The Prospects for Women’s Suffrage

Many of you will have come across the New Statesman, the liberal left-leaning magazine featuring writers such as Laurie Penny, Will Self and the late Christopher Hitchens. But most of you probably haven’t heard of its forerunner, The Athenaeum.

Image of the hard bound spines of The Athenaeum
The Athenaeum

Published weekly between 1828 and 1931, The Athenaeum was a highly influential periodical covering topics such as literature, fine arts, music, theatre, politics and popular science and is noted for publishing anonymous reviews, often written by famous and/or influential people.

Here at City we are fortunate to hold an editor’s copy of The Athenaeum featuring handwritten notes identifying who the authors of various articles were, and this makes it one of our most frequently accessed Special Collection items.

The Athenaeum is also available online via CityLibrary Search and our subscription to Proquest’s British Periodicals Collection: you can search the full-text simply by logging-in with your City username and password.

One of the other features of The Athenaeum was the amount of personal correspondence printed, and the image (below) is a scan of a letter sent to the editor in April 1917 from a John Darbyshire in response to an article written on proposals for giving women the right to vote.

Image of the letter 'The Prospects for Women's Suffrage'.
DARBYSHIRE, J., 1917. THE PROSPECTS FOR WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE. The Athenaeum, (4616), pp. 192.

‘THE PROSPECTS FOR WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE.
To the Editor of The Athenaeum.
SIR,-Allow me to comment briefly on Councillor Eleanor Rathbone’s article on the above subject in your last issue. It will be a pity if the issue is to be decided as between married v. single; we have had enough of that sort of thing in the conscription business. Miss Rathbone says: “On no account must an opportunity of securing the protection of the Parliamentary vote for five or six million women, married and widows, be sacrificed to the supposed interests of the woman wage-earner.” Well, in the first place, there is no call to sacrifice the opportunity. The problem is: Why not both ? Even Mr. Asquith has emphatically declared that if women are to be enfranchised at all it should be on the same terms as men. Miss Rathbone further says: ” The married women and working mothers stand, after all, not only for themselves, but for their children.” Of course, but does this only apply to married women over 35 ? Are the young married mothers not even more concerned to…’

The letter is a passionate plea for equality and for all women, regardless of age, marital status or financial disposition, to be granted the same democratic rights as men. John Darbyshire goes on to write:

“We are in the present mess not only because of one-sex government, but because of this assumption of age-wisdom, and of the right of one generation to make the laws under which their grandchildren will live.”

As we reflect on the centenary of The Representation of People Act 1918 and some of the continuing challenges we face as a society today, it’s always fascinating to explore the past in order to gain new insights and understanding about our present and future.