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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

VII. Politics, radicalism and national identity

40. Women and the Franchise, 1838

Texte intégral

1Until recently little research had been carried out in the history of Scottish women. This situation is slowly changing with more and more articles and books being published on Scottish women’s past.

2During Queen Victoria’s reign, middle and upper-class women were supposed to stay in the home, as domesticity and motherhood were considered as natural for women; poverty often pushed working-class women onto the labour market (in 1839, two-thirds of the workers in the Scottish textile industry were female). Yet it was more and more thought that the public spheres of work, commerce and politics were the preserves of men. At the beginning of the Victorian period most women did not have aspirations to gain the vote. Female Chartists (see introduction to text 41, for further information about Chartism) fought for universal manhood suffrage and not for female suffrage but this letter published in the Northern Star, one of the leading Chartist newspapers, demonstrates that not all women thought that it was natural for them to be excluded from the political sphere.

3Northern Star, 23 June 1838.

‘To the Women of Scotland’

Fellow Countrywomen—I address you as a plain country woman–a weaver of Glasgow. You cannot expect me to be grammatical in my expressions, as I did not get an education like many other of my fellow women, and I ought to have got, and which is the right of every human being. I am delighted to see the women of Scotland, and many other places, taking up the cause of Radicalism, and the cause of Truth; we have been too long the dupes of tyrants, but now we will be free–we will fling from us the chains that have so long kept us in bondage, and say we will no longer be slaves. Do not listen to those who tell you that a woman has no right to interfere in politics. Has a woman not the power of reasoning as well as a man? Has she not got judgment to guide her as well as a man? Aye, and as good too, if it be cultivated. Ask them what is the meaning of the word Politics? Is it not the best way to make the people happy? Is this, then, an improper thing I would ask? No, it is their duty. It is the right of every woman to have a vote in the legislation of her country, and doubly more so now we have got a woman at the head of the government. Arouse ye women of Scotland, and demand your liberties and your rights; join heart and soul with the men in the great radical agitation–it is the cause of the suffering many. England has shown us an example–surely Scotland will not be behind, and let us not cease until we have gained what is the just right of all–Universal suffrage. The men of England have taught us many important truths–they have told us what is our rights, and how we may get them. If we do not it is our own fault. Women, I would have you look for a moment at the poor Glasgow, Paisley and Spitalfields weavers. Are they not in a state of great destitution, and nothing but starvation staring them in the face? Surely it is not the will of God that these poor then should labour hard from morning to night to obtain a scanty living for themselves and families, and that more than one half of their scanty earning should go to pay taxes to support a few individuals in luxury and idleness? No, my fellow women, it is blasphemy to God to suppose that he created man to be miserable–to hunger, thirst, and perish with cold in the midst of that abundance which is the fruit of their own labour. I conclude hoping that it will not be long before we are able to wrench the grasp from the tyrant’ s hand.

I remain. A REAL DEMOCRAT, Glasgow, 1 June 1838.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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