Campaign Like A Pro With These Guidelines for Women Activists From Dublin In 1874
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose! With the rise in the use of gender quotas at electoral level, and the emergence of excellent groups such as Women in Election, we thought it would be fun to compile a list of guidelines for women thinking of entering campaigning for the first time. The advice below first appeared in a journal for women in 1874, and are still pretty relevant today! Scroll on down for the full story.
What was The Women’s Advocate and who was Thomas Haslam?
The woman who spearheaded the earliest campaign for votes for women in Dublin was Anna Haslam, and her husband was Thomas. Their biggest contribution to the movement was their founding of the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Association (DWSA) in 1876. Anna remained Secretary of the Association for the next several decades, diligently attending and minuting every meeting.
She and Thomas shared a belief in equality for the sexes in all spheres of life. Two years before forming the DWSA, Thomas undertook to produce a regular pamphlet. It was called The Women’s Advocate, and three issues were edited and printed, before the venture was wound up. The first came out in April of 1874, the second came out in May, and the third (and last) was issued in July. It was an early example of an Irish suffrage journal - the next would not appear for nearly forty years (this was the wonderfully diverse Irish Citizen, which would run for eight years, and which we mention regularly in these blog posts!).
The first edition of The Women’s Advocate, in April 1874, was addressed to the men of Ireland, and asked them to help women in their political cause so that the women would not have to step out of (what those men saw as) their natural environment and behaviour. The third edition, in July 1874, was a specific retort against an anti-suffrage column that another newspaper had published. The second edition, in May 1874, is the one that concerns us here. It laid out practical advice for women who were considering entering into the areas of political lobbying, protest activities, or seeking to represent.
The actual advice.
The full text of the second issue of The Women’s Advocate has thankfully been reproduced for us in one of the Field Day Anthologies - link here to read it; if you are lucky Google Books will offer you a preview so you can go straight to that page (75). Instead of reproducing Thomas’ prose below, here is a bullet list of extracts, in what we imagine to be listed in a relevant and helpful way for today’s political woman!
“Women and their friends must act with promptitude if they would accomplish any of the objects upon which they have set their hearts.”
“The first and most imperative condition of success is organization. Wherever three or four supporters of any women’s cause reside, they should form themselves into a local Society, place themselves in communication with one of the central Associations, and procure… publications devoted to these interests.”
“The efficacy of Petitions has no doubt been over-rated; they do not wield the magical powers with which they are sometimes credited; still they have their weight with Members of Parliament; and when the numbers swell to an aggregate of several hundred thousand, they exercise a potent influence on the public mind.”
“It is by the conversion of individual members of the House of Commons, however, that the battle is to be won.”
[On writing letters to your local MP] “And there is no reason why every one who is able to put two sentences together should not adopt this course… It does not matter in the least degree how incorrect as literary composition your communications may be; their force will not depend upon their syntax, but on the proof of earnestness which they supply.”
“A vigorous deputation to the [MPs] is a still more forcible expression of opinion… Whatever be their personal views, Members are never deaf to arguments enforced by an earnest body of constituents.”
“Public meetings, when practicable, are the most effective popular demonstrations. But they are feasible only in exceptional cases, and in somewhat large constituencies… In the first place, they cost too much money… And then the difficulty of obtaining fluent advocates is at times insuperable.”
“A similar course should be pursued with your local Press. A constant fire of telling facts and paragraphs should be maintained. The subject should never be allowed to sink into oblivion.”
“We are writing for the thousands of women to whom such teaching is the great desideratum. They have never addressed a public meeting; have never, perhaps, assisted at one in their lives; they are longing to take part in the movements in which their sex is so deeply interested; but they have not been taught the A B C of political action… With a little practice they will learn the measure of their own capacity, and will find out many other paths of service in which their zeal may usefully expend itself.”
The DWSA pursued tactics such as those listed above, consistently and patiently, until a limited (but very large) suffrage was granted to women in 1918. Along the way, they had a fantastic victory in 1898, when the right for women to stand for election as district councillors and poor law guardians was legislated for. This win reinvigorated the suffrage campaign and drove it forward into the early twentieth century.
Thomas’ pamphlet was influential beyond the members of the DWSA, however. In an interview with The Irish Citizen in 1914, the Haslams revealed that this second issue of The Women’s Advocate was popular in England too, where 5,000 copies of it had been distributed by the movement there. What could be achieved if it was redistributed today, we wonder!
Quinlan, Carmel. ‘The nineteenth century Irish campaign for votes for women’ in Becoming Citizens (2018 edition).
The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Volume V, Irish Women’s Writing and Traditions (2002).