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Woman's Suffrage in the Ascendant

W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, vol. XLIV, July, 1911, pp.18-19

June 17th was a red letter day in the history of the movement for the the emancipation of women. The women's demonstration took the form of stretching across the streets of London from Blackfriars Bridge to the Albert Hall one fine Saturday afternoon a living five-linked chain of women, dressed for the most part in white. The chain, decorated with flowers and flags, enlivened by matching music, and tied up here and there into a knot by a tableau or a pageant, was in ceaseless movement throughout its entire length. Miss Bryce, the niece of the Ambassador at Washington, rode at its head, arrayed in armour and carrying a sword to represent the immortal Maid of Orleans, that supreme type of militant and conquering womanhood. It was called the Coronation Procession of the Women of Britain, and was the first and the longest and most original of all the processions that celebrated the King's crowning. To the anti-Suffragists who look down from the club windows in Pall Mall, which are still the exclusive lairs of the male monopolist, the great procession winding its slow length along must have seemed like a deadly boa constrictor stretching its coil around its fascinated victim. But to the veterans of the movement—who, like Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy, reviewed the march past from a window in St. James Street, or the still older Mrs. Haslam, of Dublin, who, despite her seventy-eight years, marched the whole way from the Embankment to the Albert Hall—the procession must have sounded the signal: "Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation."

MR. ASQUITH'S PLEDGE

All the women's societies participated in making the procession a success. Militants and non-militants marched, if not exactly side by side, then certainly in loyal comradeship, in succeeding ranks. In the evening each section went to its own place, the militants going to the Albert Hall, which was crowded with an enthusiastic audience. The Shakespeare Ball, held in the same place in the following week, was more elaborate in its decorative design, but it is doubtful whether its gaily caparisoned army of Peers and grandees in masquerade produced a more striking effect than was presented by the massed militants that historic Saturday. It was a night of jubilation not without justification. Not five years had passed since Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy standing upon a chair in order to address a small but earnest meeting of Suffragists in my office in Mowbray House, gave the signal for the beginning of the militant campaign, and here were the results. The redoubtable trio who have engineered the movement, the Pankhursts, mere et fille, and Mrs. Pethick Lawrence, were joined this time on the platform by Mrs. Annie Besant, who formulated in logical and uncompromising terms the right of all human beings to justice and a free opportunity to use all their talents, without distinction of sex, even if this demanded the admission of women to the Bench, the pulpit, and to the House of Commons. The note of triumph was accentuated by Miss Christabel Pankhurst, who chortled in her joy as she read out Mr. Asquith's pledge that next Session the women should not only have their promised week for their Bill, but that the promise of reasonable facilities should be kept in letter and in spirit. As a thank-offering some £5,000 was subscribed on the spot, bringing up the campaign fund to £64,000.

THE FEMALE MINISTRY

As the Japanese were considered an inferior race until they used Western weapons to defeat Western armies in the battlefield, so it is probable that the triumph of the militant on the platform may pave the way for the recognition of women as a duly qualified exponent of the Gospel of peace in the pulpit. Such, at least, is the hope and belief of one earnest and capable woman who, in academical costume, made the pilgrimage from Blackfriers to the Albert Hall. Miss Hetty Baker, the Hon. Secretary of the Free Church League for Woman Suffrage, has written, and Mr. C. W. Daniel has published, a sixpenny pamphlet entitled "Women in the Ministry," which ought to be widely read and deeply pondered by all who wish to know whereto this movement will grow. Hitherto the early Christians, the Society Friends, and the Quakers have stood almost alone in recognising the right of women to preach the Gospel. I remember George Meredith telling me one night I spent with him at Box Hill that he regarded Paul's discovery of the possibility of utilising the spiritual genius of women in the service of Christianity as one of the chief secrets of the spread of that religion. Miss Baker reminds us that in the early days of Christianity pure and undefiled "women were regularly ordained, with the consent of people and clergy, by the Bishop. The first Œcumenical Council provided for such ordination, and in the Ordo Romanus the rite is found. 'The ordination of men and women is identical, both by the imposition of hands.'" Who knows but we shall discover ere long that the exclusive male monopoly is the mark of the Beast, and that anti-Christ can always be detected whenever women are excluded from the ministry of Christ. It is good to recall the fact that Pope Joan, whose existence was regarded as an historical fact for six centuries, was an Englishwoman. Unfortunately for Rome she had no successor of her sex in the Papal chair.

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