Artists and Authors Weigh in on Women’s Suffrage

An Appeal to the Parliament & People of England for the Liberty and Freedom of Women.” T.J. Cobden-Sanderson. Oct 28, 1906. Washington University Libraries Triple Crown Collection.

For Women’s History Month, we have decided to highlight some of Washington University Libraries’ suffrage materials from early twentieth century England. Although British suffragettes have become famous for their sometimes violent and even deadly demonstrations, a vast majority engaged in methods of peaceful protest, such as hosting lectures and distributing written materials on the rights of women. In this effort, they had help from a number of well-known authors and artists, both male and female, who eloquently argued that women should be allowed to participate in politics.

Cobden-Sanderson and Suffragettes

To the left is a broadside produced by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, the famous bookbinder and publisher of one of the Triple Crown presses of the Arts and Crafts movement. In it he appeals to parliament for the rights of women on behalf of his wife, suffragette Anne Cobden-Sanderson.The broadside describes the conditions of the prison where his wife has been detained after being arrested for participating in the peaceful 1906 Westminster protest held by the Women’s Social and Political Union. Author George Bernard Shaw also made an appeal on Anne Cobden-Sanderson’s behalf, writing to The Times to criticize her imprisonment. Cobden-Sanderson was released within a month, and the next year she traveled to the US with her husband and lectured to American women about the protest methods used by suffragettes in Britain.

Publications from The Women’s Freedom League

Sex-War and Women’s Suffrage” by Laurence Housman, 1912. Washington University Libraries.

Anne Cobden-Sanderson helped found the Women’s Freedom League, a large feminist organization with its own newspaper The Vote campaigning for political rights for women. The organization was largely non-violent and engaged in peaceful protests like refusing to pay taxes or participate in the census. To the right is a booklet published by the Women’s Freedom League of a lecture titled “Sex-War and Women’s Suffrage.” The lecture was given by Laurence Housman, an English playwright and writer and one of the founders of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.

The Women’s Freedom League also published “This Monstrous Regiment of Women” by Ford Madox Hueffer, which takes its name from the 1558 polemical work The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women in which John Knox attacks female monarchs for disturbing the gender relations set in the Bible. Hueffer was an English author and editor known in part for his The Fifth Queen trilogy, the fictional account of the life Queen Katharine Howard. In his booklet on women’s rights, he looks at British history and concludes that “in England it has been profitable to have women occupying the highest place of the State,” and therefore it should be profitable to allow them to vote. Washington University Libraries has a photocopy of the tract.

Gentles, Let Us Rest

“Gentles, Let Us Rest” by John Galsworthy, 1914. Washington University Libraries.

The Women’s Freedom League was not the only organization producing literature on women’s rights in the UK. Below is a booklet published by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, another non-militant political group. The tract reprints an essay from The Nation titled, “Gentles, Let Us Rest” which was written by Nobel Prize winning novelist and playwright John Galsworthy. Galsworthy often depicted women unhappy in marriage in his novels and believed that women should have greater autonomy over their lives. In this essay he argues,

“Our whole social life is in essence but a long slow striving for the victory of justice over force; and this demand of our women for full emancipation is but a sign of that striving.”

The copy in Washington University Libraries’ collection comes from the library of book collector William Bixby, but was originally owned by novelist George Barr McCutcheon and contains his bookplate, then owned by book collector Bixby.

Writing Against Suffrage

Of course, not everyone agreed that suffrage was the right move for women. British novelist Mary Augustus Ward was founding president of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League and editor of the Anti-Suffrage Review. Ward even used two of her novels, The Testing of Diana Mallory and Delia Blanchflower, as platforms to criticize the suffragettes. Washington University Libraries’ Mary Augustus Ward Papers contains proofs and drafts of the latter novel, as well as some of Mary Ward’s correspondence and notes. Below is a draft page of Delia Blanchflower in which an English gentleman worries over an article he has read on “Contemporary Feminism,” which he fears will lead to the destruction of marriage, motherhood, and decency.

Proof of anti-suffragist novel Delia Blanchflower, Sept 25, 1913. Washington University Libraries Mary Augustus Ward Papers.

Draft of anti-suffragist novel Delia Blanchflower. Washington University Libraries Mary Augustus Ward Papers.

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.