From Liberal to Labour with Women's Suffrage: The Story of Catherine Marshall

By Jo Vellacott | Go to book overview

10 Reform Bill Débâcle:
Catherine Takes Over Political
Work, January to May 1913

The debate on the Reform Bill began on Thursday, 23 January 1913. The first of the women's suffrage amendments was to be introduced the following day. But the Speaker, James Lowther, in response to a question, indicated that they might be ruled out of order, as changing the nature of the bill. Although he did not make a definite ruling until Monday, suffragists had no doubt as to what was coming. Catherine attended a special meeting of the NU executive on Friday evening, called originally for last-minute consultation on the amendments, but assuming "special importance on account of the tentative ruling given by the Speaker the previous afternoon." 1

Even had the Speaker not followed through, the women's suffragists knew that the hint he had given was enough to make a mockery once more of the promise of a free vote in the Commons, and a resolution embodying this conviction, already passed that afternoon by the LSWS, was adopted and sent to the press. There was little else they could do, but letters were immediately sent to the suffragist cabinet ministers asking them to receive a deputation "before any public pronouncement should be made." Asquith was asked to meet with a separate deputation, consisting of Millicent Fawcett, Kathleen Courtney, Edith Palliser, Eleanor Rathbone, and Catherine Marshall — the political leadership of the NU executive — "in order that they might hear from him what course he would propose in view of the non-fulfilment of the Government pledges." 2

When the executive met again at noon on Monday, 27 January, there may have been frustration, but hardly surprise at the failure to

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