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WHAT THE WOMEN WROTE
WHAT THE WOMEN WROTE
In another post, I wrote about the New Liberal men’s views of women’s suffrage and the other questions that women had raised, going ‘beyond the vote’, concerning issues such as marriage, maternity and women’s careers. It was called ‘What the men wrote and what they did not’. Both posts are part of my research project The Personal and the Political .
Part of the project is the recovery of what certain women wrote on the same questions. In particular, I focus on the writings of women close to the New Liberal men. One or two figures are already known, but most are not. To give some examples: Margaret Nevinson (wife of Henry Nevinson) wrote short stories for the suffrage press as well as a play. Henry Nevinson’s second wife, Evelyn Sharp edited the W.S.P.U. newspaper Votes for Women and was also a writer of short stories for children and adults. Brailsford’s wife, Jane Malloch, wrote letters to the press and a short story for Ford Madox Ford’s English Review. Graham Wallas’s wife Ada Wallas wrote short stories for magazines including The Yellow Book, as well as women’s history and an autobiography. Lucy Masterman wrote poetry. Florence Hobson wrote and published short stories. As well as the economic and social history she wrote with her husband John, Barbara Hammond wrote an unpublished novel.
The women’s writing can be contrasted with that of the men. The most obvious point is that the men wrote articles in The Nation and the women did not. The women were not part of what Hobhouse termed the ‘apostolic succession’ of Liberal men whose task it was to reinterpret liberalism in each generation.
(AND WHAT THEY DID NOT)
WHAT THE MEN WROTE
(AND WHAT THEY DID NOT)
One part of my research project The Personal and the Political concerns the New Liberals in Britain before the First World War, and especially their views on women’s suffrage and the various other questions that women posed ‘beyond the vote’.
Their views were surprisingly diverse. I focus on the Nation group, the writers, journalists, MPs and academics who grouped themselves around H.W.Massingham’s New Liberal periodical, meeting each week in the National Liberal Club. The group was deeply divided over the principle of women’s suffrage and even those in favour were mostly opposed to militant women’s suffragists’ demands for immediate legislation.
The men were also divided over questions ‘beyond the vote’. There is quite a lot in The Nation concerning new feminist perspectives on marriage, parenting, domestic living and the family, especially a series of critical short articles written by the New Liberal political economist J.A.Hobson. There are also writings on the subject by L.T.Hobhouse, Gilbert Murray and others. Yet this body of work is almost wholly unknown.
Furthermore, and importantly, no acknowledgment is made in New Liberals’ writings about their own, personal experiences of marriage, parenting, domestic living and family. This is true not only in the articles they wrote, but even in their autobiographies.
In the archives of Wayne State University, Detroit, I have recently located the papers of John Armistead Collier (1874-1947), poet, anarchist and political activist. They were deposited there by his last wife, Phyllis Feningston (1896-1981), an American labour organizer and social worker. In 1912, long before his marriage to Phyllis, Armistead Collier was living in London, where he formed a ‘free union’ – an unlegalised marriage – with a French anarchist and suffragette, Françoise Lafitte. Their child, named François Lafitte (1913-2002) became a well-known British sociologist and professor and – ironically in view of a personal history unknown to him – chair of the British Family Planning Association. Armistead carefully preserved his letters to and from Françoise, along with an unpublished autobiography, and, late in her own life, Phyllis contacted François to tell him about his father. The papers she sent him are archived with his own in Birmingham University, where he worked until the 1980s. There are also some of Armistead’s papers in other American archives, although, as I am discovering, they are sometimes mis-catalogued as a result of his many pseudonyms. These include the papers of his friend Upton Sinclair and Sinclair’s wives Meta Fuller and Mary Craig Kimbrough, to whom Armistead was close.
Unused by researchers until now, the papers are a valuable resource for the recovery of the unacknowledged personal. We know quite a lot about the views of advanced couples concerning ‘free love’ and ‘free unions’, because they wrote about them extensively in the radical journals of the time, such as the The Freewoman. What is hardly ever available is reliable evidence of lived practice. This matters because those who advocated ‘free love’ and ‘free unions’ believed that their ideas could only be tested and developed through lived experience.
IMAGE CREDIT: JACQUES-HENRI LARTIGUE, MA COUSINE SIMONE, CHATEAU DE ROUZAT (1913).
I’ve finished writing a chapter for my research project on the personal and political. It concerns the ‘free union’ of Armistead Collier and Françoise Lafitte. It’s based on two archives of letters I have recently discovered: the first in Detroit (the papers of Phyllis Feningston, who was Armistead’s last wife) and the second in Birmingham University (the papers of the child of the ‘free union’, François Lafitte, who was Professor of Social Policy there until the 1980s, but never met his father, or even knew his identity until his last few years).
Since Françoise and Armistead spent much of their short relationship apart, while she returned to France to persuade her family to accept him, and he to America to earn money, their correspondence is a frank and revealing account of the attractions and difficulties of the ‘free union’, and especially how it came to mean slightly different things for men and for women.
Other parts of my research project concern the way that the personal is, consciously or unconsciously, kept separate from the political. The personal is, to use the term from the project, unacknowledged by the political, and vice versa. What is interesting about Armistead and Françoise’s relationship is that, far from wanting the political and the personal to be kept apart, they wanted their politics – anarchist, liberationist, perhaps feminist – to define their relationship. They wanted to live their politics. So their relationship is an excellent case for examining what happens to personal relationships when every aspect of them – sharing time, sharing space, socialising, everyday conversations, domestic arrangements, sex, every interaction indeed – is sensitized and weighed for its political significance. For Françoise and Armistead, perhaps, the personal and the political were over-acknowledged.
This is characteristic of periods – like the years immediately before the First World War, and also the 1970s (which also provides case studies for the project) – when both personal relationships and gender politics are fluid and disturbed.
IMAGE CREDIT: JACQUES-HENRI LARTIGUE, BOUBOUTTE AND LOUIS (1910) (DETAIL).
charles masterman (1873-1927) was a New Liberal radical intellectual and politician who served in the Asquith Government, as junior minister to Herbert Gladstone and Winston Churchill at the Home Office, and Financial Secretary under Lloyd George at the Treasury, before joining the Cabinet in 1914. He is perhaps best known for his New Liberal writings, which included The Heart of the Empire (1901) and The Condition of England (1909). I have been researching him as part of my research project on the personal in politics. He was at the Home Office when violent methods were adopted by the Women’s Social and Political Union. I have explored here how the government response – arrests and forcible feeding – created a serious but unacknowledged disruption in the friendships and intimate personal relationships of Masterman and his fellow New Liberals.
But Masterman was also involved in another personal question: campaigns for purity among boys and young men. He engaged with this in three distinct ways. The first was as a government minister, in developing New Liberal policies on juvenile deliquency, policing, welfare, and urban overcrowding. Secondly, as a practising High Churchman and Christian Socialist, Masterman was also much involved in church schemes for youth purity, addressing the Anglican Church Congress on the subject in 1910. Finally, he was also involved personally, as a guide to boys and young men, first as a social worker with boys in the slums of south London, and later as an organiser of annual camps for schoolboys at Bembridge, a progressive boarding school on the Isle of Wight founded and run by his friend and political ally, the Liberal MP and educator, J. Howard Whitehouse. [···]
Part of my project on men in feminism considers when men and women can work together on political campaigns, and when they can’t. edwardian purity campaigns provide an interesting case study, because they offer examples of both. Purity campaigning was concerned, among other things, with male sexual behaviour, and the problems it created, such as prostitution, sexually transmitted disease, fornication (sex outside marriage), indecent publications, public immorality, the feebleness of the police and the courts in handling cases of sexual violence and exploitation. Shortly before the First World War, some militant women suffragists made denunication of men’s sexual irresponsibility part of their campaign for the vote. ‘Votes for women’ and ‘chastity for men’ became linked demands.
It’s intriguing therefore that, alongside the women’s campaigns, there were also men’s campaigns for chastity; and more intriguing still that the men’s and women’s campaigns hardly ever mentioned each other. Why did movements of men and women, aimed ostensibly at the same goal of male chastity, feel obliged to work apart? And why, in contrast, did men and women manage to work together on other campaigns, such as the agitation in 1912 to induce Parliament and Government to pass a new bill concerning sexual offences? [···]
The women in the photograph above are Christabel Pankhurst, one of the leaders of the Women’s Social and Political Union (on the right); and Rebecca West, journalist and suffragette (on the left). West wrote for a newspaper edited by Dora Marsden called The Freewoman, an avant-garde feminist journal which had a brief but influential existence before the First World War.
Much has been written about The Freewoman, but one aspect which is sometimes noted but never explored is that a lot of the contributors to it were men. This makes it an excellent source for my research project on the participation of outsiders in social movements: Other People’s Struggles. I am therefore analysing the men’s and women’s contributions to see what points they have in common, and what divides them.
IMAGE CREDITS: REBECCA WEST (CICILY ISABEL ANDREWS), (c. 1912) PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE C. BERESFORD, NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, LONDON / CHRISTABEL PANKHURST (DETAIL) UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER (DECEMBER 1918) FROM GEORGE GRANTHAM BAIN COLLECTION, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, WASHINGTON DC.