Tuesday 24 May 2011

March of the Women

In January, 1911 Votes for Women, the paper of the Women’s Social and Political Union, an organisation campaigning for female suffrage in Britain, announced a new song which it described as a hymn and a call to battle. This was March of the Women, composed the previous year by Ethel Smyth. That same month it was given its first public performance by the Suffrage Choir in Pall Mall, introduced by Emmeline Pankhurst, head of the WSPU, as the suffrage movement’s new anthem.

I love it. It’s one of the most stirring songs ever written. If I had been alive then I would have been a militant suffragette alongside Emmeline and Cristobel Pankhurst, two of my all-time heroines. Yes, I would have sung those words at the top of my voice, those wonderful, heroic words;

Shout, shout, up with your song!
Cry with the wind, for the dawn is break-ing;
March, march, swing you a-long,
Wide blows our ban-ner, and hope is wa-king.
Song with its sto-ry, dreams with their glo-ry
Lo! they call, and glad is their word!
Loud and lou-der it swells,
Thun-der of free-dom, the voice of the Lord!

Long, long -- we in the past
Cowered in dread from the light of heaven,
Strong, strong -- stand we at last,
Fearless in faith and with sight new given.
Strength with its beauty, Life with its duty,
(Hear the voice, oh hear and obey!)
These, these -- beckon us on!
Open your eyes to the blaze of day.

Comrades -- ye who have dared
First in the battle to strive and sorrow!
Scorned, spurned -- nought have ye cared,
Raising your eyes to a wider morrow,
Ways that are weary, days that are dreary,
Toil and pain by faith ye have borne;
Hail, hail -- victors ye stand,
Wearing the wreath that the brave have worn!

Life, strife -- those two are one,
Naught can ye win but by faith and daring.
On, on -- that ye have done
But for the work of to-day preparing.
Firm in reliance, laugh a defiance,
(Laugh in hope, for sure is the end)
March, march -- many as one,
Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.

Such brave words for such brave women, women who fought so tenaciously in the face of hostility and hardship for something that we now consider to be a fundamental right. I’m no great enthusiast for specifically female causes, or for the forms of women’s liberation that emerged in the States from the 1960s onwards, but the campaign over the suffrage was something different, something all women could feel strongly about, no matter their class, politics or religion. Oh, bliss was in that dawn to be alive but to be young, and a woman, was very heaven.


  1. Thanks for accepting my FB invite..:)
    There is so much that I learn each day, just be reading your posts than by reading the news on Yahoo or researching on Google...see, I never knew about this song that echoes even now...Amazing post!

  2. There is still a great deal of sexual inequality across most of the world. It would be something to celebrate if the 21st century was the last in which women were valued less than men.

  3. A great piece of music and a post commemorating one of the most important events concerning the vote. I can imagine you as a suffragette Ana not chained to the railings.

  4. Calvin, that would be a noble achievment indeed.

  5. Richard, I would have been one hell of a mouse for the cat. :-))

  6. Ana, Do you think that generally speaking women view politics differently to men? What I mean is apart from a few notable exceptions it seems to me that women are less concerned with, say, manifestos and more concerned with appearances. Rebecca West, a feminist, argued that there is a public and private difference in the contrasting concerns of men and women. As you probably are aware I do not think that women's suffrage has improved the quality of British democracy one iota except in terms of a moral imperative which I agree with; but cannot rejoice in because I have seen this country go down the pan ever since :-) Mind you, as leaders of men some women in England's history have proved to be exceptionally gifted.

  7. I find it almost impossible to generalise here, Nobby. What I will so, though, is that politics and political preference are so often determined by mood than by anything more profound; that most men have no deeper understanding than most women. I do agree that suffrage is not a panacea, that there is so much more to do in addressing a country’s problems than voting. But this campaign, the campaign of the suffragettes, was about the perception of women, the place of women in society; it was about social justice in the most fundamental sense. The relative decline of Britain in the world had nothing to do with suffrage and everything to do with the misfortune of two world wars compounded by the rise of socialism. It took a woman to arrest at least the perception of unremitting decline. :-)

  8. Ana, I agree that that most men have no deeper understanding than most women. I agree. But the point is about a deeper interest in public matters and politics is a public matter.

  9. It certainly is, Nobby. Most of my set have an interest in public matters, the girls as well as the guys, but I agree, as a general rule, that men have traditionally taken the lead here.