Front Page Titles (by Subject) 146.: Women's Suffrage  26 MARCH, 1870 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873
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146.: Women’s Suffrage  26 MARCH, 1870 - 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 Hanover Square Rooms, on Saturday, March 26th, 1870 (London: London National Society for Women’s Suffrage, 1870), pp. 4-9. Reported on 28 March, 1870, much abbreviated and in the third person, in the Daily News, the Daily Telegraph, and The Times; though the reports differ in length (apart from their coverage of Mill’s speech), they are so similar in wording as to suggest a single source. The responses are taken from the newspaper accounts. For Mill’s plans for the meeting, see CW, Vol. XVII, pp. 1697-8, 1701. At the well attended Saturday meeting Clementia Taylor took the Chair; her remarks were followed by Mill’s. On rising, he was greeted with repeated cheers.
since the first general meeting of this Society in July of last year, we have had ample reason to be satisfied with the progress that has been made by our cause. That progress has manifested itself not only by the increased number of our friends, but, still more, by the altered tone of our opponents. During the year which has just elapsed, much has been written in various publications against the equality of the sexes, but it is remarkable how few of the writers have expressed any great disapprobation of that which is the direct object of this Society, the admission of women to the suffrage. Many of them have even said in express terms that to thus much of concession they, perhaps, might not object. A vote at elections is now, with many of them, a small thing, which they can afford to concede; if women wish for it, they may as well have it as not; but what shocks and scandalises them is, that a claim should be made for women to equality of rights in civil life, and especially in marriage. This is of good augury, and I begin to hope that I may live to see the whole discussion transferred to this point. Those of us who claim for women complete equality of rights have always said that this is a totally different question from the suffrage. The suffrage is a thing apart; no woman, by claiming it, is in the smallest degree committed to the larger demand; if women were, by an inherent and inevitable necessity, subject to the authority of men, they would need the protection of the suffrage all the more. Every plea, either of justice or policy, which speaks for granting the suffrage to any man, applies equally to women.
But there is a side of the question on which I should like to say something: the particular manner in which the addition of women to the electoral body is likely to affect the character of Parliament, and to modify the mode in which public affairs are carried on. I think that the most marked effect, in the immediate future, would be to infuse into the legislature a stronger determination to grapple with the great aphysical and morala evils of society. (Hear, hear.) Women electors, I think, will be more difficult to persuade than men that those evils must be accepted—cannot be cured, cannot even be much mitigated—and that we may, with an untroubled conscience, avert our eyes from them, with an occasional grumble at what they cost us in rates, taxes, and charities. Women, I think, will find it hard to believe that legislation and administration are powerless to make any impression on these frightful evils, and that the acme of statesmanlike wisdom is to let them alone. I should consequently expect, from the political influence of women, a considerable increase of activity in dealing with the causes of these evils. I know there are many men who regard any increased activity in that direction with alarm, thinking that it means inconsiderate benevolence, injudicious legal regulation, and general increase of meddling. But there is wise as well as unwise meddling; well-directed as well as ill-directed benevolence; and there is a tendency in the present day to confound the two. It is my conviction that, if the State employed all the means it possesses of raising the standard of morality, and even, in some respects, of physical well-being, in the community, it would find that it has much more in its power than it is now the fashion to believe; and that Governments in these days are quite as blameable in neglecting the right means of promoting those objects, as in days yet recent they were in pursuing the wrong. The time has passed away when Governments, speaking generally, were actively tyrannical; their favourite sins in the present time are indolence and indifference. Whatever scruples they have about doing ill, they have, in general, none at all about leaving ill alone, but allow mountains of mischief to be piled up from age to age, without any serious attempt to check the accumulation. (Hear.) There is something in the nature of government by men alone, which encourages this easy self-satisfaction. Men are more mentally indolent than women, and are far too ready to believe that they have done everything, or that there is nothing to be done. Their consciences and feelings need rousing, and the stronger active impulses of women are wanted to do it. If I am now asked whether, in my opinion, those active impulses can be depended on for prompting the most judicious line of conduct—whether women will discriminate well between good and bad modes of combating evils, and will not be apt to mistake the most direct mode for the most efficacious; I freely confess that the political education of women must be greatly improved, before as much as this can be affirmed with any confidence. But this would only be a real objection, if we were going to disfranchise the men, and turn over the whole power to women. All we want is, that the two should be obliged to take counsel together. We want the ship of the State to have both sail and ballast, and not, as is too often the case now when the navigation is troublesome, all ballast and no sail. (Laughter.) There is little danger that the over-zeal of women will not be quite sufficiently tempered by the over-caution of men. In these days we do not fail, in matters of government, for want of a curb, but of a spur; and women, even with the present defects of their education, are well qualified for that office. (Laughter.) As their education improves, they will do more; they will not only be a stimulus to others, but will themselves be capable of doing their full share of the work. Women, on the average, have more contriving minds than men; in things they are really interested in, they are readier in finding means for the attainment of an end; especially in undertakings the success of which greatly depends on the details of the execution. Now this is emphatically the case with attempts to correct the great physical and moral evils of society. These are works of detail. Men form great projects, sound in principle perhaps, and rational in their general conception, but which, when applied to practice, break down, from unforeseen failure of efficiency in the execution. Many more of these projects would succeed if women had a share in planning them.
These, I think, are the most marked effects on the general course of government and legislation, which would flow from the admission of women to a share in the functions of citizenship. To this we must add, that the wrongs and grievances which specially affect women would no longer be considered too unimportant to be worth any serious attempt to put an end to them. To take one example among many: if women had votes, there would be a much sterner repression of those outrages on women, which bmake the necessity working women are under of going out alone a serious danger to themb ; outrages which have only reached their present height through the inexcusable leniency with which they are treated by the courts of justice. (Hear, hear.) If women had had votes, we should not have had the “Contagious Diseases Acts”;1 under which the wives and daughters of the poor are exposed to insufferable indignities on the suspicion of a police-officer; and must be so, if the Acts are to be so enforced as to have any chance of being effectual for their object. If those Acts are repealed—if they are not extended to the whole country—it will be owing to the public spirit and courage of those ladies, some of them of distinguished eminence, who have associated themselves to obtain the repeal of the Acts;2 a courage and public spirit which can only be duly appreciated by those who have noticed the impudent and shameless character of some of the attacks which have been made on them in print by anonymous writers. To those worthier and more honourable opponents, who think these ladies mistaken, and the course they have adopted an unfavourable indication of the use they are likely to make of increased political influence, I would say—Suppose the Acts to be as beneficent as I hold them to be pernicious; suppose that the ladies who disapprove of them are not actuated by any reasonable view of their nature and consequences, but by an excess or a misapplication of the particular moral sentiment which men have inculcated on them as their especial and principal virtue. What then? Is it no evil that the laws of a country should be repugnant to the moral feelings of confessedly the most moral half of the population? If the repugnance is grounded on mistake, ought not time to have been given, and explanation and discussion used, to rectify the mistake; instead of leaving them to find out, years afterwards, that laws had been passed, almost in secret, revolting to their strongest feelings? That women’s suffrage would put a check upon such proceedings as this; that it would compel legislators to take into account the moral feelings of those in whom such feelings are the strongest, and to carry those moral feelings with them, instead of contemptuously setting them aside—must be counted among the benefits that would result from the grant of the suffrage.
There are men—not a few—liberal and enlightened on general topics, whose own feelings would incline them to be just to women, but who dread the immediate effect of admitting them to the suffrage, because they think it would greatly increase the power of the clergy. I have never denied that if the suffrage were given them to-day or to-morrow, something like this might possibly, for a time, be the result. And, differing as I do in opinion and feeling on many important topics from the great majority of the clergy, I am not a likely person to undervalue this objection. But it is to me obvious that if the clergy have now too great an ascendancy over the minds of many women, especially in the middle class, it is because the other influences by which the human intelligence is acted on, and opinions formed, have not been allowed to reach them. They have had no encouragement to read the books, or take part in the conversations, which would have shown them that any of the opinions they hear from the clergy are disputed, and disputable. Even if there were no direct discouragement, they have not been so brought up as to take interest in such readings or conversations: while they have been trained in the belief that it is women’s part to accept the opinions they find prevalent, and that the thoughtful consideration of great subjects, and the formation of well-considered opinions by hearing both sides, is none of their business. How then is it possible that they should not fall under the influence of those who address them through the only feelings and principles they have been taught to cultivate? And consider another thing. What is it that makes clergymen in general, even where professional prejudices do not directly interfere, such unsafe advisers in politics and the affairs of life? It is because they are too much in the position of women; they are treated too much as women are: under a show of deference, they are shut out from the free and equal discussion of great practical questions, and are taught to think themselves concerned with only one aspect of any subject—the moral and religious aspect, in the narrow sense in which they use those terms; for, in a larger sense, all questions in which there is a right and a wrong are moral and religious. Is not this very like the condition of women? To those who dread the influence of the clergy on women’s minds, I would say this: If the clergy have more of such influence than belongs to their character and to the degree of their cultivation, let us be just, and admit that they have fairly earned it. The clergy are the only persons who, as a class, have taken any pains with women’s minds; the only persons who have appealed directly to their own principles and convictions; who have addressed them as if they had themselves a moral responsibility—as if their souls and consciences were their own. The clergy are the only men who have seemed to think it of any consequence what women think or feel, on any subject outside the domestic sphere. Those who show this respect to women, deserve to have influence with them: and will continue to have more than enough, until other men employ the same means of acquiring such influence which they have done. If the fathers, brothers, and husbands of these women took equal pains with their minds—if they invited them to interest themselves in the subjects in which the fathers, brothers, and husbands are interested, as the clergy do in those which interest them; and if they were taught, by the responsibility of a vote, that the formation of an intelligent opinion on public questions is as much their right and duty as it is the right and duty of men—they would soon find themselves more competent and better judges of those subjects than the clergy are; and there would be no danger whatever of their surrendering their own judgment into the hands of their clerical instructors. Whatever is excessive or hurtful in the clerical influence over them would be weakened, exactly in proportion as they took part in the affairs of life; and only that which is salutary would remain. Instead, then, of regarding the clerical influence as a hindrance to giving women votes, I look upon the vote as the most effectual means of emancipating them from the too exclusive influence of the clergy. But if this danger were far greater than it is, it would be an unworthy thing, on account of such an apprehension, to refuse to one half of the species that necessary means of self-protection, so highly prized by the other half. Every portion of mankind has its own special liabilities to error; and he who would refuse the suffrage to others because he is afraid of their making mistakes, would find good reasons for disfranchising everybody but himself. Safety does not lie in excluding some, but in admitting all, that contrary errors and excesses may neutralise one another. And of all who ever claimed the suffrage, or for whom it was ever claimed, there are none in whose case there is so little reason for apprehending any evil consequences whatever from their obtaining it—none for whose continued exclusion the excuses are so insignificant, so fanciful, as in the case of women.
cHe concluded by moving the following resolution: “That this meeting is of opinion that the extension of the franchise to women will tend to promote among them a more cogent sense of their special duties as citizens, and of their general responsibilities as concerned with the advancement of the highest moral interest of the whole community.”c
[The motion (supported by Harriet Grote) was carried. A resolution (supported by Helen Taylor) expressing satisfaction at the introduction into the House of Commons by Jacob Bright and Charles Dilke of a bill for removing the electoral disqualifications of women3was also passed. A final resolution, expressing the view that the general extension of the suffrage, while women were excluded, was a positive injury to them, was approved, and then a vote of thanks to the Chair brought to a close the meeting, “which throughout was of a very enthusiastic character” (Daily News).]
[a-a]DN,DT,TT] P practical
[b-b]DN,DT,TT at present disgrace the country [DN,TT in past tense]
[1 ]27 & 28 Victoria, c. 85 (1864), which was superseded by 29 Victoria, c. 35 (1866), and the Act that amended the latter, 32 & 33 Victoria, c. 96 (1869).
[2 ]The Ladies’ National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts was headed by Josephine Butler (1828-1906). Harriet Martineau (1802-76) was a vigorous contributor to the campaign, her articles in the Daily News leading at the end of 1869 to the formal Women’s Protest signed by 2000 women published in the Daily News. Among the signatories were Florence Nightingale, Mary Carpenter, Priscilla McLaren (sister of John and Jacob Bright), and their sister Margaret Lucas. The last was on the platform at this meeting, as were Ursula Bright (Jacob’s wife), and Frances Bailey Martineau (married to Harriet Martineau’s nephew, Russell).
[3 ]“A Bill to Remove the Electoral Disabilities of Women,” 33 Victoria (16 Feb., 1870), PP, 1870, IV, 799 (not enacted).