Front Page Titles (by Subject) 144.: Women's Suffrage  18 JULY, 1869 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873
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144.: Women’s Suffrage  18 JULY, 1869 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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Women’s Suffrage 
Report of a Meeting of the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage, Held at the Gallery of the Architectural Society, in Conduit Street, Saturday, July 17th, 1869 (London: [National Society for Women’s Suffrage,] 1869), pp. 7-14, 34. Reported on 19 July in the Morning Star, from which the responses are taken, and the Daily Telegraph. Collation indicates that Mill was following closely his untitled holograph manuscript (Mill-Taylor Collection), reproduced in full in Appendix D. The afternoon meeting, largely attended by both men and women, was, on Mill’s motion, chaired by Clementia Taylor. In her opening remarks, she indicated that the Society’s growth and success in the past two years had been in large measure the result of Mill’s “fearless and eloquent advocacy”; she alluded to his amendment to the Reform Bill (see No. 55 above), and said “every woman in Great Britain” owed him “a deep debt of gratitude. (Cheers.)” The Secretary, Caroline Biggs, read a brief report, which was accepted. Mill then rose to loud and continued applause.
the first thing that presents itself for us men who have joined this Society—a Society instituted by ladies to procure the protection of the franchise for women—is to congratulate them on the success of this, their first effort in political organisation. The admission of women to the suffrage is now a practical question. What was, not very long ago, a mere protest in behalf of abstract right, has grown into a definite apoliticala aim, seriously pursued by many thousands of active adherents. No sooner did a few ladies of talent and influence, fostered in those principles of justice, and believing in those elements of progress, which are now renewing the life of every country of the world—no sooner b did a few of these ladies give the signal that the time was come to claim for women ctheirc share in those blessings of freedom, which are the passion and the glory of every noble nation, than there rallied round them unexpected thousands of women, eager to find expression for aspirations and wishes which we now learn that multitudes of our countrywomen have long cherished in silence. The thousands who have signed the petitions for women’s suffrage, year after year, are evidence that I am not exaggerating when I say this. For my part, I have all my life held the opinion, that women have the same right to the suffrage as men; and it has been my good fortune to know many ladies very much fitter to exercise it than the majority of the men of my acquaintance. (Laughter and cheers.) I may say, too, to the credit of my own perspicacity, that I have long been of opinion that dmost ofd the disclaimers of all wish for political or any other equality with men, which, until quite lately, have been almost universal among women, are merely a form of that graceful and amiable way of making a virtue of necessity, which always distinguishes women. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge, I did not expect the amount of sympathy, enaye of more than sympathy, of ardent and zealous support, which this movement has called forth among women, and men also, of all franksf and all parties. We have had a success quite out of proportion to our apparent means, and which would be unaccountable, were it not for gsome potentg allies that have been working for us.
First of these precious auxiliaries is the sense of justice. When not stifled by custom or prejudice, the natural feeling of justice is on our side. We are fighting against privilege on one side, disabilities and disqualifications on the other. We are protesting against arbitrary preferences; against making favourites of some, and shutting the door against others. We are claiming equal chances, equal opportunities, equal means of self-protection for both halves of mankind. The political suffrage, which men are everywhere demanding h as the sole means by which their other rights can be secured to them, we, for the same reason, and in the name of the same principles, demand for women too. We take our stand, therefore, on natural justice; and to appeal to that, is to invoke a mighty power.
The other auxiliary which is working for us, with ever increasing force, is the progress of the age; what we may call the modern spirit. All the tendencies which are the boast of the time—all those which are the characteristic features and animating principles of modern improvement, are on our side. There is, first, the growing ascendancy of moral force over physical—of social influences over brute strength—of the idea of right over the law of might. Then there is the philanthropic spirit; that which seeks to raise the weak, the lowly, the oppressed. There is the democratic spirit; the disposition to extend political rights, and to deem any iclassi insufficiently jprotectedj unless it has a voice in choosing the persons by whom the laws are made and administered. There is the free trade spirit; the desire to take off restrictions—to break down barriers—to kleavek people free to make their own circumstances, instead of chaining them down by law or custom to circumstances made for them. Then there is the force of what, to the shame of past history, I am obliged to call the new conception of human improvement and happiness—that they do not consist in being passively ministered to, but in active self-development. And, over and above these specific practical forces, actively at work in society, we have with us one of the strongest and best modern characteristics—not pointing, as those do, to a particular line of outward action, but consisting in a general disposition of our own minds: the habit of estimating human beings by their intrinsic worth—by what they are, and by what they do: not by what they are born to, nor by the place in which accident or the law has classed them. Those who are fully penetrated with this spirit cannot help feeling rich and poor, women and men, to be equals before the State, as from the time of the Christian era they have been proclaimed equal in the sight of God. And this feeling is giving us powerful aid in our attempt to convert that Christian ideal into a human reality.
lTo show how unequivocally and emphatically the spirit of the age is on our side, we need only think of the different social improvements which are in course of being attempted, or which the age has fully made up its mind to attempt.l There is not one of those improvements which would not help the enfranchisement of women; and there is not one of them which the enfranchisement of women would not help. mNot one of them can be literallym realised unless women, with their moral and intellectual capabilities properly developed, are associated in the work. From the moment when society takes upon itself the duties required of it by the present state of civilisation, it cannot do without the intelligent co-operation of women; and the pedantic nonsense now talked about the sphere of women, will appear thoroughly ridiculous when pleaded as an excuse for excluding women from the minor matters of politics, when their assistance cannot be dispensed with in the most arduous. (Cheers.)
Look at education, for example. That is almost the one great cry of the day. Statesmen, scholars, public writers, all join in it: great and small, rich and poor, Tories, Whigs, and Radicals, the higher, the middle, and the working classes, with one voice declare, that the country cannot get on without a good national education, descending to the very bottom of society, and (give me leave to add) ascending also to the top. The best people have said this for generations; but after the political changes recently made, and with the prospect we have of more, the necessity has become evident to all. We say, then, to rich and poor, Tories, Whigs, and Radicals,—Are you going to educate a nation without women? Let alone the equal right of women to ntheir share ofn the benefit; I ask—Can it be given to the rest of us without women’s direct help? When we set about really teaching the children of all oranks of the peopleo —it will not be like the nominal teaching they mostly receive now—we shall need a vastly greater number of schoolmasters than we can afford to pay, if we reject the assistance of half, porp much more than half, the available force. Women are the acknowledged best teachers of young children; and numbers of them are eager, both as professionals and as volunteers, to put their hand to the work. The only hindrance to their being equally capable instructors of more advanced pupils, is that they cannot teach what they have not been allowed to learn. (Hear, hear.) They will have to be taught all the more valuable branches of knowledge, if only that they may teach them to others. In the country where there is the widest diffusion of popular qeducationq , the Northern States of America, a large majority of the teachers are already women, and that not exclusively in the elementary schools; and they are found to be particularly efficient teachers of male pupils. Is it likely, then, that when women find themselves, side by side with the men of the present, teaching and training the men of the future, they will believe in any right of their pupils to political rsupremacyr over them? (Hear, hear.) Will they feel themselves less worthy of a vote, think you, or less entitled to it, than the men who have been taught by them how to use their svotes ? And I should like to see the face of the man, so taught, who would stand up and refuse it to them. (Cheers.)
Let us turn next to the management of the poor: and by the poor I mean those in receipt of public relief—the pauper population. That formidable difficulty is weighing upon the spirits of all our thinkers, and of all conscientious public administrators; and the more they think, the more they seem to be overwhelmed with its arduousness. I venture to predict that this great national, and more than national, this human concern, will never be successfully treated until women take their share, perhaps the principal share, in the management of it. A wide experience has taught to thoughtful men that the right principle of a poor-law, is to give relief, except of a very temporary kind, to adults, nowhere but in public establishments—workhouses, and, for those who need them, hospitals. And this method has been tried: but the workhouses and the workhouse hospitals have been so execrably managed, the pillage has been so profligate, and the unhappy inmates so brutally neglected and ill-used, that the system has broken down, and public feeling shrinks from enforcing it. If this is ever remedied, it will be when pauper establishments are looked after by capable women. As mere visitors, it is to them we in great part owe the discovery of the enormities by which the public have been sickened, and which has escaped the watchfulness of men specially selected as fit to be inspectors of poorhouses. The fittest person to manage a workhouse is the person who best knows how to manage a house. The woman who has learnt to govern her own servants, will know how to do the same with workhouse servants. Few are the male guardians and inspectors sufficiently conversant with details, to be competent to check the dishonesty, to stimulate the zeal, or to overcome the indolence, of all the people concerned in administering to the wants of any large agglomeration of human beings. Every experienced traveller knows that there are few comfortable inns where there is no hostess. And the gigantic peculation of the commissariats of armies, as well as the dreadful sufferings of the wounded soldiers from the insufficiency of the medical and nursing staff, all bear testimony to the fact that men do not possess the heaven-born faculty they arrogate to themselves for doing well on a large scale what they disdain to serve an apprenticeship to doing on a small scale. If home is ta woman’s natural spheret (and I am not at all called upon to ucontradictu the assertion) those departments of politics which need the faculties that can only be acquired at home, are va woman’s natural spherev too. But there are great spheres and little spheres; and some people want women to be always content with the little spheres. I don’t.
In the same manner, in all that concerns the details of public expenditure: what superintendence and control would be equal to that of an experienced mother of a family, who knows, or has learnt to find out, what things ought to cost, and whose daily business it has been to discover and check malversation or waste in every department of a large household? Very few men have had much of this sort of practice; multitudes of women have had it. If we are to meet the demand of the age for a government at once cheap and efficient, which shall cost little, but shall give us all we ought to have for the money, the most vigilant and capable agents for making the money go as far as it can will generally be found among women. (Applause.)
One important public function, at least, has devolved on women from the commencement. Nursing the sick is a privilege which men have seldom denied to women. (Laughter.) The nursing of the sick in most public establishments is, from the necessity of the case, mainly carried on by women; and it is now understood that they ought to be educated women. No ignorant person can be a good nurse. A nurse requires to know enough of the laws of health and the treatment of disease, to be at least able to observe sanitary rules, and to understand the meaning of symptoms. But much more than this will be required when the prevention and cure of disease become a branch of public administration; and to this things are rapidly tending. There are many difficulties in dealing with the poor—many hindrances, both moral and economical, to our doing for them what most of us would like to do: but one thing the nation wis, I think, makingw up its mind that it will not grudge them, and that is, the xcarex of their health. In this one respect it is felt that our poor-law, instead of doing too much, does not do nearly enough. The medical staff of our unions is wretchedly underpaid, and nothing like so numerous as it ought to be. And how is it to be made efficient—how can the localities afford the expense necessary for providing a sufficient number of persons with the required qualifications, if we persist in shutting the door upon those women who claim from us medical education, to fit them for such duties as these? Until the medical profession is opened to women, there will never be an adequate supply of educated medical practitioners for any but the rich. And independently of regular practitioners, there are numbers of women who, from their domestic occupations, cannot give all their time, but would willingly give part of it, either as volunteers or at a small remuneration, for work which would be too costly if paid for at the value of the time of medical men in good private practice. But when women are entrusted with public functions like these, and educated for them, will they be content to be excluded from the common privileges of citizenship? and how long will it be possible to exclude them?
Society is feeling every day more and more, that the services of women are wanted for other uses than “to suckle fools and chronicle small beer.”1 (Laughter.) Many are now saying that women should be better educated, in order that they may be able to educate men; and truly if they are to educate men, the education of a well-educated man can hardly be denied to them. (Hear, hear.) But these very moderate reformers fall into the mistake about women that was made about the working classes. People were willing to educate the working men, but expected them, after being educated, to content themselves with the same treatment which they had met with before. They would be quite happy, it was thought, when their improved faculties qualified them to be more useful servants, and would not think of claiming their share of mastership, or a voice in the choosing of masters. It has not so turned out with the working classes, neither will it so turn out with women. Those who are fit to train men for their work will think themselves fit to share in the work; or, at the lowest, in the choice of those who are to direct it. The higher education of women, and their political emancipation, are sure to go forward together. (Applause.)
We may safely affirm, then, that our cause has a powerful backing; since it has for its allies the great forces which are at work everywhere, striving to improve the world. Our success would greatly strengthen all these forces: and they, by their increasing strength, help to accelerate our success; illustrating the truth, that improvements aid one another. All good causes are allied; whoever helps forward one ybeneficialy object, proves in the end to have promoted many more. (Hear, hear.) In the assurance that it will be so with us, our business is to go on doing what, as a Society, we have hitherto done—to strive for the suffrage, and for the suffrage only. The suffrage, while it is the road to other progress, commits no one as to what other things progress consists of. Let us but gain the suffrage, and whatever is desirable for women zmustz ultimately follow, without its being necessary at present to adecidea , or indeed possible to foresee, all that bisb desirable. The mere fact of claiming the suffrage cis giving an impulse, such as never hasc been given before, to all proposals for doing away with d injustice to women. Since the suffrage has been claimed, a bill for allowing married women to be the owners of their own property, which had been laid on the shelf for ten years with other uninteresting trifles, has been reintroduced into Parliament with good prospect of success;2 and the movement for the higher education of women is spreading in all directions, with a considerable diversity of means, insomuch that women have a chance of obtaining a really good education almost as soon as men. We of this Society shall best promote these important movements by taking no part in them as a Society, whatever any of us may think it erighte to do as individuals; but pressing forward with all our efforts what virtually includes them all, the suffrage. With it, we shall in time obtain what is needed, whatever that may be; but till the suffrage is gained, we have obtained nothing that may not be resumed any day at the caprice of our rulers. In these days, the great practical distinction, the line of fseparationf between those who can protect themselves and those who are at the mercy of others, is the political franchise. All who have rights to protect now look to that as the only effectual means of protecting them. (Hear, hear.) Even in America it was found that to abolish slavery was not enough; the negroes gcould not beg really free until they had the suffrage. Representative assemblies, in the election of which they had no voice, inflicted or hpermittedh treatment which would i have brought them back to a servitude almost worse than their previous state. In a political age, such as the present is, jlet the laws in other respects be what they may,j women will never be of equal account with men, will never be felt to be entitled to equal consideration, so long as men have votes and women have not. The kgreatk extension of the suffrage to others, so long as women are excluded from it, is a positive injury to them, since it is rapidly making them the only excluded class; the only persons whom the law either deems unworthy of a voice in choosing their rulers, or does not sufficiently care for to lgivel them that protection. The suffrage is the turning point of women’s cause; mit alone will ensure them an equal hearing and fair play. With itm , they cannot long be denied any just right, or excluded from any fair advantage: without it, their interests and feelings will always be a secondary consideration, and it will be thought of little consequence how much their sphere is circumscribed, or how many modes of using their faculties are denied to them. Let us, then, continue to concentrate our exertions on the suffrage; inviting all who wish for the nbettern education of women, all who desire justice to them in respect of property and earnings, all who desire their admission to any profession or career now closed to them, to aid our enterprise, as the surest means of accelerating the particular improvement in which they feel a special interest. (Loud cheers.)
“That this Society declares its strong conviction that it is in the highest degree unjust and impolitic to make sex the ground of exclusion from the exercise of political rights.”
[Charles Kingsley seconded the resolution, which was supported by Henry Fawcett and approved. Millicent Fawcett moved a resolution pledging the Society to work by all lawful means to obtain the franchise for women; in seconding, Houghton referred to a passage from Mill “to the effect that laws would never be improved unless there were numerous persons whose moral sentiments were better than the existing laws,” and Morley, supporting the motion, mentioned that he had been converted to sexual equality by reading Mill’s Dissertations and Discussions while at Oxford. After the resolution passed, a third was successfully moved, congratulating the society on the progress already made. The meeting concluded after a motion thanking the Chair, moved by Stansfeld, who was followed by Mill.]
I beg to second the motion. It is quite unnecessary that I should make any remarks, or add anything to what has been said. I am sure the whole meeting feels the grace, the dignity, as well as the business-like spirit in which the proceedings have been conducted by Mrs. Taylor, and all will join most heartily in voting thanks to her.o
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[1 ]Shakespeare, Othello, II, i, 160; in The Riverside Shakespeare, p. 1213.
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[2 ]In fact a similar Bill had been introduced in the previous session (see No. 99, where the Bill of 1857 is also referred to); the measure had been brought forward again as “A Bill to Amend the Law with Respect to the Property of Married Women,” 32 Victoria (25 Feb., 1869), PP, 1868-69, III, 427-30, but was not enacted.
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