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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Men's League for Women's Suffrage

I have recently added biographies of several men involved in the Men's League for Women's Suffrage.

This includes:

Israel Zangwill
Hugh Franklin
Charles Mansell-Moullin
Henry Nevinson
Laurence Housman
Charles Corbett
Henry Brailsford
C. E. M. Joad

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Lesbianism and Feminism

In the 19th century most of the leaders of the women’s movement never got married. It was argued at the time that women were represented in parliament by the votes of their fathers and husbands. One can understand why older single women were not impressed by this argument. Lydia Becker, for example, was often used in cartoons with comments suggesting that the reason why some women were active in this field because they were unable to find a husband.

Other leaders of the women’s movement lived in couples. Some of these women, such as Frances Power Cobbe, who lived for most of her life with Mary Lloyd, was accused of being a lesbian.

It is impossible to discover if lesbianism was a factor in the early days of the women’s movement. However, it does seem to have been important in one women’s group at the beginning of the 20th century?

In 1907 some leading members of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) began to question the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst. These women objected to the way that the Pankhursts were making decisions without consulting members. They also felt that a small group of wealthy women like Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Mary Blathwayt and Clare Mordan were having too much influence over the organisation. In the autumn of 1907, about seventy members of the WSPU left to form the Women's Freedom League (WFL).

After women’s suffrage was achieved, some members of the breakaway group began to argue that there were other factors in this decision. For example, Teresa Billington-Greig, spoke of how some leaders of the WSPU had unhealthy emotional attachments with other members. She named Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Annie Kenny as members who suffered from this tendency. It is assumed that Billington-Greig was referring to the fact that these three women were lesbians. Although she does not mention it, the other two main financial supporters of the WSPU, Mary Blathwayt and Clare Mordan, were also lesbians.

Emmeline Pankhurst was also involved in a lesbian relationship with Ethel Smythe, at the time of the breakaway (her husband had died in 1898). Throughout her life Christabel Pankhurst never had a sexual relationship with a man. According to her biographer, Martin Pugh, Christabel first became involved in the struggle for women’s suffrage after becoming very close to the lesbian lovers, Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper, while studying at Manchester University in 1901.

The WSPU was not formed until 1903. Two years later Annie Kenney, a factory worker from Oldham, heard Christabel Pankhurst speak on the subject of women's rights. They fell in love almost immediately and Christabel arranged for Annie to live with her in London. Over the next couple of years they were inseparable. In 1905 they became the first members of the WSPU to go to prison.

Annie Kenney appears to have an amazing impact on other women. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Mary Blathwayt and Clare Mordan all spoke of falling in love with her the first time they met her. Teresa Billington-Greig claimed that Annie was "emotionally possessed by Christabel". However, Mary Blathwayt, who spent a lot of time with Annie during this period argued that it was Annie who was the dominating personality as she had a "wonderful influence over people".

Teresa Billington-Greig has argued that Annie was also very close to Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. "It is true that there was an immediate and strong emotional attraction between Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Annie Kenney... indeed so emotional and so openly paraded that it frightened me. I saw it as something unbalanced and primitive and possibly dangerous to the movement."

Fran Abrams the author of Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003), has argued that Annie Kenney had a series of romantic attachments with other suffragettes: "The relationship (with Christabel Pankhurst) would be mirrored, though never matched in its intensity, by a number of later relationships between Annie and other suffragettes. The extent of their physical nature has never been revealed, but it is certain that in some sense these were romantic attachments. One historian who argues that Annie must have had sexual feelings for other women adds that lesbianism was barely recognised at the time. Such relationships, even when they involved sharing beds, excited little comment."

However, a recently discovered diary has shown that these were sexual relationship. This unpublished diary belonged to Mary Blathwayt, a leading financial backer of the WSPU and up to now, someone who has been virtually ignored by historians. Blathwayt, used her home, Eagle House near Batheaston, as a retreat for suffragettes recovering from being in prison.

Mary Blathwayt recorded in her diary that Annie Kenney had intimate relationships with at least ten members of the WSPU. Blathwayt records in her diary that she slept with Annie in July 1908. Soon afterwards she exhibits jealousy with the comments that "Miss Browne is sleeping in Annie's room now." The diary suggests that Annie was sexually involved with both Christabel Pankhurst and Clara Codd. Blathwayt wrote on 7th September 1910 that "Miss Codd has come to stay, she is sleeping with Annie." Codd's autobiography, So Rich a Life (1951) confirms this account. The historian, Martin Pugh, points out that "In the diary Kenney appears frequently and with different women. Almost day by day Mary says she is sleeping with someone else."

Clare Mordan, who never went to prison, but who was one of the WSPU main financial backers, also spent a lot of time at Eagle House. It seems that some women could buy themselves into what appears to have become a “love nest”. Mary’s father, Colonel Linley Blathwayt, a retired army officer, motivation for allowing these women to live in his house, also raises interesting questions. He built a summer-house in the grounds of the estate that was called the "Suffragette Rest". He was an amateur photographer and took portrait photographs of the women. These were then signed and sold at WSPU bazaars. Maybe he also took some other kinds of photographs. According to historians of pornography, photographs of women together were in great demand and could be sold at a very high price.

Annie Kenney admitted in her autobiography that suffragettes developed a different set of values to other women at the time: "The changed life into which most of us entered was a revolution in itself. No home life, no one to say what we should do or what we should not do, no family ties, we were free and alone in a great brilliant city, scores of young women scarcely out of their teens met together in a revolutionary movement, outlaws or breakers of laws, independent of everything and everybody, fearless and self-confident."

The reason why Teresa Billington-Greig complained about these lesbian relationships was that she felt it was damaging the movement. It was argued that women were promoted to the leadership of the WSPU because of their lesbianism. For example, when Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst escaped to France, Annie Kenney was put in charge of operations in England. When Kenney was imprisoned the post went to her lover and flat-mate, Rachael Barrett. She was replaced by Grace Roe, who had been the lover of both Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney.

After the First World War the WSPU women became more open about their sexuality. After the war Rachel Barrett lived with her lover Ida Wylie, a novelist and short story writer. Both women were close friends of Radclyffe Hall and gave her support during the obscenity trial following the publication of her lesbian novel, The Well of Loneliness (1928). Hall lost the case and all copies of the novel were destroyed.

Two other members of the WSPU, Edith Craig (the daughter of the actress Helen Terry) and Christabel Marshall, had lived together for fifteen years. In 1916 they were joined by Clare Atwood where they formed a permanent ménage à trois. Her biographer, Katharine Cockin, has pointed out that Marshall wrote they "achieved independence within their intimate relationships... working respectively in the theatre, art, and literature, drew creative inspiration and support from each other."

Monday, 9 August 2010

Eugen Boissevain

Eugen Boissevain was married to two important figures in the American feminist movement.

Boissevain was introduced to Inez Milholland by Max Eastman. A leading figure in the women's suffrage movement, she was associated with a group of socialists involved in the production of The Masses journal. The couple were married in July 1913.

Inez Milholland became one of the leaders of the National Women's Party. The movement's most popular orator, Milholland was in demand as a speaker at public meetings all over the country. Milholland, who suffered from pernicious anemia, and was warned by her doctor of the dangers of vigorous campaigning. However, she refused to heed this advice and on 22nd October, 1916, she collapsed in the middle of a speech in Los Angeles. She was rushed to hospital but despite repeated blood transfusions she died on 25th November, 1916.

Boissevain remained in Greenwich Village and his friend, Floyd Dell recalls how he was attending a party at the home of Dudley Field Malone and Doris Stevens, when he met Edna St Vincent Millay: "We were all playing charades at Dudley Malone's and Doris Stevens's house. Edna Millay was just back from a year in Europe. Eugene and Edna had the part of two lovers in a delicious farcical invention, at once Rabelaisian and romantic. They acted their parts wonderfully-so remarkably, indeed, that it was apparent to us all that it wasn't just acting. We were having the unusual privilege of seeing a man and a girl fall in love with each other violently and in public, and telling each other so, and doing it very beautifully."

Carl Sandburg

After college, Carl Sandburg moved to Wisconsin, where he worked as an advertising writer. By this time Sandburg was a committed socialist and in 1907 he met Lilian Steichen, the sister of the photographer Edward Steichen, at the Social Democratic Party office. They married the following year and over the next few years Lilian (he called her Paula) gave birth to three daughters (Margaret, Janet, and Helga). Sandburg was also district organizer of the American Socialist Party and in 1910 became secretary to Emil Seidel, the socialist mayor of Milwaukee.Sandburg became a freelance journalist and eventually was employed by the Chicago Daily News where he met another aspiring writer, Ben Hecht. Other friends during this period included Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Edgar Lee Masters. He also produced articles for the International Socialist Review, a journal published by Charles Hope Kerr in Chicago.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

William Wilberforce

It was announced yesterday that historian Stephen Tomkins has discovered documents that suggested Wilberforce allowed the abolitionist colony of Sierra Leone, which the Clapham Set managed, to use slave labour and buy and sell slaves. "After abolition, the British navy patrolled the Atlantic seizing slave ships. The crew were arrested, but what to do with the African captives? With the knowledge and consent of Wilberforce and friends, they were taken to Sierra Leone and put to slave labour in Freetown."

When the Governor of Sierra Leone, Thomas Perronet Thompson, complained that "these apprenticeships have after 16 years successful struggle at last introduced actual slavery into the colony". According to Stephen Tomkins: "He (Perronet Thompson) single-handedly abolished apprenticeship and freed the slaves. He filed scandalised reports to the colonial office. Wilberforce told him he was being rash and hasty, and he and his colleagues voted unanimously for his dismissal. Wilberforce advised him to go quietly for the sake of his career."

Theodore Dreiser

Since his early days of journalism, Theodore Dreiser "began to observe a certain type of crime in the United States that proved very common. It seemed to spring from the fact that almost every young person was possessed of an ingrown ambition to be somebody financially and socially." Dreiser described this as a form of disease. He added that he observed "many forms of murder for money...the young ambitious lover of some poorer girl... for a more attractive girl with money or was not always possible to drop the first girl. What usually stood in the way was pregnancy."

This information inspired Dreiser's greatest novel, An American Tragedy (1925). The book was based on the Chester Gillette and Grace Brown murder case. One critic pointed out that the novel is a "story of a man struggling against social, economic, and environmental forces - as well as forces within himself - that slowly drown him in a tide of misfortune." It has been argued that the novel was an example of naturalism, an extreme form of realism, that had been inspired in part by the scientific determinism of Charles Darwin and the economic determinism of Karl Marx.

Thomas P. Riggio commented: "Although the novel was a critical and commercial success (in fact, Dreiser's only best-seller), he was not yet finished battling such literary vice crusaders as the Watch and Ward Society. The novel was banned in Boston, where the sale of the book led to a trial and an appeal that dragged on in the courts for years. This, however, was now an isolated instance. Dreiser seemed finally to have won over even his most severe critics, many of whom were now applauding the book as the Great American Novel."

In 1928 Dreiser wrote: "On thinking back over the books I have written, I can only say this has been my vision of life - life with its romance and cruelty, its pity and terror, its joys and anxiety, its peace and conflict. You may not like my vision but it is the only one that I have seen and felt, therefore, it is the only one I can give you." Dreiser, a socialist, wrote several non-fiction books on political issues. This included Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928) and Tragic America (1931).

Malcolm Cowley recalls that he attended a meeting in April 1931 that was addressed by Dreiser: "Dreiser stood behind a table and rapped on it with his knuckles. He unfolded a very large, very white linen handkerchief and began drawing it first through his left hand, then through his right hand, as if for reassurance of his worldly success. He mumbled something we couldn't catch and then launched into a prepared statement. Things were in a terrible state, he said, and what were we going to do about it? Nobody knew how many millions were unemployed, starving, hiding in their holes. The situation among the coal miners in Western Pennsylvania and in Harlan County, Kentucky, was a disgrace. The politicians from Hoover down and the big financiers had no idea of what was going on." Dreiser then went onto argue that "the time is ripe for American intellectuals to render some service to the American worker."

During the Great Depression Dreiser wrote: "I feel that the immense gulf between wealth and poverty in America and throughout the world should be narrowed. I feel the government should effect the welfare of all the people - not that of a given class." He became a member of the League of American Writers and was an active supporter of the Popular Front government during the Spanish Civil War.

As Thomas P. Riggio pointed out: "Dreiser wrote little fiction in the 1930s. He devoted much of himself to political activities. A partial list provides an idea of the range of his social interests: he fought for a fair trial for the Scottsboro Boys, young African Americans unfairly accused of rape in Alabama; he contributed considerable time to the broadly-based political and literary reforms sponsored by the American Writer's League; he spoke out against American imperialism abroad; he attacked the abuses of the financial corporations; he went to Kentucky's Harlan coal mines, as chairman of the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners, to publicize the wrongs suffered by the striking miners; he investigated the plight of tobacco farmers who were cheated by the large tobacco companies; he spoke on behalf of several antifascist organizations and attended an international peace conference in Paris; he became an advocate in America for aid to the victims of the Spanish Civil War."

Dreiser published America is Worth Saving (1941). Theodore Dreiser joined the American Communist Party in July 1945. He summed up his reasons for his decision: "Belief in the greatness and dignity of Man has been the guiding principle of my life and work. The logic of my life and work leads me therefore to apply for membership in the Community Party."

Theodore Dreiser died on 28th December 1945. Henry L. Mencken, who had been a great supporter of Dreiser during his lifetime argued: "No other American of his generation left so wide and handsome a mark upon the national letters. American writing, before and after his time, differed almost as much as biology before and after Darwin. He was a man of large originality, of profound feeling, and of unshakable courage. All of us who write are better off because he lived, worked, and hoped."

Monday, 2 August 2010

Frank Norris

Frank Norris published his first novel, Moran of the Lady Letty in 1898. This was followed by a couple of novels, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (1899), A Man's Woman (1900) and The Octopus (1901). These were all novels of social protest.

Norris died in 1902 aged 32. He influenced a whole generation of novelists including Upton Sinclair, Floyd Dell, David Graham Phillips, Theodore Dreiser, Charles Edward Russell and Sinclair Lewis, all committed to writing "socialist" novels.