Dominique Meeùs
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Hannah Mitchell , The Hard Way Up, 1977

Hannah Mitchell , The Hard Way Up : The autobiogrphy of Hannah Mitchell, suffragette and rebel, Virago, Londres, 1977, 260 pages, ISBN : 0-86068-002-9.
Réédition de Mitchell 1968
Edited by Geoffrey Mitchell.
Preface by Sheila Rowbotham.

Part One

I   Alport Castles Farm → 37

Née en 1871, enfant de paysans pauvres. Son père et son oncle leur apprennent à lire et à écrire.

2   A Fortnight’s Schoolin’ → 46

Sa mère la retire de l’école après quelques jours.

3   Running Away → 54

Elle est mise en apprentissage chez une couturière. À quatorze ans, pour échapper à la tyrannie de sa mère, elle s’enfuit. Elle devient ainsi, à quatorze ans !, une jeune femme indépendante, ouvrière, adulte avant l’âge. Le titre de la partie suivante, « Women », est impressionnant quand on considère la date 1885.

Part Two

4   In service → 67

Elle commence en service, mais elle trouve ailleurs un emploi mieux payé, comme couturière. Sa patronne veut alors lui faire faire trois mois de travaux durs avant de la libérer. Elle mène une lutte décidée et intelligente pour reprendre sa liberté et entrer dans son emploi d’ouvrière.

5   A Fight for Rights → 76

Dans les ateliers de couture, on sait quand on commence, mais pas quand ça finit. Quand il y a beaucoup de commandes cela peut dépasser minuit. Elle lutte pour une limitation de la journée de travail.

6   Courting → 82

Son amie Sallie et elle fréquentent deux jeunes gens, mais ça ne débouche sur rien. On lui prête des journaux socialistes.

Feeling very lonely at the time I began to hang round the Socialist meetings in the public square. In this way I heard many speakers who afterwards became famous in the political world. I found that some of the young men I knew were also being attracted to the Socialist movement. From one of these I learned that there were several women speakers in it. One night he asked me to go with him to hear one of them. She was to speak the following Sunday at a small chapel known as ‘Duke’s Alley’ where the minister was sympathetic to the new cause. We found the chapel full when we arrived, but we managed to squeeze in and stand where we could both see and hear the speaker. She was Katherine St. John Conway, a slight girlish figure in a black frock with a Medici collar, and her hair swept back from her forehead; she looked as if she belonged to some religious order. Though not much older in years than myself, this girl was already a highly educated, well-trained personality.

Perhaps at first, I paid more attention to the speaker than to her speech, but heard enough to send me away with an inspiration which later sent me out to the street corners with the same message.

At my new lodgings, I found that one of the male boarders was a convinced and keen Socialist who was always ready to talk or argue on the subject. So my reading of The Clarion continued. My fellow lodger also lent me a number of books dealing with inequalities in the social system. This I was forced to admit, although not yet convinced of the soundness of the new teaching. Perhaps at first I was more interested in the propagandist than the propaganda. Apparently the interest was mutual and the friendship developed into an attachment which led to our marriage about two years later.

7   Marriage → 88

Part Three

8   Childbirth → 95

9   Among the Miners → 104

We were young and full of hope, thinking we had only to broadcast the Socialist message and the workers would flock to our banner.

P. 108.

10   A Speaker in Demand → 114

I asked [my mother] why she didn’t go with [my father] to vote and was surprised to be told that women were not eligible to vote. Later on I asked my uncle if he knew why women were not allowed to vote. He was more diplomatic than my mother, and tried to show me that as men’s work lay outside the home as breadwinners their needs and their outlook were wider than women’s, whose interests were chiefly centred on the home. He put this in simple language and I understood it, but I did not accept the idea of male superiority in judgment. I had a very poor opinion of the intellectual capacity of any of my brothers, so I tossed my head, and remarked airily, that if they could vote when we all grew up I should do the same ‘Law or no Law’. My uncle looked at me with a twinkle in his eye as he answered:

‘Aye, lass, I believe you will.’

So I did, and he lived to see it. But much water flowed under the bridge before it came to pass.

P. 114-115.

Early in 1901, the I.L.P. decided to run a Sunday meeting on the same lines as the one in Bolton, known as the Labour Church. There was already one in the neighbouring town of Hyde. Later, another was started in Stockport, and these three organizations were responsible for a vast amount of Socialist propaganda in the North. We also met in the summer for rambles and joint meetings. On one occasion, we startled the residents of Marple by assembling there in hundreds, and marching through the village singing ‘The Red Flag’, which was at that time regarded as the prelude to ‘red ruin and the breaking up of laws’. Actually, the Labour Church attracted a type of Socialist who was not satisfied with the stark materialism of the Marxist school, desiring warmth and colour in human lives: not just bread, but bread and roses, too. Perhaps we were not quite sound on economics as our Marxian friends took care to remind us, but we realized the injustice and ugliness of the present system. We had enough imagination to visualize the greater possibility for beauty and culture in a more justly ordered state. If our conception of Socialism owed more to Morris than to Marx, we were none the less sincere, and many found their belief strengthened by the help and inspiration of the weekly meetings held in these Northern towns.

P. 116.

[…] someone, Lewis Watson I think, suggested my giving the address at the Sunday meeting of the Labour Church. At first I felt this was impossible, as our audiences were used to the best speakers of the day — artists, actors, and politicians of all parties, as well as men like the Rev. Conrad Noel, and other clergymen who preached Christian Socialism from their own pulpits. Under pressure, however, I finally agreed, taking as my subject ‘The Women’s Cause’; I dealt with the inequalities between the sexes. I spent much time on the preparation of this address, writing it out in full and being very careful to verify all my facts. But I was terribly nervous when the time came to deliver it, and my woman chairman, also making her maiden speech, was even more nervous than I was. We both tried valiantly to conquer our stage fright and presently a strange thing happened to me. During the singing of the second hymn, I felt all my nervousness vanish and I rose to deliver the address as cool and collected as if I had been at home washing dishes. It was well received, especially by the women. My friend, Mrs. Watson, said:

‘Well, l’ve always longed to be able to speak, but I never shall again. You’ve said all I ever wanted to say.’

Later, I was invited to speak for the Hyde and Stockport Labour Churches on the same subject and I soon devised a method of reducing my matter to a sort of synopsis which enabled me to speak more freely. Invitations began to come in from other organizations; I found to my surprise that in a small way I was regarded as a popular speaker. This was really unexpected as I had never aspired to the platform, my secret ambition being to become a writer. My voice was not very strong and completely untrained, so my chief qualification as a speaker was the ability to arrange my ideas, present my case clearly, and avoid repetition — that worst of platform crimes. I had always a ready wit and a pretty good vocabulary, and I had no difficulty in answering questions, or in dealing quickly and effectively with hecklers, who thought a new and presumably nervous speaker was fair game for a sort of ‘woman baiting’, which I suppose was the equivalent to the bear-baiting and cockfighting of an earlier generation.

I soon became known as one of the recognized local speakers, and found myself presently called further afield.

P. 120-121

C’est à cette époque qu’elle rencontre à Manchester madame Pankhurst et sa fille.

11   Votes for Women → 125

That autumn saw the Conservative Government drawing to the close of its long term of office. The Liberals, making a bid for power, were promising many reforms, and the W.S.P.U. on Mrs. Pankhurst’s advice, decided to press ‘would-be’ Cabinet Ministers for some pledge in regard to Women’s Suffrage. It was decided to make the first attempt at a meeting to be held in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, in October 1906. Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were to ask the question of Sir Edward Grey, the principal speaker, and we were all to meet at the Pankhursts’ the following day, Saturday, to hear the results. Next morning, I heard that both girls had been arrested, and on arriving at Mrs. Pankhurst’s in the afternoon, it was to hear that both were in prison, having refused to pay the fine — 10 shillings for Christabel, and 5 shillings for Annie.

‘Never mind,’ said my friend, ‘we are making history,’ as we rose at four o’clock on a dark October morning to make the journey from Ashton-under-Lyne to Strangeways Prison, to greet Christabel on her release. When we arrived at the prison gates, we found a large crowd had assembled, among whom I remember were Dr. and Mrs. Garrett, Fred Bramley, Members of the Women’s Trade Union Council, Eva Gore Booth, and other members of the older suffrage societies, Sam Robinson, and a large contingent of the Manchester I.L.P. This latter branch had arranged a meeting in the Free Trade Hall for the same evening. On hearing of the arrest, Keir Hardie had wired to Mrs. Pankhurst offering help, and he came to the meeting to voice his protest. Leonard Hall, a well-known propagandist in the early I.L.P. who had himself been imprisoned for his share in the agitation for free speech in Boggart Hole Clough some years before, was in the Chair. The two girls who only a week before had been flung out of the hall like criminals were now the central figures on the platform, which was filled with sympathizers, while the vast audience which filled the area and gallery showed the keen interest evoked by the treatment meted out to the women the previous week. Twenty years of peaceful propaganda had not produced such an effect, nor had fifty years of patient pleading which had gone before. The smouldering resentment in women’s hearts burst into a flame of revolt. There began one of the strangest battles in all our English history. It was fitting indeed that it began on the site of Peterloo, where three-quarters of a century before, a vast crowd of men and women met to demand the franchise, only to be trampled down by the yeomanry sent out to disperse them. Some indeed had died there, but their spirits survived. The North was roused, and neither Sir Edward Grey nor his Party were ever able to damp down the fire they lit on that October evening in 1905.

P. 130-132

Part Four

12   The Great Experience → 135

13   Prison for a Night → 147

[…] but men are not so singleminded as women are; they are too much given to talking about their ideals, rather than working for them. Even as Socialists they seldom translate their faith into works, being still conservatives at heart, especially where women are concerned. Most of us who were married found that ‘Votes for Women’ were of less interest to our husbands than their own dinners. They simply could not understand why we made such a fuss about it.

P. 149.

14   Lobbying the House → 158

15   Breakdown → 162

Fin 1906 (à 35 ans), elle fait un nervous breakdown, un burn-out pourrait-on dire aujourd’hui. Outre une fatigue extrême, elle fait des épisodes de sérieuse dépression. Elle est reconnaissante envers les amies et amis qui l’ont entourée et aidée et elle est profondément blessée (p. 170) de n’avoir pas reçu le moindre signe de sympathie des Pankhurst, mère et filles.

16   Dickens in Petticoats → 171

Part Five

17   1914 → 183

18   Electioneering → 189

Then I tried my hand at literary competitions, and won several cash prizes, which emboldened me to submit articles to the local papers. The Manchester City News printed one describing the ‘Lovefeast’ at my old home, and later on accepted other matter. I owe the then Editor, Mr. Cuming Walters, a debt of gratitude for much kindly encouragement ; along with the cheque, there came always a few words of appreciation which I valued far more than the money.

Then I was asked by the local Methodists to write up the history of the ‘Lovefeast’ for a booklet which they thought would make an attractive souvenir. I suppose an experienced writer could have done this with little effort, but to me it seemed almost an impossible undertaking, as I scarcely knew how to set about it, but I reflected that others had written the history of their country, and even the history of the world, so surely even a very poor writer could write the history of one small event. But this event dated from a period when few people were able to write, so there were few reliable records to be found. I collected such information as was available and wrote it up as well as I could. Then a kindly friend typed it for me, and advised on the setting out of the matter. I found a printer who became very much interested in the project, his father, an old Methodist, having been a regular attender at the service. He suggested a photograph, so I took a photographer to my old home, and showed him where I thought he would get a good view. He produced a most realistic picture of the little hamlet. A few weeks later received my finished booklet neatly printed, with a delicate blue-grey cover. I’m sure that Dickens with all his fame never felt so proud as I did viewing that little pile of books, bearing my name, but I think he would have understood my bit of simple vanity. Only the truly great writer can enter into the feelings of the untaught, struggling against great odds to express themselves. The little booklet sold well and I felt that in a very small way I had become a writer.

P. 192-193.

Part Six

19   Libraries and Bath Houses → 203

As soon as I was elected to the Council, I found I had to devote several days a week to the work, and once more the tyranny of meals asserted itself, for strange to say, even when men are willing for their wives to take on public work, they never seem to understand that this cannot always be done between mealtimes. After I had risen early to get breakfast, clean up, make beds and prepare dinner, before getting out to a committee meeting which might last until one o’clock, ‘himself’ would enquire blandly:

‘Shall you be in for dinner?’ meaning of course ‘shall you be in to get it ready?’

However, he was not unreasonable, although he was obliged to dine out several days a week.

P. 203.

20   Fighting the ‘Moralists’ → 213

Part Seven

21   On the Bench → 225

Marriage tangles will continue so long as marriage robs women of their independence. Economic freedom for women, and easier divorce, would solve many difficulties. Most criminals are given a second chance, but the couple who marry in haste are expected to repent at leisure for the rest of their unhappy lives. Well-meaning magistrates who try to reconcile a couple who are definitely incompatible do a great disservice to humanity. Nothing is so dead as a dead love, even if there is no complication in the way of a third party.

P. 231.

Part Eight

22   The Kitchen Sink → 239

My readers may not find it a very thrilling story, but I hope it will reveal to them the early dreams, secret hopes and half-realized ambitions of one very ordinary woman. For all we know it may be the story of scores of the women one meets daily in the streets of the city bent on their monotonous errands, tramping from shop to shop in search of cheaper food or clothes, standing in the rain until the baker deigns to open his shop and graciously allow them to purchase one of the cakes which for some obscure reason may not be sold until a specified time, then running home in a fever lest Bill or Jack should get home before his tea is ready. For as the cynical G. B. S. put it:

‘No man is too poor to have a slave of his own.’

P. 239.

Looking back on my own life, I feel my greatest enemy, has been the cooking stove — a sort of tyrant who has kept, me in subjection. With the mangle and the sewing machine I am on fairly good terms, regarding them as friendly allies, but the stove ! The cooking, preparing and clearing away of four meals a day — which I do not want — are the things I hate with an undying hatred, and I would sell both my loaves any day to buy roses.

P. 240.

I have not yet seen any reason to change my earlier beliefs. I have seen my country engage in three wars, but I still believe war to be an evil thing, and the worst possible way of settling any dispute. I still desire a more equitable distribution of the world’s wealth, whether we call it Socialism or some more popular name. More intensely than ever I believe in woman’s right to equality, whether married or single, the right to her own individuality, her own soul. A lifetime of drudgery is too high a price to pay for following her natural instincts, a price no man is ever called upon to pay. A wider education would possibly have made me a more useful member of society, but even with the scanty training and few opportunities for self-development which were available seventy years ago, life to me has been a great adventure, a wonderful thing rounding itself off with time to sit back and rest. Perhaps I smile at the egotism of our earlier years when we were sure the world would fall to pieces without us. We know better now. The work we began, the cause we sponsored, the faith we held will all remain to be carried on, we hope, by abler hands than ours.

P. 241-242.
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