Start: MISS L: You're told the case will...

Votes for Women

Vida Levering

See more monologues from Elizabeth Robins


Start: MISS L: You're told the case will be at two o'clock, and it's really called for eleven. Well, I took a great deal of trouble, and I didn't believe what I was told—

(Warming a little to her task.)

Yes, that's almost the first thing we have to learn—to get over our touching faith that, because a man tells us something, it's true. I got to the right court, and I was so anxious not to be late, I was too early. The case before the Women's was just coming on. I heard a noise. At the door I saw the helmets of two policemen, and I said to myself: "What sort of crime shall I have to sit and hear about? Is this a burglar coming along between the two big policemen, or will it be a murderer? What sort of felon is to stand in the dock before the women whose crime is they ask for the vote?" But, try as I would, I couldn't see the prisoner. My heart misgave me. Is it a woman, I wondered?

Then the policemen got nearer, and I saw—(she waits an instant)—a little, thin, half-starved boy. What do you think he was charged with? Stealing. What had he been stealing—that small criminal? Milk. It seemed to me as I sat there looking on, that the men who had the affairs of the world in their hands from the beginning, and who've made so poor a business of it so poor a business of it as to have the poor and the unemployed in the condition they're in to-day—when your only remedy for a starving child is to hale him off to the police-court—because he had managed to get a little milk—well, I did wonder that the men refuse to be helped with a problem they've so notoriously failed at. I began to say to myself: "Isn't it time the women lent a hand?". (steadying and raising her voice). These questions are quite proper! They are often asked elsewhere; and I would like to ask in return: Since when was human society held to exist for its handful of geniuses? How many Platos are there here in this crowd? Not one. Yet that doesn't keep you men off the register. How many Shakespeares are there in all England to-day? Not one.

Yet the State doesn't tumble to pieces. Railroads and ships are built—homes are kept going, and babies are born. The world goes on! (bending over the crowd) It goes on by virtue of its common people. I am not concerned that you should think we women can paint great pictures, or compose immortal music, or write good books. I am content that we should be classed with the common people—who keep the world going. But (straightening up and taking a fresh start), I'd like the world to go a great deal better. We were talking about justice. I have been inquiring into the kind of lodging the poorest class of homeless women can get in this town of London. I find that only the men of that class are provided for. Some measure to establish Rowton Houses for women has been before the London County Council. They looked into the question "very carefully," so their apologists say. And what did they decide? They decided that they could do nothing. Why could that great, all-powerful body do nothing? Because, if these cheap and decent houses were opened, they said, the homeless women in the streets would make use of them! You'll think I'm not in earnest. But that was actually the decision and the reason given for it. Women that the bitter struggle for existence has forced into a life of horror the outcast women might take advantage of the shelter these decent, cheap places offered. But the men, I said!

Are all who avail themselves of Lord Rowton's hostels, are they all angels? Or does wrong-doing in a man not matter? Yet women are recommended to depend on the chivalry of men. Justice and chivalry!! (she steadies her voice and hurries on)—they both remind me of what those of you who read the police-court news—(I have begun only lately to do that)—but you've seen the accounts of the girl who's been tried in Manchester lately for the murder of her child. Not pleasant reading. Even if we'd noticed it, we wouldn't speak of it in my world. A few months ago I should have turned away my eyes and forgotten even the headline as quickly as I could. But since that morning in the police-court, I read these things. This, as you'll remember, was about a little working girl—an orphan of eighteen—who crawled with the dead body of her new-born child to her master's back-door, and left the baby there. She dragged herself a little way off and fainted. A few days later she found herself in court, being tried for the murder of her child. Her master—a married man—had of course reported the "find" at his back-door to the police, and he had been summoned to give evidence. The girl cried out to him in the open court, "You are the father!" He couldn't deny it. The Coroner at the jury's request censured the man, and regretted that the law didn't make him responsible. But he went scot-free. And that girl is now serving her sentence in Strangeways Gaol. Men make boast that an English citizen is tried by his peers. What woman is tried by hers? (A sombre passion strengthens her voice and hurries her on.)

A woman is arrested by a man, brought before a man judge, tried by a jury of men, condemned by men, taken to prison by a man, and by a man she's hanged! Where in all this were her "peers"? Why did men so long ago insist on trial by "a jury of their peers"? So that justice shouldn't miscarry—wasn't it? A man's peers would best understand his circumstances, his temptation, the degree of his guilt. Yet there's no such unlikeness between different classes of men as exists between man and woman. What man has the knowledge that makes him a fit judge of woman's deeds at that time of anguish—that hour—(lowers her voice and bends over the crowd)—that hour that some woman struggled through to put each man here into the world. I noticed when a previous speaker quoted the Labour Party you applauded.

Some of you here—I gather—call yourselves Labour men. Every woman who has borne a child is a Labour woman. No man among you can judge what she goes through in her hour of darkness (catching her fluttering breath, goes on very low.) —in that great agony when, even under the best conditions that money and devotion can buy, many a woman falls into temporary mania, and not a few go down to death. In the case of this poor little abandoned working girl, what man can be the fit judge of her deeds in that awful moment of half-crazed temptation? Women know of these things as those know burning who have walked through fire. I would say in conclusion to the women here, it's not enough to be sorry for these our unfortunate sisters. We must get the conditions of life made fairer. We women must organise. We must learn to work together. We have all (rich and poor, happy and unhappy) worked so long and so exclusively for men, we hardly know how to work for one another. But we must learn. Those who can, may give money. Those who haven't pennies to give—even those people aren't so poor they can't give some part of their labour—some share of their sympathy and support. (Suddenly turning from the Chairman to the crowd). Oh, yes, I hope you'll all join the Union. Come up after the meeting and give your names.

Then it's to the women I appeal! (She is about to retire when, with a sudden gleam in her lit eyes, she turns for the last time to the crowd, silencing the general murmur and holding the people by the sudden concentration of passion in her face.) I don't mean to say it wouldn't be better if men and women did this work together—shoulder to shoulder. But the mass of men won't have it so. I only hope they'll realise in time the good they've renounced and the spirit they've aroused. For I know as well as any man could tell me, it would be a bad day for England if all women felt about all men as I do.

Elizabeth Robins, Votes for Women, Mint Editions, 2013, pp. 73-80.

All monologues are property and copyright of their owners. Monologues are presented on StageAgent for educational purposes only.


All monologues are property and copyright of their owners. Monologues are presented on StageAgent for educational purposes only.

More about this monologue