Tag Archives: suffrage

Sal Brinton’s call to action on women’s representation – and tales of BBC bad practice and great Liberal women

On Monday there was a debate in the House of Lords on Women in Public Life timed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of some women getting the vote. There were many Lib Dem contributions and we’ll be putting them all up over the next few days.

First up is Sal Brinton. Her wide ranging speech included tributes to fantastic Lib Dem women like Nancy Seear and Shirley Williams, horrifying stories of appalling employment practice at the BBC and fond memories of her family member who had been on the Mud March as a 16 year olds and was a passionate suffragist.

Enjoy!

The debate took place before she started her 24 hour fast for Hungry for Democracy:

My Lords, I declare my interest as a director of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, which has given grants to, among others, WASPI, Make Votes Matter, and other organisations that have been mentioned already during the debate, as well as ​to many other political reform campaigns. I congratulate the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Vere, for introducing this debate. We have had the most extraordinarily unified views about the success over the last 100 years, but also recognise that there are many problems.

I want to move back well over 100 years ago to John Stuart Mill. My favourite quotation from him is:

“The most important thing women have to do is to stir up the zeal of women themselves”.

He said that in a letter to Alexander Bain in 1869. A lot of the rest of his political life was spent helping women to be able to do that.

The woman who stirred up my own zeal was Baroness Stocks of Kensington and Chelsea, who started life as a Brinton and was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. She had an extraordinary life. I did not know that—I knew a doughty old lady who came to lunch on Sundays. She was principal of Westfield College, just around the corner from where I lived. My Conservative father, though not an MP at that time, won every argument at the dinner table, except when Mary was there. She taught me, by my watching the way in which she debated and engaged, that it was perfectly possible for women to do what they wanted. I can remember her saying to me on one occasion in the late 1960s, when I was still just at secondary school and so a bit behind the revolution that was going on around me, “You know, you can do exactly what you want to do. You just have to set your mind to it”. This woman did set her mind to it. She did an extraordinary range of things, as did many of the other women who were suffragists and suffragettes. They took that into other parts of their lives. But her passion and deeds started early. In 1907, aged 16, she was on the Mud March, one of the first big marches of the suffragist movements. I quote her voice at that time from her autobiography, My Commonplace Book:

“I carried a banner in the 1907 ‘mud march’ at the head of which walked Mrs Fawcett, Lady Strachey, Lady Frances Balfour, and that indomitable liberty boy, Keir Hardie. As we moved off through the arch of Hyde Park Corner we met a barrage of ridicule from hostile male onlookers. ‘Go home and do the washing,’ ‘Go home and mind the baby’ were the most frequent taunts flung at us. As we proceeded along Piccadilly it was observed by some of the marchers that the balcony of the Ladies’ Lyceum Club was crowded with members looking down from their safe vantage. Some of the marchers looked up and shouted: ‘Come down and join us.’ I do not know whether any of them did.

It was a great adventure for a sixteen-year-old; and on returning to school on the following Monday I was uncertain how my public exploit would be regarded by authority. I need not have worried. All the mistresses were suffragists, as indeed were all salary-earning professional women”.

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