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No Laughing Matter: John Stuart Mill's Establishment of Women's Suffrage as a Parliamentary Question

  • Ann Robson (a1)
Abstract

Of all my recollections connected with the H of C that of my having had the honour of being the first to make the claim of women to the suffrage a parliamentary question, is the most gratifying as I believe it to have been the most important public service that circumstances made it in my power to render. This is now a thing accomplished.…

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1 To McLaren, Priscilla, 12 12 1868, Later Letters, ed. Mineka, Francis E. and Lindley, Dwight N., 4 vols., Toronto, 1972 (Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, vols, xiv–xvii), xvi. 1521.

2 Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. Robson, John M. and Stillinger, Jack, Toronto, 1981, CW, i. 285. For the motion, see Hansard, Vol. 187, cols. 817–29, 842–43 (20 05 1867); also ‘The Admission of Women to the Electoral Franchise’, 20 05 1867, in Public and Parliamentary Speeches, ed. Robson, John M. and Kinzer, Bruce L., Toronto, 1988, CW, xxviii. 151.

3 ‘There are only two things worth working for—a practical result or a principle: if a practical result it shd be one which is attainable; if a principle, not to go the whole length of it is to sacrifice it. I look upon agitation for manhood as distinguished from universal suffrage as decidedly mischievous.’ To Kyllmann, Max, 15 02 1865, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 998 (before he was asked to stand as a candidate).

4 ‘Time will show whether it was worth while to make this sacrifice for the sake of anything I am capable of doing towards forming a really advanced liberal party which, I have long been convinced, cannot be done except in the House of Commons’. To Gomperz, Theodor, 22 08 1866, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1197. See also Autobiography, CW, i. 276.

5 Mill uses the term, which others had obviously already attached to radicals' ideas, in his campaign speech on 3 July 1865, ‘Westminster Election 1865 [1]’, in Public and Parliamentary Speeches, CW, xxviii. 16, and again half-humorously, putting it in quotation marks, in a letter to Chadwick, Edwin, 9 10 1868, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1458.

6 Autobiography, CW, i. 253n.

7 In the early 1830s W. J. Fox was the minister of the Unitarian Chapel at South Place.

8 Newspapers Writings, ed. , Ann P. and Robson, John M., 4 vols., Toronto, 1986, CW, xxiv. 916 and 952; xxv. 1151, 1153, 1164, 1167, 1172, 1176 and 1183.

9 The Subjection of Women, in Essays on Equality, Law and Education, ed. Robson, John M., Toronto, 1984, CW, xxi. 261.

10 To Chadwick, Edwin, 15 05 1865, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1050. Also Autobiography, CW, i. 275.

11 ‘Comparison of the Tendencies of French and English Intellect’, Monthly Repository, 11, 1833, in Newspaper Writings, CW, xxiii. 445–46.

12 17 April 1865, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1031.

13 ‘Westminster Election 1865 [2]’, 5 07 1865, in Public and Parliamentary Speeches, CW, xxviii. 18.

14 See Robson, J. M.'s paper in this volume of Utilitas, pp. 102–42.

15 Helen Taylor, Mill's stepdaughter through whom the women had asked Mill to present a petition, wrote to Barbara Bodichon:

I think also that it is utterly out of the question to suppose that there is the slightest chance of anything whatever being now obtained; even if the most strenuous efforts were made, both in and out of the House of Commons, by all, both men and women, who share our opinions on the subject. … I think we should only be preparing disappointment for ourselves if we looked for any immediate success for any measure for women however slight.

Quoted from a copy of a letter provided by Barbara McCrimmon. See also Mill, to Dilke, Charles, 28 05 1870, Later Letters, CW, xvii. 1727–728.

16 Gladstone's image as the GOM tends to obscure the fact that when Mill was in the House, Gladstone, three years his junior, was then only in his mid-fifties, at the height of his powers, having just succeeded Palmerston as leader of the Commons. During Mill's second campaign Gladstone succeeded to the leadership of the Liberal Party.

17 ‘The Cattle Diseases Bill [1]’, 14 02 1866, Public and Parliamentary Speeches, CW, xxviii. 47.

18 ‘Suspension of Habeas Corpus in Ireland’, 17 02 1866, ibid., 52.

19 ‘Representation of the People [1, 2 and 3]’, 12, 13 and 16 04 1866, ibid., 54, 58, and 69.

20 Autobiography, CW, i. 275.

21 Public and Parliamentary Speeches, CW, xxix. 575.

22 The reports appeared on 8 June 1866 except that in the News of the World, which appeared on 10 06 1866.

23 ‘An Address for the Return of the number of Freeholders, Householders, and others in England and Wales who, fulfilling the conditions of property or rental prescribed by Law as the qualification for the Electoral Franchise, are excluded from the Franchise by reason of their sex.’ Public and Parliamentary Speeches, CW, xxviii. 91.

24 Quoted from a copy of a letter from Taylor, Helen to Bodichon, Barbara, 7 06 1866, provided by Barbara McCrimmon.

25 All the accounts appeared on 9 June 1866.

26 To Griffith, Christopher Darby, 9 06 1866, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1175.

27 ‘Comparison of the Tendencies of French and English Intellect’, Monthly Repository, 11, 1833, in Newspaper Writings, CW, xxiii. 445.

28 ‘Electoral Franchise for Women’, 17 07 1866, in Public and Parliamentary Speeches, CW, xxviii. 92.

29 In the article referred to in n27, Mill also wrote:

Whoever, therefore, wishes to produce much immediate effect upon the English public, must bring forward every idea upon its own independent grounds, and must, I was going to say, take pains to conceal that it is connected with any ulterior views. If his readers or his audience suspected that it was part of a system, they would conclude that his support even of the specific proposition, was not founded upon any opinion he had that it was good in itself, but solely on its being connected with Utopian schemes, or at any rate with principles which they are ‘not prepared’ (a truly English expression) to give their assent to.

30 Helen Taylor reported to Barbara Bodichon: ‘The report in the “Times” is a good one, the “Daily News” the best.’ Quoted from a copy of a letter, 18 July 1866, provided by Barbara McCrimmon. The Manchester Guardian reported without comment on 19 06 1866 and the News of the World on 22 07 1866.

31 To Gladstone, W. E., 25 05 1866 and to Grey, Earl, 21 05 1866, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1171 and 1169. On 21 July 1866, Mill spoke at the inaugural dinner of the Cobden Club at which Gladstone presided.

32 Autobiography, CW, i. 278–79.

34 22 August 1866, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1196.

35 To Hare, Thomas, 18 11 1866, ibid., 1214.

36 It was unfortunate that Taylor proved herself (and she unfortunately in this case spoke for both of them as always on the suffrage question) more of a hindrance than a help in the valiant efforts being made by Emily Davies and Mentia Taylor and others to establish a national committee to work for women's suffrage. See my article ‘The Founding of the National Society for Women's Suffrage 1866–67’ in Canadian Journal of History, iii, 1 (1973), 122.

37 To Chapman, John, 21 11 1866, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1216.

38 To Chapman, John, 6 02 1867, ibid., 1232.

39 Autobiography, CW, i. 285. Her authorship can frequently be identified by the acid turn of phrase.

40 For an example of the ease with which he could invite people to dinner under Taylor's efficient housekeeping and hostessing, see the letter to Fawcett, Henry, 1 05 1867, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1266.

41 9 Feb., 1867, ibid., 1235. Emily Davies had earlier told Taylor that she had ‘asked Miss Boucherett to call on Harriet Martineau to use her influence with the Daily News, in which she writes pretty regularly.’ Mill/Taylor Collection, vol. xiii, item 177 (9 06 1866) in the London School of Economics.

42 To Cairnes, John Elliott, 13 02 1867, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1239.

43 To Hare, Thomas, 26 03 1867, ibid., 1260.

44 To Cairnes, John Elliot, 30 06 1867, ibid., 1283.

45 ‘The Reform Bill [1]’, 8 04 1867, Public and Parliamentary Speeches, CW, xxviii. 143.

46 ‘The Reform Bill [2]’, ibid., 145.

47 ‘The Reform Bill [3]’ and ‘The Reform Bill [4]’, 9 and 17 05, 1867, ibid., 146 and 150.

48 Pugh, Evelyn L. gives a good description of the circumstances in ‘John Stuart Mill and the Women's Question in Parliament, 1865–1868’, The Historian, xli (05, 1980), p. 408, although contemporary accounts on the whole give a picture of greater success.

49 ‘The Admission of Women to the Electoral Franchise’, 20 05 1867, Public and Parliamentary Speeches, CW, xxviii. 151.

50 Packe, Michael St. J. in The Life of John Stuart Mill (London, 1954) implies considerable boisterousness in the House (p. 492), but the newspaper reports stressed the respect with which the speech was heard.

51 Morning Star, 21 05 1867.

52 21 May 1867.

53 To Cairnes, John Elliot, 26 05 1867, Later Letters, CW, xvi. 1271. The desire to keep John Bright's name on the side of the ayes was to influence the parliamentary tactics of the women's supporters for the next several sessions.

54 21 May 1867.

55 22 May 1867.

58 25 May 1867.

59 21 May 1867.

61 Mill would have been dismayed by the date. After Jacob Bright's success in the next Parliament, he thought women could not for much longer be refused the vote. See his letter to Dilke, Charles, 28 05 1870, Later Letters, CW, xvii. 1727.

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Utilitas
  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
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