Alice Maud Chase (1880-1968): Politics, Protest & Class

The nineteenth and twentieth century was a time of great political reform but also a struggle for inclusion. Political reform was brought about through numerous Acts which affected different genders and economic groups. Some working-class men got the vote in 1867, while most others were 1884, and later still, some men did not attain the right to vote until after World War I. With regards to women, they too only got the vote in 1918 and it was restricted to women over thirty only. This was finally equalised in 1928 – when women were given the vote on the same terms as men. Everyone over twenty-one could vote. But what could possibly be considered as most significant of this era was the fact that the working-classes came ‘into their own’ and were recognisable as a sector of society for the first time. Of both the nineteenth and twentieth century’s Alice Maud Chase has an opinion regarding the political advances made – we would not expect anything less from her!

Mr. Gladstone PM
Mr. Gladstone

Alice is a strict Liberal – her political persuasion is not to be debated.Liberal party logo She makes her political influence crystal clear from the outset of her memoir when she explains that the General Election of 1885/1886 ‘went our way’ (p.17). We were Liberals and we were all very glad when Mr. Gladstone became Prime Minister’ (p.17). Considering Alice would have only been five or six at the time of the election it seems unlikely that she backed the Liberal party’s ideas with the vigour that she writes about them with in 1960 (when she wrote her memoir). It is probable that she was brought up to be a Liberal of which she has evidently endorsed.

Pie Chart Election ResultsPie chart seats results

 

 

 

 

 

‘This was the first General Election after the Third Reform Act, which gave the working class the vote in rural areas and brought in a new set of constituencies. The Liberals won most seats but not an overall majority’. [1]

Although the election polled in the Maud-Moody family’s favour, Alice explains the unfairness of the voting system at the time, which gives insight into her social status. ‘There were quite a lot of rich men who had a vote for every house they owned… some men had half a dozen. Of course, it was very unfair, but no one seemed to care about the unfairness of anything’ (p.17). Alice is from a respectable working-class family and she does not hesitate to point out that the unfairness of the 1885/1886 voting system was corrected through the Great Parliament Act of 1906 and she highlights the ‘things it did for the common man’ (p.53). The 1906 Act did away with the multiple vote system, made it compulsory for elections to be held on one day, curbed the power of the House of Lords and legalised that any Bill passed in the Commons twice could become law and receive the King’s signature without the consent of the Lords (p.53). Alice was clearly on the same side as the masses and notes the warning the late King Edward gave to his ‘wise and liberal-minded’ son King Edward VII; ‘that the will of the people must prevail or even the throne itself might be in danger’ (p.53).

The Great Parliament Act of 1906 which Alice explains ‘did as much for English liberty as “Magna-Carta” did in 1215’ (p.42) was synonymous with the ‘great upheaval in English politics’ that occurred between 1905 and 1909 (p.41). Alice explains of those years; ‘people were sick of poverty, sick of working until they were seventy or eighty years of age, only to die in the workhouse and be buried in a pauper’s grave by the parish at the end’ (p.41). Alice along with the rest of the country at the time or so it would appear, was supportive of reform; ‘a certain Mr. David Lloyd George arose in Parliament and brought in a Bill to give all old people over seventy the huge sum of five shillings a week pension’ (p.41). She sarcastically juxtaposes this clearing up; ‘a certain gentleman who was leader of the House of Lords, and whose annual income was fifty thousand pounds a year (really £50,000 a year) said in the Lords that it would undermine the independence of the British people, and sap the life of the nation’ (p.41). Smugly, Alice ends ‘so the nation went to the polls and put in the Liberals with an… overwhelming majority’ and the Liberals went on to pass; ‘the Old Age Pensions Bill, the National Insurance Act, the Parliament Act, the Children’s Act; in fact, all the Acts of the present Welfare State were begun in 1906 by the Great Liberal Government. All the nation enjoys to-day was won for them by the Liberals, and the present Labour Party had no hand or part in it and the working man owes them nothing. Always remember that; for the Labour Party or any Socialist Party builds nothing, it only pulls down’ (p.41). Clearly Alice saw the Liberal party as playing a key role in bringing about the changes which led to the Welfare state. And there is no debating that she was right about the importance of the reforms brought in, most significantly – pensions and national insurance.

Alice is clearly in favour of social reform and has the interests of the masses at heart probably because her and her family represent the masses. Her support for reform is further shown through her opinions regarding World War I and the positive effect it had on society. Alice notes that the Great war of 1914-1918 put a stop to poverty as it ensured ‘work and bread for all, widows and orphans were cared for and National Insurance and the DOLE came into being’ (p.50). Furthermore, she explains ‘women came into their own’ as the Great War not only highlighted the capabilities of women who stepped into male roles during the war but also reformed the suffragette movement too, which she describes as a ‘perfect nuisance’ when they first came about (p.54). It is not surprising that Alice views the suffragette movement in this light considering that in the early twentieth century the Liberal government opposed the suffragette movement. Plus many suffragette activities were aimed at the Liberal government and Members of Parliament in an attempt to get them to change their mind. Alice proudly notes, with an added sense of smugness that she was right about the suffragette movement; ‘“Women’s Inferiority” collapsed before the great fact that “anything you can do, we can do better”. So first came “enfranchisement”… Then by degrees other privileges followed’ as a result of the war (p.54). Evidently, Alice puts down women getting the vote to the work they had done in the war – rather than political action taken by women before the war. Alice praises such reforms and even hints that she hopes one day women will enter into the Church of England too ‘I expect that will come in time and, when it does, there will be a great revival of Christianity’ (p.54).

Suffragette movement 1
Suffragette Movement

It is clearly evident that Alice does not hold back her opinions regarding all aspects of life – politics she explains with possibly more vigour and enthusiasm than anything else, bar religion. Probably, Alice felt that politics would be what the future reader would want to read about as it was considered to be the ‘proper’ thing to include in a personal memoir. Or maybe Alice really did feel as passionately about politics as she makes herself out to in her memoir. The latter is possible as she explains that she did not discuss politics with her friend ‘because I was Liberal and she was Tory’ (p.37). Maybe Alice felt that it would have sparked a debate that may have cost her friendship because she was so strong minded and opinionated, so as a result Alice kept stum.

Finally, Alice closes her memoir by praising all the ‘great’ things that the Liberal government implemented; ‘of that great Liberal Government and all the good it did there is no room to tell’ (p.54). She juxtaposes this with a final few words on the opposition; the ‘loud-mouthed Socialists are only building their flimsy reputations on the solid, good foundations laid down by the good Liberals – Herbert Asquith, David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill’ who were ironically the three main targets of the women’s suffrage in the pre-war years (p.54). A definite final reminder of her unaltered, Liberal, political persuasion?

david lloyd george
David Lloyd George
Herbert Asquith
Herbert Asquith
winston_churchill
Winston Churchill

References: 

[1] – ‘A Vision of Britain Through Time’. http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/. 2009. Web. Accessed 16 April 2013.

Images:

Image 1: Liberal Party Logo – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Party_(UK)

Image 2: Mr. Gladstone PM – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Ewart_Gladstone

Image 3: 1885 General Election Pie Chart  http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/elections/election_page.jsp?election=1885-12-18

Image 4: Suffragette Movement – http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/history/britsuff/suffrage/revision/1/

Image 5: Herbert Asquith – http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/image/?id=UGSP00410

Image 6: David Lloyd George – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Lloyd_George

Image 7: Winston Churchill – http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/people/winston_churchill

 

 

 

 

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