms specially interest me, as they prove up to the hilt that my gallant opponents do not consider women as “people” in the ordinary sense of the word, but as “sub-human.” I suppose, then, the wonderful task of bringing into the world its citizens, of rearing and tending them in their most impressionable and tender years, and of mothering them when they are grown up by looking after their homes, nursing them and advising them, is not an important duty of citizenship—is, in fact, “nil”; yet it is far more important and necessary than all those duties which two of your correspondents have chosen to name. As Mrs. Zangwill wittily put it, the chief line of defence for the country is its “infantry in arms.” Humanity could get on without war, but not without babies.
For the sake of argument, let us, however, examine these citizen duties which women do not fulfil. Women do not sit on juries,. But they are most anxious to do so and only recently one of our best police-court magistrates has asserted in public that cases in which women are tried, especially in connection with marriage or divorce, cannot possibly be conducted fairly so long as there are no women jurors. The present position is an offence against the principle of Magna Charta and the sooner it is amended the better.
The next two instances of exemption, those of the maintenance of order and the defence of the country, are duties which only fall on a few men, who assume them voluntarily, and consequently they can hardly be held to be citizen duties. It is, moreover, a strange but remarkable fact that there are such things as women policemen, witness Mrs. Frances Wright, and women warriors are not unknown to history. To judge from Mr. Winston Churchill’s remarks about the way men would be speedily dispersed by the police, if they went on a deputation, a corps of Suffragists might one day be of more value than a regiment of soldiers.
It was very unwise of my opponents to quote the fact that in an emergency women are given first chance of safety. I have in mind three notable examples which disprove this statement. In the Berlin riots women were put in front of the battle and fought with the greatest bravery; in a terrible attack on a wedding party near Tashkend [sic] the women were thrown to the wolves, and only two men survived; in a prairie fire in America men rushed to board a train going to safety, beating back the women, but one woman coolly held them all at bay with a loaded revolver till the women and children were safely on board. The papers are full of tales of heroism by women in the face of sudden danger. As for the giving up of seats in a tram or railway-car, this form of chivalry is so debased that it is generally limited only to the young, the pretty, and the well-dressed, and so can be at once dismissed. This and many of the so-called marks of chivalry are generally governed by a false standard, which makes a man think that if he makes himself conspicuous by lifting his hat, or giving up his seat, or any other of the little points which mark that he is condescending, the more important duties of life can be ignored.
As to W. Stevenson’s remark that the movement is due to maternal instinct, he is entirely right, but not in the sense he means. It is because women want to mother the defenceless children of humanity that they are fighting this battle. It is because they want to give their own children a better chance when they grow up that they are determined in the fight. It is because they want to get at the moral evil, which is one of the worst causes of infantile mortality at present. W. Stevenson, by the way, is quite wrong in his facts about New Zealand. Since women got the vote New Zealand has had the highest marriage rate of any European [sic] country, except Hungary; it has a higher birth-rate than any European country except Italy and the Netherlands, and except two Australian States. The birth-rate has been steadily increasing since 1899, and it has the lowest infantile mortality in the world. That is mainly the result of the woman’s vote, which was gained in 1893. The infantile mortality per 1,000 in 1882 was 88.3 ; this has steadily lowered, till in 1909 it dropped to 61.6, while in England it is 132.
It is strange that some men will call women the emotional sex, forgetting that one of men’s own excuses for their infidelities is that they are governed by their passions. But there is no rhyme or reason in the arguments of the Anti’s; they are mutually destructive.
A final world of apology for the amount of space which my letter must occupy. But my opponents are many, and a Suffragist never fears to face the foe.—Yours, etc.,
EMILY WILDING DAVISON
31, Coram Street, W.C., March 23