Women Guardians' banquet protest

Guardians's revolt heading

[From the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 8th, 1919]

Yesterday, at the meeting of Luton Board of Guardians, the lady members strongly protested against their exclusion from the town's peace banquet, to be held on the 21st inst. The Mayor presided.

Mrs Haith rose and said that she had been asked by the ladies on the Board to express to the Chairman (as Mayor) their great indignation that they had not been invited to the peace banquet on the 21st. The excuse was that owing to lack of room only gentlemen would be invited.

She reminded the Chairman that there were only five women elected to public bodies by the ratepayers, and they were members of that Board. She did not wish to deprecate in any way the work of the ladies of the War Pensions Committee, the clinics and kindred bodies, but she pointed out to him that they were not elected, and the lady Guardians who were elected had equal rights with the gentlemen on the Board, and ought to be given the opportunity of sharing the honours conferred by the Mayor of the town.

It was not that she or the other ladies were particularly anxious to actually attend at the banquet but they thought they ought to have the right of acceptance or refusal.

The Mayor said that if he made an explanation right away there might be no need for a discussion. He was prepared to invite members of the public bodies, but limited accommodation and the fact that the committee felt they wanted a representative gathering of the commercial men of the town caused them to decide to have gentlemen only. There could be no more than 400 or 500 present.

There was no reflection on the lady members of the Board. As far as he was concerned, he wanted to invite ladies, but it seemed to be simply a matter of restricted accommodation.

Mrs Haith: “But have you invited the other gentlemen Guardians?” The Mayor: “No one has had an invitation.”

Mrs Haith: “Are they going to have?” The Mayor: “I don't know.” Mrs Lewis: “Yes I know they are.”

Mrs Haith: “If they have an invitation we should have one also.”

The Mayor mentioned that the ladies would not be overlooked in another direction.

Mrs Attwood, speaking for a great number of ratepayers, said there was always work for women to do. She knew it always meant working if she got an invitation. If there was room for them to work, there was room for enjoyment, and she did not believe in being left out in the cold. She was not speaking for herself, but for the women of Luton.

They had taken a great interest in war affairs, and it was a slight on women in Luton in general. She did not want the Mayor or anybody to take it as a personal matter, but it was of public importance. If they did the work they should join in the pleasure, and if there were to be several hundred at the banquet, why not have legitimate workers? When it was a question of pleasure the women were left at the bottom of the bill. They ought to put a notice up: “No women or dogs admitted.”

Mrs Haith said they took exception to the advertisement in the Saturday Telegraph. She was about to proceed when the Mayor held that the discussion was out of order.

Mrs Lewis next rose to speak, and when the Mayor loudly ruled her out of order, she retorted: “I refuse to be ruled out of order. As a Guardian I have a right to speak.”

The Mayor (loudly): “I must ask the Board to stand by me.” Mrs Lewis: “Are you speaking as Mayor or as Chairman of the Board?” The Mayor: “I am speaking as Chairman of the Board. Next business, Mr Clerk.”

Mrs Lewis warmly said that she must move the adjournment of the Board because no member should be cried down when having a right to speak. Mrs Haith quickly seconded, but the Mayor ignored this, and said: “Get on with the next business.”

The Clerk: “What is the next business?” Mrs Lewis: “The Board is adjourned. Can we move the adjournment of the Board, Mr Clerk?”

The Mayor: “You can make any representation to the Town Council or any other body, but this Board doesn't decide this.”

The Rev F. C. Mahoney: “It is an extraneous matter altogether.”

The Clerk advised that the question was out of order at that Board. He sympathised with the ladies, but it was not a matter for the Board of Guardians.

Mrs Lewis: “It affects us as Guardians.” Rev Mahoney: “You must report to the Council and not the Guardians.”

The Mayor continued to call for the next business during the whole of this talk, and eventually the ladies, with murmurs of disapproval, gave way.