WOMAN'S FRANCHISE. [TO THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR.") SIR,—As one
of that (still numerous) class of Englishwomen who, though considerably interested in politics, have not felt called • on to sign the Women's Petition, will you allow me to protest against an assertion in Miss Cobbe's clever and amusing letter to you on that subject? Strangely, never was said anything much more unjust by the most illiberal censor of our sex than is said by this undoubtedly sincere and earnest champion, when she declares that the primary benefit to be desired and expected from the exer- cise of the franchise by women is, "the sense it would awaken of graver duties and nobler interests than those in which alone they are now permitted to share beyond the threshold of their homes, —namely, the grand duty of morning visits and the supreme interest of croquet."
Without more than a passing reference to the large number of women in these times who, as governesses, artists, authors, &c., may surely be said to have graver duties, higher interests than these in life, is it not a sufficient answer to this wholesale charge against modern English womanhood to recall the fact of the hundreds, nay, thousands of helpers, of varying degrees of social ranks, who are busy to-day "beyond the threshold of their homes," visiting, consoling, assisting the poor, the diseased, the depraved, in their own wretched homes and in the workhouses, teaching and counselling the ignorant of all ages in schools and "mission-rooms ;"—finally, as nurses in hospitals and elsewhere, entering into high, because utterly unselfish interests, fulfilling brave duties with a courage, intelligence, and devotion that those who should best know will tell you is peculiarly characteristic of these " unprofessional " nurses ?
This class of quiet, educated women workers is. almost the creation of the last twenty years, and it is one that we thank- fully believe and trust is continually increasing. That compara- tively few of its members are very zealous for the attainment of the franchise is a consideration the significance of which I leave to others to interpret, but I feel sure that fact will not preclude Miss Cobbe from cordially acknowledging the value of their work, the dignity of their pursuits.
Is it too much to suppose, even, that a large proportion of women exist in all classes who, it may be freely granted are " blind " and " soft " with regard to political matters as the little eels of the sunless river, yet nevertheless are far-sighted enough, helpful enough, and strong enough, to fill a very arduous and inestimably important place in the business of life?
Apart from this supposition (which I admit is with me a belief), I feel perplexed by the conflicting arguments of its own advocates on this question of the women's franchise. Is it only because I have lived so long in the dark that I am unable to see the con- sistency of the two points so stringently urged,—(1) that we are so well fitted to exercise political power that we ought to have it ; (2) that we can never learn its fit exercise until we possess it ?—I