Frederick Lawrence, the son of Alfred Lawrence, the owner of a building company, was born in London on 28th December 1871. His wealthy parents were Unitarians and members of the Liberal Party. Frederick was educated at Eton (1985-1891) and one of his teachers wrote: "He is certainly a real good sterling lad full of every manly quality. Wherever he goes he will do honour to himself and to all who who are for him among whom I reckon myself one of the first."
Lawrence also did well at Trinity College. After three years studying maths, he stayed on for a further three to read natural sciences. Eventually he achieved a Double First and became President of the Union. According to Fran Abrams: "In 1897 he was made a fellow of his college and seemed set for an academic career. But other influences were already at work. Fred's political consciousness was being honed through the contacts he was making at Cambridge." This included Alfred Marshall, who argued that the knowledge of economics should be applied to help the poor. While studying to become a lawyer, Lawrence gave free legal advice at the Nonconformist settlement Mansfield House in the slums of East London. He also worked with Charles Booth collecting information on poverty in the area (Life and Labour of the People, Volume IX).
Lawrence was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1899. The death of his elder brother in 1900 made him wealthy, and in the following year he was selected as the Liberal Party candidate for North Lambeth. While working with the poor Frederick Lawrence met the social worker, Emmeline Pethick. The couple fell in love but Emmeline refused to marry Frederick because he did not share her socialist beliefs. It was not until 1901, when Frederick had been converted to socialism, that Emmeline agreed to marry him. On marriage, he added his wife's name to his own and joined the Labour Party.
Soon after her marriage Emmeline thought she was pregnant. Frederick wrote that the birth "will make us both extra happy". He added: "Isn't it splendid dear. My heart just singing and singing and won't keep quiet." However, Emmeline suffered a miscarriage and received news that she could not have children. Frederick wrote to her: "I am to you a splendid husband and you to me a splendid wife and it is enough!"
Pethick-Lawrence became a close friend of James Keir Hardie. He later commented: "He was, in fact, the exact opposite of the uncouth and unpractical iconoclast, which those whose privileges he threatened painted him. He was the most sensitive person I have ever known in my life, and if he was unconventional it was because he had to be, in order to achieve his purpose."
In 1901 Frederick Pethick-Lawrence became the owner of The Echo, a left-wing evening newspaper. He recruited friends from the socialist movement such as Ramsay MacDonald and H. N. Brailsford to write for the newspaper. Frederick also published and edited the monthly, Labour Record and Review (1905-07). Emmeline later argued: "His outstanding qualities of intellect, balanced judgment and practical administration in business and finance became the rock upon which I have built, since then, the structure of my life."
In 1906 James Keir Hardie introduced Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to Emmeline Pankhurst. As a result Emmeline joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). The organisation did not allow men to become members but Frederick used his legal training to represent the WSPU in court. He later stated that he did this to prevent a "sex war". According to his biographer, Brian Harrison: "He provided much needed level-headed financial, organizational, and legal expertise, and published extensively for the cause. Already in 1906 he was supporting suffragettes in the law courts, guiding them in self-defence, and standing bail for more than 100 of them." Pethick-Lawrence also pledged £1,000 a year to the WSPU.
In 1907 Frederick and Emmeline started the journal Votes for Women. Between 1908 and 1909 the circulation of the newspaper to 30,000. The Pethick-Lawrence's large home in London became the office of the WSPU. It was also used as a kind of hospital where women made ill by their prison experiences could recover their strength before embarking on further militant acts. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence served six terms of imprisonment for her political activities during this period.
In 1912 the WSPU organised a new campaign that involved the large-scale smashing of shop-windows. Frederick and Emmeline both disagreed with this strategy but Christabel Pankhurst ignored their objections. As soon as this wholesale smashing of shop windows began, the government ordered the arrest of the leaders of the WSPU. Christabel escaped to France but Frederick and Emmeline were arrested, tried and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. They were also successfully sued for the cost of the damage caused by the WSPU.
They both went on hunger strike and had to face the full rigours of forcible feeding twice a day for several days. He later recalled the experience in his memoirs, Fate Has Been Kind (1943): "The head doctor, a most sensitive man, was visibly distressed by what he had to do. It certainly was an unpleasant and painful process and a sufficient number of warders had to be called in to prevent my moving while a rubber tube was pushed up my nostril and down into my throat and liquid was poured through it into my stomach. Twice a day thereafter one of the doctors fed me in this way. I was not allowed to leave my cell in the hospital and for the most part I had to stay in bed. There was nothing to do but to read; and the days were very long and went very slowly."
Christabel Pankhurst later recorded: "Mother and Mr. and Mrs. Pethick Lawrence went on hunger-strike. The Government retaliated by forcible feeding. This was actually carried out in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence. The doctors and wardresses came to Mother's cell armed with forcible-feeding apparatus. Forewarned by the cries of Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence Mother received them with all her majestic indignation. They fell back and left her. Neither then nor at any time in her log and dreadful conflict with the government was she forcibly fed."
After Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence were released from prison they began to speak openly about the possibility that this window-smashing campaign would lose support for the WSPU. At a meeting in France, Christabel told Emmeline and Frederick about the proposed arson campaign. When Emmeline and Frederick objected, Christabel arranged for them to be expelled from the the organisation. As Brian Harrison has pointed out: "The Pethick-Lawrences, concealing their private bitterness at how they had been treated, continued to edit Votes for Women, gathered the Votes for Women Fellowship around it, and in 1914 eventually merged it with the United Suffragists, a bridge-building body aiming to draw together suffragists of both sexes, and to unite militants with non-militants."
Fran Abrams the author of Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003) wrote: "Even the split with the WSPU did not end of this agony - the Pethick-Lawrences were still facing bankruptcy proceedings. An auction of their belongings was held at The Mascot, but raised only £300 towards their £1,100 court costs even though many friends arrived to buy personal possessions and give them back to the couple. Even the auctioneer returned to them a trinket he had bought as a keepsake. The rest of the costs were later taken from Fred's estate, plus a further £5,000 for repairs to shop windows damaged in the raids. Fortunately he had deep pockets and did not have to sell his home."
At the end of July, 1914, it became clear to the British government that the country was on the verge of war with Germany. Four senior members of the government, David Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Charles Trevelyan (Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Education), John Burns (President of the Local Government Board) and John Morley (Secretary of State for India), were opposed to the country becoming involved in a European war. They informed the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, that they intended to resign over the issue. When war was declared on 4th August, three of the men, Trevelyan, Burns and Morley, resigned, but Asquith managed to persuade Lloyd George, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, to change his mind.
The day after war was declared, Charles Trevelyan began contacting friends about a new political organisation he intended to form to oppose the war. This included two pacifist members of the Liberal Party, Norman Angell and E. D. Morel, and Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the Labour Party. A meeting was held and after considering names such as the Peoples' Emancipation Committee and the Peoples' Freedom League, they selected the Union of Democratic Control (UDC).
Pethick-Lawrence was also opposed to Britain's involvement in the First World War and joined the UDC. He later recalled: "I joined the Union of Democratic Control and became its treasurer. As its name implies, it was founded to insist that foreign policy should in future, equally with home policy, be subject to the popular will. The intention was that no commitments should be entered into without the peoples being fully informed and their approval obtained. By a natural transition, the objects of the Union came to include the formation of terms of a durable settlement, on the basis of which the war might be brought an an end."
Other members of the UDC included Arthur Ponsonby, J. A. Hobson, Charles Buxton, Norman Angell, Arnold Rowntree, Philip Morrel, Morgan Philips Price, George Cadbury, Helena Swanwick, Fred Jowett, Ramsay, Tom Johnston, Philip Snowden, Arthur Henderson, David Kirkwood, William Anderson, Isabella Ford, H. H. Brailsford, Israel Zangwill, Bertrand Russell, Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Konni Zilliacus, Margaret Sackville and Morgan Philips Price.Over the next couple of years the UDC became the leading anti-war organisation in Britain.
Pethick-Lawrence was treasurer of the Union of Democratic Control(UDC) and in the spring of 1917 was chosen as the organisation's candidate in the South Aberdeen by-election. Pethick-Lawrence obtained only 333 votes whereas the government representative won with 3,283 votes. Although he was forty-six years old, the government attempted to conscript Pethick-Lawrence in 1917. He refused but instead of being imprisoned he was assigned to a farm in Sussex until the end of the war.
In the 1923 General Election Pethick-Lawrence won the Leicester seat for the Labour Party. He had the satisfaction of beating his old political opponent, Winston Churchill. Although an expert on economics, Pethick-Lawrence was a poor orator and he failed to shine in debates in the House of Commons. As a result, he was not given a post in the 1924 Labour Government.
After the Labour Party victory in the 1929 General Election, Ramsay MacDonald appointed Pethick-Lawrence as Financial Secretary under Philip Snowden. Pethick-Lawrence disagreed with Snowden's decision to cut public spending and in 1931 resigned from the government. Like most Labour MPs who opposed MacDonald's National Government, Pethick-Lawrence lost his seat in the 1931 General Election.
In 1931 G.D.H. Cole created the Society for Socialist Inquiry and Propaganda (SSIP). This was later renamed the Socialist League. Pethick-Lawrence joined the organisation and other members included William Mellor, Charles Trevelyan, Stafford Cripps, H. N. Brailsford, D. N. Pritt, R. H. Tawney, Frank Wise, David Kirkwood, Clement Attlee, Neil Maclean, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Alfred Salter, Jennie Lee, Gilbert Mitchison, Harold Laski, Frank Horrabin, Ellen Wilkinson, Aneurin Bevan, Ernest Bevin, Arthur Pugh, Michael Foot and Barbara Betts. Margaret Cole admitted that they got some of the members from the Guild Socialism movement: "Douglas and I recruited personally its first list drawing upon comrades from all stages of our political lives." The first pamphlet published by the SSIP was The Crisis (1931) was written by Cole and Bevin.
According to Ben Pimlott, the author of Labour and the Left (1977): "The Socialist League... set up branches, undertook to promote and carry out research, propaganda and discussion, issue pamphlets, reports and books, and organise conferences, meetings, lectures and schools. To this extent it was strongly in the Fabian tradition, and it worked in close conjunction with Cole's other group, the New Fabian Research Bureau." The main objective was to persuade a future Labour government to implement socialist policies.
Pethick-Lawrence concern at the emergence of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany resulted in rejecting pacifism in favour of collective security through the League of Nations. As Labour candidate for Edinburgh East at the General Election of 1935 he won 43 per cent of the votes cast in a three-cornered contest. On his arrival in the House of Commons he immediately attacked the Hoare–Laval pact.
Pethick-Lawrence won his seat in the 1945 General Election and the new British prime minister, Clement Attlee, appointed him as Secretary of State for India. Along with Stafford Cripps, Pethick-Lawrence was involved in the negotiations that took place in India during 1947. When Indian Independence was achieved, Pethick-Lawrence served as chairman of the East and West Friendship Council.
According to his biographer, Brian Harrison: "His mind combined opposites: on the one hand rationalistic and in many respects radical, he was at the same time highly sentimental (especially in religion and personal relations) and also traditionalist - proud of British institutions, eager to keep up with old friends, and an enthusiast for commemorating anniversaries. His mathematical mind might have led him to take black and white views in politics, and yet he was a lifelong enthusiast for compromise and for the British institutions which encouraged it."
Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence remained active in politics until 1950 when she had a serious accident that left her immobilized. Frederick looked after Emmeline until she died of a heart attack at her home at Gomshall, Surrey, on 11th March 1954. He wrote to a friend: "I feel a bit dazed. It is as though I was at a violin concerto with the violinist absent."
Pethick-Lawrence married Helen Craggs, a former leading figure in the WSPU, in February 1957. He wrote to a friend, that Emmeline had told him the greatest compliment a man could pay to his dead wife was to marry again, "so I feel I have her blessing in advance".
Frederick Pethick-Lawrence died on 10th September, 1961.
I was in some ways more childish, and in some ways more grown-up, than my schoolmates. Completely ignorant as I was of their world, I was shocked at the language used by the boys. Their devices to shirk work and deceive the masters seemed to me silly and immoral. Though I remember having a fight with a boy soon after I got there, in general I failed to stand up for myself, and therefore could be bullied with impunity. I was frankly bored with the way the classics were taught, and I found myself in agreement with a remark, made by one of the boys, that hard work was systematically discouraged at Eton.
Latin and Greek occupied most of our time and I found them deadly dull. No doubt at that age my mind was most sterile soil in which to implant the seeds of literature. But I cannot help thinking that the worst method was adopted of arousing our interest. If we were doing a Greek play, for instance, we got through some 20 lines only in each lesson; and all the stress was placed on our knowing the cases of the nouns and tenses of the verbs. At this rate we scarcely ever completed the play before the end of the 'half'. Even the literal meaning of the sentences generally escaped me, and of the tremendous human issues of the drama I never had the foggiest notion. I suspect that only a tiny minority of my class-mates would have a different tale to tell.
On March 18 (1891) the new Lower Schools were opened and a statute of Queen Victoria was unveiled by the Empress Frederick. The Queen herself also came in person to the ceremony. The captain of the school was given an address to present to the Queen, and I had one to present to the Empress.
Another illustrious visitor to whom I was presented was the Rt. Hon. W. E. Gladstone. He came to Eton to lecture on Homer, a relaxation-subject in which he took great interest, though his views on it were considered by the orthodox to be unsound. The headmaster invited me to dine with him and I remember, talked a great deal throughout the meal about the merits of sliding seats in the school boats. He was already in advanced years and was evidently rather deaf, as he occasionally made asides to his wife in audible tones which we were not intended to overhear. But his eye was still keen and his face bespoke a personality accustomed to make decisions and to be obeyed.
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century wealth had multiplied enormously in the British Isles. Mass production as we know it today had scarcely begun, but large-scale competitive industry working at feverish pressure was turning out an ever-increasing stream of communities. The wealth was abominately distributed. A few 'captains of industry' made great fortunes. Many more of the upper middle class had incomes which enabled them to live in comfort in town and country houses and travel to the Continent. But at least a third of the people lived miserably. They worked long hours.
Their food, even when sufficient, was monotonous and of poor quality. Their clothes were generally ill-fitting and, from long use, threadbare and dirty. Their houses were in mean streets, badly built, and frequently verminous. Worst of all, they had no security. Accident, sickness or a spell of unemployment plunged them into dire poverty and debt. Old Age broke up their homes; and husbands and wives, who had up and then fulfilled their marriage vows to cherish one another, found that the workhouse anticipated death in tearing them apart.
My wife and I saw a great deal of Keir Hardie in those days; for he had rooms in a tiny house in an old-world court behind Chancery Lane, and he often dropped in to see us in Clement's Inn. Closer acquaintance confirmed the impression I had formed when I met him for the first time at Mansfield House. He was, in fact, the exact opposite of the uncouth and unpractical iconoclast, which those whose privileges he threatened painted him. He was the most sensitive person I have ever known in my life, and if he was unconventional it was because he had to be, in order to achieve his purpose.
As for the other charge that he was unpractical, it is true that he dreamed dreams of a more just world. But a very large number of those dreams have already come true; and if any man is entitled to be accounted the principal architect of the better order it is he. He founded the I.L.P. and from it built up the Labour Party and inspired both with his spirit. At the time his worth was only appreciated by a few, and I am happy to have been one of the number.
The principal motive of men's opposition to woman suffrage was undoubtedly fear of the use to which women would put the vote if they got it. Men, it was said, were governed by reason, women by emotion. If once the franchise were thrown open to women, they would speedily obtain a majority control and force an emotional policy on the country. In particular it was said (though less openly) that on sex matters women were narrower and harder than men; and that if they were given power they would impose impossibly strict standards of morality, and endeavour to enforce them by penalties for non-observance. A further fear was that, if women came to share the political, intellectual, and occupational life of men they would lose their special charm and attraction. A slightly different motive was the innate love of domination. This was sometimes expressed in the blunt rejoinder: "Votes for Women, indeed; we shall be asked next to give votes to our horses and dogs."
That autumn (1906) saw, the beginning of the Monday afternoon 'At Homes', which went on continuously year in year out during the militant campaign. They were intended principally for women, but men were not excluded. Strategy was explained, militant demonstrations were announced, a collection was taken and members were enrolled. I generally came and sold literature - books, pamphlets and, later, the Votes for Women newspaper. When the attendance grew too big to be accounted in the office in Clement's Inn the venue was changed to the Portman Rooms in Baker Street, and later to the Queen's Hall.
At the end of October 1906 events occurred which brought me into far closer association with the movement. My wife was arrested. She had gone, with other members of the Women's Social and Political Union to the House of Commons on the day that Parliament opened; and in accordance with a preconcerted plan she had jumped up on to one of the seats in the Central Lobby and started to address the M.P.s and others who were present. Pulled down and bundled out into the street, along with a number of other women who had made a similar protest, she had tried to re-enter the House and had been taken into custody.
I went with her to the Court next morning, and she surrendered to her bail, together with nine other women, including Mrs. Cobden Sanderson, daughter of Richard Cobden. The magistrate bound them all over to enter into their own recognizances to keep the peace for six months. This they unanimously refused to do. In default, they were committed to prison for two months. They were accordingly packed off the Holloway.
I determined at once that during my wife's absence her side of the work should not suffer. I agreed to look after the finances, and at a public meeting that very afternoon I made an appeal for funds. By way of setting the ball rolling I promised to contribute £10 for every day of her imprisonment.
May I respectfully ask if it is not possible to break up the Suffragette movement by taking action against Mr and Mrs Pethick Lawrence for conspiring and inciting to serious breaches of the peace. It can very easily be proved that Mr Pethick Lawrence went to East Ham on one occasion and hired a number of women at two shillings per day plus their expenses. These women were drilled into their work by Mr Lawrence and his assistants and took part in very disorderly scenes... These women (and many of the women agitators who are paid £2-£5 per week) know nothing of politics or Votes for Women questions and are paid for creating disturbance at command of the leaders.
I too adopted the hunger-strike. The first day I was all hot and bothered about it and got a headache and slept badly. The second day I took myself in hand and found out that what usually passes for hunger is better described as the 'food habit', and that if not appeased it soon passes away. I slept well that night. The third day the authorities discovered what I was doing and carried me away to hospital and told me that they were going to feed me by force.
The head doctor, a most sensitive man, was visibly distressed by what he had to do. It certainly was an unpleasant and painful process and a sufficient number of warders had to be called in to prevent my moving while a rubber tube was pushed up my nostril and down into my throat and liquid was poured through it into my stomach. Twice a day thereafter one of the doctors fed me in this way. I was not allowed to leave my cell in the hospital and for the most part I had to stay in bed. There was nothing to do but to read; and the days were very long and went very slowly.
Mrs. Pankhurst invited us to her room. She then told us that she had decided to sever our connection with the WSPU. We saw, then, that the breach between ourselves and the Pankhursts was complete and irrevocable. There was, further, no appeal against our exclusion from the WSPU. Mrs. Pankhurst was the acknowledged autocrat of the Union. We had ourselves supported her in acquiring this position several years previously; we could not dispute it now.
Thus ended our personal association with two of the most remarkable people I have ever known. In some ways they were widely different. Christabel, with her girlish figure, her penetrating brain, her inexorable logic, and her power of acute political analysis, appealed particularly to the young of both sexes. Mrs. Pankhurst, with her warm Manx blood, her rich experience of life, and her moving voice, whose modulations she knew so well how to control, touched the hearts and won the sympathies of those who would have been unaffected by a merely rational approach.
Even the split with the WSPU did not end of this agony - the Pethick-Lawrences were still facing bankruptcy proceedings. An auction of their belongings was held at The Mascot, but raised only £300 towards their £1,100 court costs even though many friends arrived to buy personal possessions and give them back to the couple. Even the auctioneer returned to them a trinket he had bought as a keepsake. The rest of the costs were later taken from Fred's estate, plus a further £5,000 for repairs to shop windows damaged in the raids. Fortunately he had deep pockets and did not have to sell his home.
My own personal attitude was highly critical. The war seemed to me to have started on the Continent without any sufficient cause and to mark a complete breakdown of statesmanship all round. I strongly resented the clandestine way in which Sir Edward Grey had in effect committed the British people in advance behind their back. But I to, in spite of my loathing of war, felt that, granted the circumstances as they were at the twelfth hour, a refusal to come to the help of France and Belgium would have been a breach of faith.
I joined the Union of Democratic Control and became its treasurer. As its name implies, it was founded to insist that foreign policy should in future, equally with home policy, be subject to the popular will. The intention was that no commitments should be entered into without the peoples being fully informed and their approval obtained. By a natural transition, the objects of the Union came to include the formation of terms of a durable settlement, on the basis of which the war might be brought an an end.
At first we were able to hold public meetings everywhere and state our case, but as time went on, an organised opposition was worked up by a section of the Press, which represented us as opponents of the brave men who were fighting the country's battles. Our meetings in London were accordingly broken up. I remember one in particular where, as chairman, I was thrown from the platform. In the middle of the struggle a young soldier called out: "Don't hurt the old man." I heard the epithet with some amusement. I was only 43.
There is a choice between two policies. The first is peace by negotiation, the second is going on with the war for months and months - perhaps for years. Peace by negotiation does not mean going to the Kaiser and asking what terms of peace he will graciously give us, and accepting those terms. That would be peace by surrender. Peace by negotiations means a peace in which Great Britain and her allies would insist upon certain irreducible terms and come to a settlement with regard to the others.
It was not until the middle of 1918 that my age group came within the Conscription Act and I was called up. I was then 46. Believing as I did that the war could and should be brought to an end by a negotiated peace, I could not very well go out to fight for Mr. Lloyd-George's "knock-out blow". I accordingly went before a tribunal in Dorking as a conscientious objector. The Clerk to the Council told the tribunal that he knew I had held my views for a considerable time, and the military representative said that he did not particularly "want this man". So I was awarded exemption, conditional on my doing work of national importance, and work on the land was indicated.
The German High Command asked for an armistice, and at eleven o'clock on the morning of November 11th, 1918, the order to cease fire was given. In London as the hour struck the whole population by common impulse left their workshops, their offices, and their houses and came out on to the street. I mingled with the dense throng. There was no sign of frothy exultation. The one thought appeared to be thankfulness that the killing had come to an end, that loved ones could now return home, that hatred could be banished, and the work of destruction was ended, and the constructive rebuilding of the world could begin.
Susan Lawrence came to see me. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, was concerned with the proposed cuts in unemployment relief, which she regarded as dreadful. We discussed the whole situation and agreed that, if the Cabinet decided to accept the cuts in their entirety, we would both resign from the Government.
At last I got my summons from the Prime Minster, and went to Downing Street. We went in and were sat round a table. MacDonald proceeded to address us. He gave a short account of the crisis, told us that the Cabinet had broken up and that he was forming a National Government with Conservative and Liberal colleagues. He closed the meeting abruptly, saying he had important business to transact. As we filed past to say good-bye, he detained me for a moment, and said he thought I might be willing to stay with the new Government; but I declined the suggestion.