Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
III.: Manuscript Draft of Women’s Suffrage  (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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Manuscript Draft of Women’s Suffrage  (1869)
MS, Mill-Taylor Collection, Vol. XLI, full draft of No. 144.
the first thing which presents itself for us men who have joined this Society—a Society instituted by ladies to procure the protection of the suffrage 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 practical 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 in the world—no sooner, I say, did a few of these ladies give the signal that the time was come to claim for women a 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 country women had long cherished in silence. The thousands who have signed the petitions for women’s suffrage, year after year, are evidence that I do not exaggerate when I say this. For my own part, I have all my life held the opinion that women have the same right to the suffrage which men have; and it has been my good fortune to know many ladies much better fitted to exercise it than the majority of the men of my acquaintance. I may say too, to the credit of my own perspicacity, that I have long been of opinion that the disclaimers of all wish for political or any other equality with men, which until quite lately have been almost universal among women, were but 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, and of more than sympathy—of ardent and zealous support—which this movement has called forth among women and among men also of all opinions and parties. We have had a success, quite out of proportion to our apparent means, and which would be unaccountable were it not for certain potent allies that have been working for us.
The 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 favorites 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. That political suffrage which men are everywhere demanding for themselves 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 therefore take our stand 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 strength, is the progress of the age; what may be called 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 consider any portion of the community as insufficiently cared for unless it has a voice in choosing those 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 set 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 that which, 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 at work in society, we have on our side one of the strongest and best modern characteristics—not pointing, as those do, to a particular course 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, or 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.
To shew how unequivocally and emphatically the spirit of the age is on our side, we need only consider the various social improvements which are in course of being attempted, or which the age has fully made up its mind to attempt. 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. There is not one of them which can be even tolerably realized unless women, with their moral and intellectual capabilities properly developed, are associated in the work. From the time when society takes upon itself the duties required of it by the present state of civilization, it cannot do without the intelligent cooperation of women: and the pedantic nonsense we now hear about the sphere of women will be felt to be merely 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.
Look at education, for instance: 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 do without a good system of national education—descending to the very bottom of society, and, allow me to add, ascending also to the top. The best people have been saying this for generations; but the political changes recently made, and the prospect we have of more, have made the necessity manifest to all. Now, then, we ask of rich and poor, Tories, Whigs and Radicals: Are you going to educate a nation without women? Let alone the equal right of women to a share in the benefit; I ask, can it be given to the rest of us without their active help? When once we set about really teaching the children of all classes of the community—it will not be like the merely nominal teaching they mostly now receive—we shall need a vastly greater number of schoolmasters than we can afford to pay if we reject the assistance of half, indeed of much more than half, the available strength. Women are the acknowledged best teachers of young children; and numbers of them are eager both as volunteers and as professionals, 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. 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 in which there is the widest diffusion of popular instruction, the Northern States of America, a large majority of the teachers are already women; and that, by no means 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 superiority over them? Will they feel themselves less worthy of a vote, think you, or less entitled to it, than the men whom they themselves have taught how to use their votes? And I should like to see the face of the man, so taught, who would stand up and refuse it to them.
Let us turn next to the management of the poor: and by the poor, I mean the recipients of public relief; the pauper population. That formidable difficulty weighs on the spirits of all our thinkers, and of all conscientious public administrators: and the more they think, the more they seem 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, and perhaps the leading share in the management of it. A wide experience has taught to thoughtful men, that the only true principle of a poor law is to give relief (unless of a very temporary nature) to adults, nowhere but in public establishments—in 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 have been 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 expressly selected for their fitness to be inspectors of poorhouses. The fittest person to manage a workhouse is the person who knows best how to manage a house. A woman who has learnt to govern her own servants, will know how to do the same thing with workhouse servants. Very few are the male guardians and inspectors sufficiently conversant with details, to be competent to check the dishonesty, to stimulate the zeal, and to overcome the indolence of all those concerned in administering to the wants of any large agglomeration of human beings. Every experienced traveller knows that there are few comfortable inns when there is no hostess. And the gigantic peculations of the commissariats of armies, joined to the dreadful sufferings of the wounded soldiers from the insufficiency of the medical and nursing staffs, all bear testimony to the fact that men do not possess the heaven-born faculty which 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 the natural sphere of women—and I am by no means called upon to contest the assertion—those branches of politics which require faculties that can only be learnt at home, are the natural sphere of women 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 the public expenditure: what superintendence and control is comparable 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 and waste in every department of a large household? Few men have had much of this kind 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 that we ought to have for the money, the most vigilant and capable agents for making the money go as far as it can, would generally be found among women.
One important public function, at least, has devolved on women from the commencement: the nursing of the sick is a privilege which men have seldom denied to women. The nursing of the sick in most public establishments is from the necessity of the case, mainly performed 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: and much more than this will be required when the prevention and cure of disease become a branch of public administration; a result towards which things are rapidly tending. There are many difficulties in dealing with the poor: many hindrances, both moral and economical, to doing for them all that most of us would wish to do. One thing, however, the nation appears to have fully made up its mind that it will not grudge them: and that is, the use of their health. In this one respect it is felt that the poor law instead of doing too much, does not do nearly enough: the medical staff of our Unions is wretchedly underpaid, and nothing near so numerous as it ought to be. And how is it to be made efficient; how are the localities to afford the expense of providing a sufficient number of persons with the requisite qualifications—if we persist in shutting the door upon those women who are claiming from us medical education in order that they may be fit for such duties as these? Until the medical profession is opened to women there never will 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 their whole time, but who 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 a medical man in good private practice. But when women are entrusted with 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 needed for other uses than “to suckle fools and chronicle small beer.” Many are now saying that they ought to 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 cannot well be denied to them. But these very moderate reformers are falling into the same mistake about women, which was committed about the working classes. People were willing to educate the working men, but expected them, after being educated, to be content with the same treatment which they met with before. They would be quite happy, it was thought, when their improved faculties qualified them to be more useful servants, and would never think of claiming their share of mastership, nor a voice in the choosing of masters. It has not so turned out with the working classes; nor will it so turn out with women. Those who are fit to train men for their work, will think themselves fit to take a share in the work, or, at the lowest, in choosing those who are to direct it. The higher education of women, and their political emancipation, are sure to go forward together.
We are safe, then, in affirming 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 those forces: and they, by their increasing strength, tend to accelerate our success: illustrating the truth, that improvements aid one another; that all good causes are allied; that whoever helps forward one great public object proves in the end to have promoted many more. In the full 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 in. Let us gain that, and whatever is desirable for women will ultimately follow, without its being necessary at present to define, or even possibly to foresee, all that is desirable. The mere fact of claiming the suffrage has given an impulse such as had never been given before, to all proposals for doing away with any 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 a good prospect of success: and the movement for the higher education of women is spreading in all directions, with a considerable diversity of means insomuch that women have now 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 ought to do as individuals; but pressing forward with all our strength what virtually includes them all, the suffrage. With that, we shall in time obtain what is needed, whatever that may be; but until the suffrage is obtained, we have gained nothing which may not be resumed any day at the caprice of our rulers. In these times, the great practical distinction—the line of demarcation 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 for their protection. Even in America it was found that to abolish Slavery was not enough: the negroes were not really free until they had the suffrage: representative assemblies in the election of which they had no voice, inflicted or tolerated treatment which would speedily have brought them back to a servitude almost worse than their previous state. In a political age, such as this is, 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 wider extension of the suffrage to others, so long as women are excluded from it, is a positive injury to them, for it is rapidly making them the only excluded class—the only people whom the law does not deem worthy of a voice in choosing their rulers, or whom it does not sufficiently care for to extend to them that protection. The suffrage is the turning point of women’s cause; that alone would ensure them an equal hearing and fair play. With it they cannot long be refused any just right, or excluded from any fair advantage: without it, their interests and feelings will always be a minor 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 all our efforts on the suffrage; inviting all who wish for the higher education of women, all who desire justice to them, in the matter of property and earnings, all who wish for their admission to professions and careers now closed to them, to aid us in our enterprise as the surest means of accelerating the particular improvement in which they feel a special interest.