Before 1918,women’s suffrage campaigners like Emily Davies were focused on getting the vote rather than making a case for women MPs. A great pioneer in women’s education, Davies had been among the very first women to campaign for the vote back in the 1860s. She was still doing so in 1907 as a constitutional suffragist (she disagreed with the violent tactics of the suffragettes), when she wrote in a letter to the Times:
‘Many of the advocates of women’s suffrage are decidedly opposed to such a claim… the previously existing Parliament would consist entirely of men and would be capable of passing an Act definitely excluding women… the question of women in Parliament is not practical politics.’
Her attitude is understandable when you realise that the concept of women MPs was so outlandish, it was used by anti-suffragists to argue against women getting the vote. An anti-suffrage pamphlet was published in 1909 tellingly titled The woman MP: a peril to women and the country. The author, Arthur Charles Gronno, envisaged laws on issues such as all children of a certain age being in bed by a certain time, and argued
‘Universal adult suffrage and its corollary, the women MP, would lower the quality of our legislations and increase the number of capricious, emotional and meddlesome laws…The more votes, the greater the number of persons who have not the intelligence to judge what is really good for themselves and their country… Peace and war would be declared on insufficient and impulsive grounds.’
Gronno lived through the war to see the advent of the woman MP. A Manchester schoolteacher, after war service with the Special Constabulary, by the early 1920s he had found a new cause. This Eugenics Education Society report, p.292, shows him giving a talk in Manchester on the ‘necessity for the study of eugenics owing to the great need for racial improvements.’ A fellow eugenics speaker was a Dr. D’Ewart, who Gronno painted in a watercolour now at Manchester Art Gallery.
And as you can see from the blue plaque commemorating her in Gateshead, Emily Davies lived to a ripe old age. By the time of her death in 1921, she would have seen (some) women get the vote in 1918, and Nancy Astor take her seat as an MP in 1919.