CHARLES HOPWOOD Autograph Letter Signed re LYDIA BECKER.
An important letter written by lawyer Charles Hopwood QC concerning the leader of the early womens' suffrage movement in Britain, Miss Lydia Becker.
ALS. 4pp. 1 Essex Court, Temple, EC. January 4th 1886. To W[illiam] Woodall MP.
"I have read Miss Becker's letter and noted what passed with the Solicitor Gen[eral] who was unaware it seems of the decision in the Queen's Bench to which she refers. When I received your letter I had already made up my mind and was about to write to you. My opinion is that it would be well to adhere as nearly as possible to the words of the Bill of last Session. Our sole reason for alteration is the offence which is taken by some of our friends at the expressed disability, not merely recognized, but created. On the other hand we have to face the difficulty felt by your supporters in Parliament. I think the best form would be to insert after "women" "not subject to any legal incapacity". These words occur in the 30 & 31 Vic. c.102 (AD 1867) in describing the qualification of men. It may be that even without these words it would be held that married women would remain disqualified, but to use them has this convenience that to every inquiry you can answer, that marriage is a legal incapacity, and you need not have recourse to another explanatory memo while affront to our own friends will be avoided. Other legal incapacity for men is the being a peer, a minor, a convict, an idiot, an alien, are in the receipt of parochial relief, or alms, besides other disabilities especially created by statutes. A man cannot be a wife and a woman cannot be a peer but both may be idiots etc! I have no particular objection to [G. . .ts ?] form except that it is another and new one. It would require more explanation and perhaps a memo for the purpose. I think too that the words in pencil should be inserted. There is, no doubt, the precedent of the Municipal Franchise, but taking all things together, I prefer the form in use last Session of Parliament, with the alteration now suggested. With regard to securing a day of 2nd Reading, I can only say that some of us, including Stansfeld, did take that course in regard to the Contagious Diseases Act but it was commented on as irregular and the Speaker so pronounced it. Doubtless it is a course not seldom pursued. Miss B[ecker] triumphed at Manchester by the aid of relatives and outsiders whom she induced to come to the public meeting. All the best of the old committee [. . . ?], 25 or 27 in number, including Steinthal, the Thomassons, etc. We have a difficulty. Miss Moore makes herself disagreeable and is besides useless and [costly ?]. The Finance Committee advise her dismissal, but I suppose sides will be taken over it, and partisan conflicts fought out. I believe it will be impossible for Miss Balgarnie to remain if she is to face Miss Becker and Miss M. in alliance. I thank you very much for your kind wishes which I heartily reciprocate." With a post-script: "Nothing certain is known about Parl[iamen]t. The 19th is now talked about as the beginning of business."
8vo. Approx 7 x 4.5 inches. Very slight mounting trace to edge of last leaf. Fine.
Lydia Becker was a leader of the early movement for women's suffrage and the emancipation of women in the 19th century. She was the founder and editor of 'The Women's Suffrage Journal' from 1870 to 1890. In 1884 William Woodall had become leader of the Women's Suffrage party in the House of Commons. In 1884 he introduced a private member's bill to remove the voting disability of women. This was rejected by parliament and in 1886 he tried again by introducing another bill for women's suffrage but specifically excluding married women. This divided opinion, particularly amongst radical suffragists and some in the movement, such as Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, saw this as simply creating a new privileged class at the cost of imposing a new disability on every married woman. In this letter, Woodall is seeking the legal opinion of Charles Hopwood QC on the wording of the Bill. The leaders of the women's movement at this time were Lydia Becker and Florence Balgarnie, amongst others, who had political allegiances with either the radical Liberals or the Conservatives and often divided on party lines. Hopwood's letter casts some interesting light on the conflict between the various factions. The unsatisfactory "Miss Moore" is presumably Edith Moore, who was secretary of the Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association.