33. January 15, 1913, The Newcastle Daily Chronicle, “The Women’s Armistice”
The last letter in Emily Davison’s scrapbook collection was written in response to a story in The Newcastle Daily Chronicle about Emmeline Pankhurst’s declaring an armistice while the amendments to the Franchise Bill—which gave Secretary Acland such hope—are all defeated. The logic of the article is a bit twisted, contending as it does that if militant violence is good some of the time it must be good all of the time; one can only suppose that Davison’s and others’ explanations about the tactical and strategic use of militancy by the WSPU fell on some deaf ears.
Not surprisingly, Davison picks right up on the illogic of the leaderette . Ironically, this letter, which summarizes the recent past history of attempts to pass a woman suffrage bill, and which forecasts that failure to do so now will open the floodgates of militant opposition, is the last in the scrapbook. The government moved forcefully in the spring of 1913 to shut down the WSPU printing office, and to seize its papers. Emmeline Pankhurst was imprisoned and force fed, finally released as a broken and sick woman who, when she left her home to attend Emily Davison’s London funeral, was re-arrested as she entered a cab. During 1913 WSPU incendiary campaigns and attacks on private property increased exponentially. The suffrage movement had reached the point that Emily Davison forecast all through her public correspondence:if the government would not yield, women would protest, suffer, and die for the cause of woman suffrage, but never relent.
It is announced that Mrs. Pankhurst has declared an armistice, and that there is to be no more militancy until the last of the amendments to the Franchise Bill has been defeated. We may pass over the confession, or the assumption, of the militant leader that she is able to control the action of the militants, and proceed to say that the armistice must inevitably lead the ‘enemy’ to see in it an admission of the folly of the violent tactics. If militancy is a good thing at any time it is a good thing all the time, and if it is a bad thing between the present date and the consideration of the last amendment it is surely a bad thing at any time. For ourselves we have no doubt that the cessation of hostilities will enhance the prospect of some form of women’s suffrage finding its way into the Bill, but we must say the prospect would have been brighter still had not a good cause been injured in the past by its too ardent and too indiscreet friends.
Emily Davison’s response January, 17, 1913, To the Editor, The Newcastle Daily Chronicle, “The Women’s Armistice”
Sir, Among your leaderettes to-day is one on ‘The Women’s Armistice’ in which you criticize the W.S.P.U. for proclaiming a truce to militancy till the last of the amendments to the Franchise Bill has been defeated. This you say is an admission of the folly of the violent tactics, for “if militancy is a good thing at any time it is all the time, and if it is a bad thing between the present date and the consideration of the last amendment it is surely a bad thing at any time.”
Will you allow me to point out that this is bad reasoning? Every good general knows that a charge is good at one time, guerilla warfare at another, and at other times it is well to use Fabian tactics. Policy which would be wise at one point of a campaign may be quite mistaken at another and it is the mark of a good general to know the times and seasons. Thus all the way through the years 1910 and 1911, when the conciliation Bill had a good chance of becoming law if given fair play, we kept a truce from militancy, doing only so-called constitutional work; but we at once resumed militancy when the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer showed their hand in November,1911. Now we are prepared to wait for a few days for several reasons: (a) Our working-women’s deputation may be able to affect something; (b) We are willing, like all others, to bring every constitutional pressure to bear; (c) If the amendments are each and severally killed, it will be proof complete of the trickery and treachery on the part of the House of Commons, the members of which will then not have the excuses of quoting militancy to cloak their own wickedness. There is a time to wait and a time to work. But if what we fear happens, and the amendments receive one by one their coup de grace, there will be no person in the whole of this kingdom who will dare to question the inevitability and justice of militancy.
EMILY WILDING DAVISON
Longhorsley, Jan 17
Editor’s note after letter:
[We did not say ‘this is an admission of the folly,’ etc. We said, ‘The armistice must inevitably lead the “enemy” to see in it an admission of the folly’ etc.—rather a different thing. Ed. N.D.C.J.]