Victorian London - Women - in Public - votes for women


From our own Reportress

AN important, and it is believed, highly influential Meeting was held at Phillis's Rooms, on Friday evening last, for the purpose of considering the Government Reform Bill, and of expressing what the ladies of  England wished to say about it. It being thought desirable to secure unnbiassed utterance, none of the male sex were permitted to be present. Husbands were, however, suffered to attend in an antechamber and, with the view to their comfort and consolement, notes of the proceedings were from time to time sent out to them.
    After an exciting squabble as to precedence, the chair at length was occupied by MRS. SHRIEKER SCREECH, the talented authoress of "The Rights and Wrongs of Woman," "A Warning to Wives," "The Mission and the Miss" and several other pamphlets of acknowledged weight.* (*Query, Heaviness? Punch)
    In opening the proceedings, the Chairwoman remarked, that the question of Reform had come to such a crisis that she thought it was high time to be up and doing, and therefore she (the Chairwoman) had got upon her legs. (Sensation, and cries of Gracious! and Oh, my! ") Ladies might object to the strength of that expression, but she was a plain woman (titters), and she liked plain speaking, and it had always been her motto to "call a leg, a leg." (Oh! Oh!) This put her in mind of the position of the Government, for it was as clear as crochet, if they stood on their Reform Bill, they had not a leg to stand upon. (hear!) The Bill made no provision to redress the Wrongs of W omen. (Groans.) it therefore was a mockery, a delusion, and a snare; and she, for one, was much too old a bird to be found caught by it. (cheers, and subdued whispers of "How old did she say she was? ) Her feelings were too strong for her to trust herself with utterance, and she therefore begged to call upon some other lady present to be calm enough to move the Resolution she would read to them.
    Several ladies here rose in a most excited manner, and at the tip-top of their tongues declared themselves "quite calm:" on which the Chairwoman observed, it was a rule at female meetings that not more than six ladies be allowed to speak at once, and she therefore begged to exercise her power of discretion by selecting MRS. SNORTER as exponent of her sentiments.
    MRS. SNORTER, who was as well received as, after what had passed, could have in reason been expected, proceeded in a moving speech to move as follows:-
    "That the chief fault of the present representative system is the exclusion of Woman from electoral power, and this Meeting will be satisfied with no measure of Reform which does not remedy that glaring grievance and injustice."
The fair speaker said that, with the exception of her wedding day she felt the present was perhaps the proudest moment of her life. (Hear!) To see such a Meeting as that she was addressing was as pleasant to her eyes as the sight of a new bonnet. (Cheers.) In a ribald publication which she owned she sometimes read, although the way it laughed at ladies, and especially strong-minded ones, was often deeply painful to her (sensation), she load observed a picture of the Sleeping British Lion, which she supposed was meant to show that her husband and the rest of men were, not sufficiently awake to the matter of Reform, and wanted somebody to rouse them to a sense of its importance. Now, she thought the present Meeting was just the very thing to do what Punch thought wanted. It would show that though the British Lion might be sleepy, the British Lioness, at any rate, was not to he caught napping. (Cries of "Dear no!" and loud cheering.) Englishwomen were alive and awake to what was wanted. Reform was what they wanted, and their husbands might rely on it that they would get no rest until Reform was granted. (Hear!) She (MRS. SNORTER) meant mischief, she could tell them. (Renewed cheering, and screams of "So do we!") She perhaps was not possessed of so sharp a tongue as some people (Sensation, and cries of "Name: name!") but MR. SNORTER might depend he'd not have a night's peace, until she got her Right to Vote safe underneath her pillow!
    This assertion was received with a prolonged burst of cheering, a waving of mouchoirs, and a brandishing of scent-bottles. Several ladies very nearly fainted from excitement, but, remembering the were no gentlemen to hold them in their arms, they restrained them selves, and didn't. The Resolution, which was seconded by MRS. SMITH, or SMITH, or SMYIJTHE (we could not catch the spelling), was then put formally, and carried nem. fem. con.
Twenty minutes having been allowed here for refreshment, some conversation of a desultory character ensued, family matters and the fashions being the chief subjects. On business being resumed-
    MRS. SCRATCHER said, she should not have arisen to address them. but that her husband had forbidden hoer to speak. (Shame!) Yes, it was a shame; but of course she didn't listen to him. (Cries of "Brava!" "He's a brute!" and "How I'd like to pinch him!") She hoped ladies would be calm. She (MRS. SCRATCHER) was an advocate for peace; but they knew that, to obtain peace, war was sometimes a necessity : and at the present time sloe felt like the angel in the poem. (Name!) Let ladies read their MILTON, and they would see she meant her "sentence was for open war." (Hear! hear!). For her own part, as they all knew, she (MRS. SCRATCHER) was as peaceful as a dove (Question!) ; but she scarcely need remind ladies that even doves hare claws. (A voice, "Yes, and some know how to use them!") She cried, then, War to the finger-mails, and, if need be, to the carving-knife! If they could not rouse their husbands by fair means, let them try what a diet of perpetual boiled fowl would do! Or, if that be insufficient to get the British Lion's monkey up, there was but one course left them, a course of every-day cold mutton. (Cheers.)
MISS TABITHA M'CLAWLEY said, She heartily concurred in the views of the last speaker; and if she ever had the misery to be pestered with a husband (Question!), she should certainly adopt the pacific course suggested.
    MRS. GREYMARE ventured to remind her gentle hearers, that they had met to attack Government, and not, just then, their husbands. She, like MRS. SCRATCHER, liked having her own way; but she had never been reduced to use her finger-nails to get it. She (MRS. GREYMARE) thought, while ladies had their tongues, they certainly had need of no more formidable weapons. (hear!) As for the Reform Bill, at was a most iniquitous, because one-sided, measure, Averse as she was always to vituperative epithets, she thought that such a provocation justified her using them. (hear! hear!) The Government Reform Bill was an insult to womanity (loud cheers), and, in the name of outraged Woman, she indignantly rejected it! Her reasons for so doing might be stated in six seconds. (Hear! hear! and cries of "Don't be longer; there's a dear! ") She had called it a one-sided, and a therefore unfair measure. It made no provision at all for the fair sex, and was intended solely for that which in distinction she would call the unfair sex. (Hear!) If they looked to the last Census (a voice: "Gracious me, what's that?"), they would find that women formed by far the better half of the British population; and the, people, it was clear, could not be rightly represented while their better halves were thus excluded from tine Suffrage. (Cheers.) She therefore begged to move-
    "That this Meeting, having proved that Woman has a right to Vote, hereby pledges its unanimous support to any Government which will extend to her the use of what is logically hers."
    MRS. PRETTYWOMAN seconded the resolution, observing, that she, personally, did not dislike LORD DERBY: indeed, in certain of his views she completely coincided. He was fond of going to races, -and so, she owned, was she. (Oh,,fie!) To MR. DISRAELI she had not much objection, except that she must say, she thought him far from handsome. (Oh! oh!) As to the other people, she did not much like MR. BRIGHT because he dressed so queerly, and he talked so loud and she could not place much confidence in LORD JOHN RUSSELL either : he really looked so small, and was getting - oh! - so Grey. (Order.) If she must make her choice, she thought that she would rather give LORD PALMERSTON her countenance (oh! oh! and whispers of "Does she mean to kiss him?"), because she had always thought him such a "love" of a man. (Sensation, and vociferate cries if Order! order! ) She (MRS. PRETTYWOMAN) was not out of order. She was only making use of a popular expression. Were ladies not aware his Lordship had been christened "Cupid?"
    This explanation was received with general titters, and a lady was proposing "Three cheers for LORD CUPID!" when
    The Chairwoman observed, that she regretted to deprive the noble Cupid of his due, but ladies ought to be informed that their husbands-in-waiting had all pulled out their cigar-cases, and declared their intention of adjourning to their Clubs. Hearing this, the Meeting separated in considerable confusion, and it is difficult to say what precise results the proceedings had arrived.

Punch, March 19, 1859

A crowded public meeting was held, on Tuesday night, in the new Townhall, Hackney, under the auspices of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage, in support of the movement for the political enfranchisement of women. The audience included a large number of ladies and Mrs. P.A.Taylor occupied the chair.

Illustrated London News, January 25th, 1873