Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Suffragette Connections: Part 2 - The Politician

Joseph King, MP

Out of the five key Peasant Arts members, Joseph King, as a Liberal MP is most obviously connected with the suffrage movement.  Liberalism came to deepest Surrey in the late 1890s when George Bernard Shaw gave a lecture in Haslemere in 1898 on ‘Why I am a Socialist’ and the return of a Liberal majority in Guildford in 1905 both encouraged suffragist activity (Myzelev, Craft Revival in Haslemere: she, who weaves…, Women’s History Review, Vol 18, Issue 4, 2009).

King chaired meetings between Liberal politicians and the local suffragists, including a gathering where Randall Cremer MP presented a talk on the Liberal Government’s strategy which set out the ‘women’s question’.  It was here that King declared that ‘personally he was strongly in favour of Women’s Suffrage.’ (Haslemere Sunday Times, 24 November 1906).

In 1908 Joseph King published Electoral Reform: an inquiry into our system of parliamentary representation.   Despite having a forward by Lewis Harcourt, a notoriously anti-suffragist cabinet minister, it is sympathetic to the women’s cause and it offered advice as to how their goal might be attained.  There is a entire chapter devoted to ‘Woman’s Suffrage’.

On page 75 King states: “The writer, always a supporter of the cause of Women’s Suffrage, and believing that the example and experience of New Zealand and Australia are in this matter of great significance, suggests that solution of the question in England to-say might be found if a policy were considered and adopted on the following lines:-
Failing the attempt to get the Government to adopt Woman’s Suffrage as part of their actual programme, time should be obtained from the Government for a debate and division on the subject in each Parliamentary Session, and a pledge should be obtained from the leading Members of both parties that when the electoral problems of redistribution of seats and the franchise come to be settled by new legislation the question of Woman’s Suffrage will be allowed to be placed before the House of Commons  in such a manner that the party pressure will not be invoked to urge either the adoption or rejection of the change.  On undertakings to this effect being given by the Government and the Opposition, the advocates of Woman’s Suffrage would be well advised to cease their methods of resorting to force, and courting imprisonment for creating disturbances at Westminster, of organising confusion at meetings addressed by Cabinet Ministers, and of opposing all Government candidates at elections (even when those candidates are strong supporters of “votes for women”) because the Government has not brought in, and given exclusive preference to, legislation extending the Parliamentary franchise to females. 
If the electorate see that women would use the vote wisely, and especially if the women of Britain are educated in a manner so as to desire and deserve the vote, the franchise will come…”

Joseph King’s brother, John Godwin King, lived in West Hoathly, Sussex, from 1896 with his wife CharlotteThey were both ardent Liberals, John Godwin was Chairman of the local Liberal Party, but he refused all invitations to stand for Parliament himself.  He was also a member of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.

Ursula Ridley (1897-1974), their daughter, has been described as a woman ahead of her time,  an independent thinker and a member of the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies in the East End of London.

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