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Why I support the woman’s movement by the Rt. Hon. Dr. Edith Summerskill P.c.. President of the Six point group


This is the first of a series of article by members of the Six Point Group on


 Why I support the woman’s movement by the Rt. Hon. Dr. Edith Summerskill P.c.. President of the Six point group


Feb. 1950


I have been asked to say why I take part in the Woman’s movement; my reply is that when there is no longer discrimination against women I shall no longer take part in it.




There are now very few fields which are still closed to women, and on the face of it this may sound satisfactory enough. There are, however, few fields in which women are on the same level, and have the same opportunities, as the men with whom they work or compete. While women’s need for higher education, for instance, is recognized, the ratio of men to women at our two oldest universities is Oxford: 5—1, Cambridge 10—1. In the field of medicine the percentage of places available for women students in medical schools is very small. There are few women in the higher executive posts in the civil service, while in the last House of Commons, of the 640 members, only 22 are women.




While I believe in equality of opportunity for men and women I dislike deliberately fostered competition between the sexes – the ‘I can do anything better than you can’! attitude –for in a well-balanced community and family every member, whether man or woman, carries out whatever work they have most ability or are most fitted for, and have their own responsibilities . I have never advocated, for example, that women should undertake heavy work at the docks, any more than that men should take to lace-making for a livelihood.




It is both right and natural that women should fulfill themselves outside as well as inside the home, but it is not always easy to put this principle into practice. The man   who goes out to work in the morning can take it for granted that when he returns at night his bed will be made, his clothes washed and mended, his children cared for and his supper waiting; the girl who works in the same office will (unless she lives with her family) have her own housework, cooking washing, and mending to do when she gets back.




The twin dragons of custom and prejudice are still real enough. They have however, had some of their teeth drawn during the last half-century or so, and we should always remember with gratitude the great advances achieved by the first pioneers, many of whom knew real suffering, both mental and physical, but who believed so passionately in the cause for which they were working that they didn’t count the cost to themselves.




Today the Elizabeth garrett Andeson Hospital stands as a reminded of the faith and courage of a woman who knew that she was a person in her own right, and who was prepared to suffer they scorn and the ridicule (often the harder to bear) directed against anyone doing so scandalous and under lady like a thing as to insist upon a medical career. From time to time there are born women whose genius,  sense of duty or love for their own generation—women such as Elizabeth Fry , Florence Nightingale and madame curie – but there is too a galaxy of smaller stars; those women who before our time worked and fought to secure justice for their sisters and themselves, and those who are doing so now.




The yashmak-mentality—and both sexes can suffer from it—is something which is fast dying out as women  prove that, given the opportunity, they are as competent as their husbands and brothers in the fields of science, economics, medicine, teaching and the arts.


Collection 5SPG/J


Box  FL 538




3 other articles by Roxanne Arnold,


Irene E. Diffley


Clare Campbell (same box)