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06 Feb

Protection of the Franchise

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Eva Gore-Booth (1906) “Women’s wages and the franchise and certain legislative proposals” in Sonja Tiernan (ed) (2015) The Political Writings of Eva Gore-Booth, Manchester University Press. Quote on p. 37.

As legislation that will interfere with the working of the law of supply and demand in a very marked degree is threatened in the immediate future, the position has become very dangerous to all working women who are threatened, through their want of the protection of the franchise, with a further reduction of already low wages which, all persons of experience must know, will inevitably lead to widespread and extreme poverty.

Eva Gore-Booth was writing as legislation was proposed to keep women out of work involving “dangerous performances” and to allow local authorities to ban barmaids, potentially affecting 27,000 women. The latter bill was supported by Winston Churchill, leading to Gore-Booth and her sister Constance Markievicz to campaign succesfully against him when he sought re-election. (More on that campaign in History Ireland. Markievicz was heckled while driving the campaign coach, ‘Can you cook a dinner?’ and replied, “Of course. ‘Can you drive a coach-and-four?’).

In this 1906 pamphlet, Gore-Booth argues that women’s wages are depressed due to artifical barriers: “under present circumstances this law [of supply and demand] is very restricted in its operation on the work of women by artificial causes, dependant to a large extend on their political disability” (p. 32). The restriction of women from many professions, crafts and types of labour means they are forced into a few narrow channels which then suffer oversupply of workers. This is supported by trade unions seeking to protect the wages of their members. Since women cannot vote, they have no voice to raise against legislation further restricting their ability to work. This is likely to impoverish women and their dependants, a fact often ignored. As Gore-Booth remarked into an earlier pamphlet: “People have some strange kind of idea that women do not really want money as much as men do” (Eva Gore-Booth (1906) “Fair Pay for Women” in Women’s Tribune in Tiernan (2015) p. 26).

This is why the extension of the franchise on 6th February 1918 to those men over 21 and women over 30 who passed the property requirements was not an academic exercise. For campaigners at the time, it gave adults of voting age an important input into legislation that affected their lives.

Further Reading

Sonja Tiernan (ed) (2012) The Political Writings of Eva Gore-Booth, Manchester University Press.

Sonja Tiernan (ed) (2015) Eva Gore-Booth: An Image of Such Politics, Manchester University Press.

Sonja Tiernan (2012) “In defence of barmaids:the Gore-Booth sisters take on Winston Churchill” in History Ireland, Vol 20, Issue 3, (online).

Gilbert King (2012) “Daughters of Wealth, Sisters in Revolt” in Smithsonian Magazine, 10 July 2012 (online)

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