'No Votes Thank You' - Lord Curzon of Kedleston and the Anti-Suffrage movement
George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, played a vital role in the story of the suffrage movement. As leader of the opposition movement, he was fundamental in mobilising the response to those in support of giving women the vote.
Curzon was an authoritative and well-respected voice in opposition to the proposed changes, but he should certainly not be considered a man in a minority.
At a time of clearly defined societal roles, opposition to allowing women to vote was a common and acceptable stance.
The fight for the vote for women was a prolonged process that began in the 19th century when John Stuart Mill presented a petition for women’s suffrage in 1866. His petition failed but it was the catalyst for the suffrage movement that followed. During the next fifty years the subject was debated and by the early 20th century genuine and concerted support was established across a broad selection of society.
National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage
Such support stirred the opposition, known as anti-suffragists, into action. Initially gender split leagues were formed (The Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League in 1908 and The Men’s National Anti-Suffrage League in 1909). In 1910 Lord Cromer approached Lord Curzon with the proposition that a National League be formed to unify both groups to give the movement more credibility.
Curzon held a very traditional view of women's position in society and was of the opinion that the Empire would be better maintained should women remain in their maternal role with minimal public voice. However he also saw women as vital to the betterment and development of society and crucial to maintaining the British Empire.
Representation of the People Act
Against a background of changing women's roles bought about by the impact of World War One the Representation of the People Act was introduced in 1918 giving some women the right to vote for the first time. Although both sides of the House of Commons supported the Act, opposition from the anti-suffragists was vehement. As leader of the House of Lords Curzon was well placed to block the vote. However he realised that although he was personally opposed to the Act the repercussions of ignoring the huge Commons majority would be significant.
" ...although I think the House of Commons is mistaken, although I think the majority of my Party in that house is mistaken, and although I think both will rue the day when they acted in the manner that they have done."
When he came to speak in the Lords Curzon took the unusual step of addressing the House as a private individual. His eloquent outline of his opposition raised the hopes of his supporters. However his concerns for the democratic process meant that ultimately he chose to abstain from the vote. His position caused many other Lords to follow suit and the Act was passed unopposed.
'No Votes Thank You'
As part of the National Trust's Women and Power programme in 2018, at Kedleston we explored the story of Lord Curzon's relationship with women's suffrage. Using graphics and video visitors were able to discover more about the then divisive subject of Suffrage and shared thoughts about the role of women in society then and now.