Votes for Men

Mary Cholmondeley

First published in 1909.

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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Votes for men

Two hundred years hence, possibly less.

EUGENIA, Prime Minister, is sitting at her writing table in her library. She is a tall, fine looking woman of thirty, rather untidy and worn in appearance.

EUGENIA [to herself, taking up a paper]. There is no doubt that we must carry through this bill or the future of the country will be jeopardized.

HENRY [outside]. May I come in?

EUGENIA. Do come in, dearest.

HENRY [a tall, athletic man of thirty, faultlessly dressed, a contrast to her dusty untidiness]. I thought I could see the procession best from here. [Goes to windows and opens them.] It is in sight now. They are coming down the wind at a great pace.

EUGENIA [slightly bored]. What procession?

HENRY. Why the Men’s Reinfranchisement League, of course. You know, Eugenia, you promised to interview a deputation of them at 5 o’clock, and they determined to have a mass meeting first.

EUGENIA. So they did. I had forgotten. I wish they would not pester me so. Really, the government has other things to attend to than Male Suffrage at times like this.

[The procession sails past the windows in planes decked with the orange and white colours of the league. The occupants preserve a dead silence, saluting EUGENIA gravely as they pass. From the streets far below rises a confused hubbub of men’s voices shouting “Votes for men!“

HENRY. How stately the clergy look, Eugenia! Why, there are the two Archbishops in their robes heading the whole procession, and look at the bevy of Bishops in their lawn sleeves in the great Pullman air car behind. What splendid men. And here come the clergy in their academic gowns by the hundred, in open trucks.

EUGENIA. I must say it is admirably organised, and no brawling.

HENRY. Why should they brawl? I believe you are disappointed that they don’t. They are all saluting you, Eugenia, as they pass. They won’t take any notice of me, of course, because it is known I am the President of the Anti–Suffrage League. The doctors are passing now. How magnificent they look in their robes! What numbers of them! It makes me proud I am a man. And now come the lawyers in crowds in their wigs and gowns.

EUGENIA. Every profession seems to be represented, but of course I am well aware that it is not the real wish of the men of England to obtain the vote. The suffragists must do something to convince me that the bulk of England’s thoughtful and intelligent men are not opposed to it before I move in the matter.

HENRY. I often wonder what would convince you, Eugenia, or what they could do that they have not done. These must be the authors and artists and journalists, and quite a number of women with them. Do you notice that? Look, that is Hobson the poet, and Bagg the millionaire novelist, each in their own Swallow planes. How they dart along. I should like to have a Swallow, Eugenia. And are all those great lumbering tumbrils of men journalists?

EUGENIA. No doubt.

HENRY. It is very impressive. I wish they did not pass so fast, but the wind is high. Here come all the trades with the Lord Mayor of London in front! What hordes and hordes of them! The procession is at least a mile long. And I suppose those are miners and agricultural labourers, last of all, trying to keep up in those old Wilbur Wrights and Zeppelins. I did not know there were any left except in museums.

[The procession passes out of sight. EUGENIA sighs.

HENRY. Demonstrations like this make a man think, Eugenia. I really can’t see, though you often tell me I do, why men should not have votes. They used to have them. You yourself say that there is no real inequality between the sexes. The more I think of it the more I feel I ought to retire from being President of the Anti–Suffrage League. And all the men on it are old enough to be my father. The young men are nearly all in the opposite camp. I sometimes wish I was there too.


HENRY. Now don’t, Eugenia, make any mistake. I abhor the “brawling brotherhood” as much as you do. I was quite ashamed for my sex when I saw that bellowing brute riveted to the balcony of your plane the other day, shouting “Votes for men.”

EUGENIA [coldly]. That sort of conduct puts back the cause of men’s reinfranchisement by fifty years. It shows how unsuited the sex is to be trusted with the vote. Imagine that sort of hysterical screaming in the House itself.

HENRY. But ought the cause to be judged by the folly of a few howling dervishes? Sometimes it really seems, Eugenia, as if women were determined to regard the brawling brotherhood as if it represented the men who seek for the vote. And yet the sad part is that these brawlers have done more in two years to advance the cause than their more orderly brothers have achieved in twenty. For years past I have heard quiet suffragists say that all their efforts have been like knocking in a padded room. They can’t make themselves heard. Women smiled and said the moment was not opportune. The press gave garbled accounts of their sayings and doings.

EUGENIA. Your simile is unfortunate. No one wants to emancipate the only persons who are confined in padded rooms.

HENRY. Not if they are unjustly confined?

EUGENIA [with immense patience]. Dear Henry, must we really go over this old ground again? Men used to have votes as we all know. In the earliest days of all, of course, both men and women had them. The ancient records prove that beyond question, and that women presented themselves with men at the hustings. Then women were practically disfranchised, and for hundreds of years men ruled alone, though it was not until near the reign of Victoria the First that by the interpolation of the word “male” before “persons” in the Reform Act of 1832 women were legally disfranchised. Men were disfranchised almost as suddenly in the reign of Man-hating Mary the Second of blessed memory.

HENRY. I know, I know, but. . . .

EUGENIA [whose oratorical instincts are not exhausted by her public life]. You must remember I would have you all—I mean I would have you, Henry, remember that men were only disfranchised after the general election of 2009. It was the wish of the country. We must bow to that.

HENRY. You mean it was the wish of the women of the country, who were a million stronger numerically than men.

EUGENIA. It was the wish of the majority, including many thousands of enlightened men, my grandfather among them, who saw the danger to their country involved in continued male suffrage. After all, Henry, it was men who were guilty of the disaster of adult suffrage. Women never asked for it—they were deeply opposed to it. They only demanded the suffrage on the same terms that men had it in Edward the Seventh’s time. Adult suffrage was the last important enactment of men, and one which ought to prove to you, considering the incalculable harm it did, that men, in spite of their admirable qualities, are not sufficiently far-sighted to be trusted with a vote. Adult suffrage lost us India. It all but lost us our Colonies, for the corner-men and wastrels and unemployed who momentarily became our rulers saw no use for them. The only good result of adult suffrage was that women, by the happy chance of their numerical majority, and with the help of Mary the Man-hater, were able to combine, to outvote the men and so to seize the reins and abolish it.

HENRY. And abolish us too.

EUGENIA. It was an extraordinary coup d’état, the one good result of the disaster of adult suffrage. It was a bloodless revolution, but the most amazing in the annals of history. And it saved the country.

HENRY. I do not deny it. But you can’t get away from the fact that men did give women the vote originally. And now men have lost it themselves. Why should not women give it back to men—I mean, of course, only to those who have the same qualifications as to property as women voters have? After all it was by reason of our physical force that we were entitled to rule, at least men always said so. Over and over again they said so in the House, and that women can’t be soldiers and sailors and special constables as we can. And our physical force remains the greater to this day.

EUGENIA. We do everything to encourage it.

HENRY. Without us, Eugenia, you would have no army, no navy, no miners. We do the work of the world. We guard and police the nation, and yet we are not entitled to a hearing.

EUGENIA. Your ignorance of the force that rules the world is assumed for rhetorical purposes.

HENRY. I suppose you will say brain ought to rule. Well, some of us are just as able as some of you. Look at our great electricians, our shipbuilders, our inventors, our astronomers, our poets, nearly all are men. Shakespeare was a man.

EUGENIA [sententiously]. There was a day, and a very short day it was, when it was said that brain ought to rule. Brain did make the attempt, but it could no more rule this planet than brute force could continue to do so. You know, and I know, and every schoolgirl knows, that what rules the birth-rate rules the world.

HENRY [for whom this sentiment has evidently the horrid familiarity of the senna of his childhood]. It used not to be so.

EUGENIA. It is so now. It is no use arguing; it is merely hysteria to combat the basic fact that the sex which controls the birth-rate must by nature rule the nation which it creates. This is not a question with which law can deal, for nature has decided it.

[HENRY preserves a paralysed silence.

EUGENIA [with benignant dignity]. I am all for the equality of the sexes within certain limits, the limits imposed by nature. But the long and the short of it is, to put it bluntly, no man, my dear Henry, can give birth to a child, and until he can he will be ineligible by the laws of nature, not by any woman-made edict, to govern, and the less he talks about it the better. Sensible men and older men know that and hold their tongues, and women respect their silence. Man has his sphere, and a very important and useful sphere in life it is. The defence of the nation is entrusted to him. Where should we be without our trusty soldiers and sailors, and, as you have just reminded me, our admirable police force? Where physical strength comes in men are paramount. When I think of all the work men are doing in the world I assure you, Henry, my respect and admiration for them knows no bounds. But if they step outside their own sphere of labour, then—

HENRY. But if only you would look into the old records, as I have been doing, you would see that Lord Curzon and Lord James and Lord Cromer, and many others employed these same arguments in order to withhold the suffrage from women.

EUGENIA. I dare say.

HENRY. And there is another thing which does not seem to me to be fair. Men are so ridiculed if they are suffragists. Punchinella always draws them as obese disappointed old bachelors, and there are many earnest young married men among the ranks of the suffragists. Look at the procession which has just passed. Our best men were in it. And to look at Punchinella or to listen to the speeches in the House you would think that the men who want the vote are mostly repulsive old bachelors stung by the neglect of women. Why only last week the member for Maidenhead, Mrs. Colthorpe it was got up and said that if only this “brawling brotherhood” of single gentlemen, who had missed domestic bliss, could find wives they would not trouble their heads about reinfranchisement.

EUGENIA. There is no doubt there is an element of sex resentment in the movement, dear Henry. That is why I have always congratulated myself on the fact that, you, as my husband, were opposed to it.

HENRY. Personally I can’t imagine now that women have the upper hand why they don’t keep up their number numerically. It is their only safeguard against our one day regaining the vote. It was their numerical majority plus adult suffrage which suddenly put them in the position to disfranchise men. And yet women are allowing their number to decline and decline until really for all practical purposes there seems to be about two men to every woman.

EUGENIA. The laws of nature render our position infinitely stronger than that of men ever was. We mounted by the ladder of adult suffrage, but we kicked it down immediately afterwards. It will never be revived. Men had no tremors about the large surplusage of women as long as they were without votes. Why should we have any now about the surplusage of men?

HENRY. Then there is another point. You talk so much about the importance of the physique of the race, and I agree with all my heart. But there are so few women to marry nowadays, and women show such a marked disinclination towards marriage till their youth is quite over, that half the men I know can’t get wives at all. And those who do, have almost no power of selection left to them, and are forced to put up with ill-developed, sickly, peevish, or ugly women past their first bloom rather than remain unmarried and childless.

EUGENIA. The subject is under consideration at this moment, but when the position was reversed in Edward the Seventh’s time, and there were not enough men to go round, women were in the same plight, and men said nothing then about the deterioration of the race. They did not even make drunkards’ marriages a penal offence. Drunkards and drug-takers, and men dried up by nicotine constantly married and had children in those days.

HENRY. I can’t think the situation was as difficult for women as it is now for men. I was at Oxford last week, and do you know that during the last forty years only five per cent. of the male Dons and Professors have been able to find mates. Women won’t look at them.

EUGENIA. In the nineteenth century, when first women went to Universities and became highly educated, only four per cent. of them afterwards married, and then to schoolmasters.

HENRY. And I assure you the amount of hysteria and quarrelling among the older Dons is lamentable.

EUGENIA. I appointed a committee which reported to me on the subject last year, and I gathered that the present Dons are not more hysterical than they were in Victorian days, when they forfeited their fellowships on marriage. You must remember, Henry, that from the earliest times men and women have always hated anything “blue” in the opposite sex. Female blue stockings were seldom attractive to men in bygone days. And nowadays women are naturally inclined to marry young men, and healthy and athletic men, rather than sedentary old male blue stockings. It is most fortunate for the race that is is so.

HENRY [with a sigh]. Well, all the “blue” women can marry nowadays.

EUGENIA. Yes, thank heaven, all women can marry nowadays. What women must have endured in the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth century makes me shudder. For if they did not marry they were never spared the ridicule or the contemptuous compassion of men. It seems incredible, looking back, to realise that large families of daughters were kept idle and unhappy at home, after their youth was over, not allowed to take up any profession, only to be turned callously adrift in their middle age at their father’s death, with a pittance on which they could barely live. And yet these things were done by educated and kindly men who professed to care for the interests of women, and were personally fond of their daughters. Over and over again in the biographies of notable women of the Victorian and Edward the Seventh’s time one comes across instances of the way in which men of the country-squire type kept their daughters at home uneducated till they were beyond the age when they could take up a profession, and then left them to poverty. They did not even insure their lives for each child as we do now. Surely, Henry, it is obvious that women have done one thing admirably. The large reduction which they have effected in their own numbers has almost eliminated the superfluous, incompetent, unhappy women who found it so difficult to obtain a livelihood a hundred years ago, and has replaced them by an extra million competent, educated, fairly contented men who are all necessary to the State, who are encouraged, almost forced into various professions.

HENRY. Not contented, Eugenia.

EUGENIA. More contented, because actively employed, than if they were wandering aimlessly in the country lanes of their fathers’ estates as thousands of intelligent uneducated women were doing a hundred years ago, kept ferociously at home by the will of the parent who held the purse-strings.

HENRY. I rather wish I had lived in those good old times, when the lanes were full of pretty women.

EUGENIA. But you, at any rate, Henry, had a large choice. I was much afraid at one time that you would never ask me.

HENRY. Ah! But then I was a great heir, and all heirs have a wide choice. Not that I had any choice at all. I had the good luck to be accepted by the only woman I ever cared a pin about, and the only one I was sure was disinterested.

EUGENIA. Dearest!

HENRY [tentatively]. And yet our marriage falls short of an ideal one, my Eugenia.

EUGENIA [apologetically]. Dear Henry, I know it does, but as soon as I cease to be Prime Minister I will do my duty to the country, and, what I think much more of, by you. What is a home without children? Besides, I must set an example. When you came in I was framing a bill to meet the alarming decline of the birth-rate. Unless something is done the nation will become extinct. The results of this tendency among women to marry later and later are disastrous.

HENRY. And what is your bill, Eugenia?

EUGENIA. That every healthy married woman or female celibate over twenty-five and under forty, members of the government excepted, must do her duty to the State by bringing into the world—

HENRY. Celibate! Bringing into the world! Eugenia! and I thought the sanctity of marriage and home life were among your deepest convictions. Just think how you have upheld them to—men.

EUGENIA. Patriotism must come first. By bringing into the world three children, a girl and two boys. If her income is insufficient to rear them, the State will take charge of them. One extra boy is needed to supply the wastage of accidents in practical work, and in case of war. I shall stand or fall by this bill, for unless the women of England can be aroused to do their duty—unless there is general conscription to motherhood, as in Germany, England will certainly become a second-class power.

HENRY. Perhaps when there are two men to every woman we shall be strong enough to force women to do justice to us.

EUGENIA. Men never did justice to us when they had the upper hand.

HENRY. They did not. And I think the truth lies there. Those who have the upper hand cannot be just to those who are in their power. They don’t intend to be unfair, but they seem unable to give their attention to the rights of those who cannot enforce them. Men were unintentionally unjust to women for hundreds of years. They kept them down. Now women are unjust to us. Yes, Eugenia, you are. You keep us down. It seems to be an inevitable part of the rôle of “top dog,” and perhaps it is no use discussing it. If you don’t want your plane, would you mind if I borrow it? I promised to meet Carlyon at four above the Florence Nightingale column in Anne Hyde’s park, and it is nearly four now.

EUGENIA. Good-bye, Henry. Do take my plane. And I trust there will be no more doubt in your dear head as to your Presidency of the Anti–Suffrage League.

HENRY. None. I realise these wrigglings of the under dog are unseemly, and only disturb the equanimity and good-will of the “top dog.” Good-bye, Eugenia.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005