Edith Morley and the Letter to The Times

In my post about the opening ceremony of the Great Hall, I expressed surprise that Edith Morley treated the exclusion of women, including herself, with amusement rather than anger.

Another of these ‘lighter incidents’ that was given similar treatment in her ‘Reminiscences’ (p. 143) concerns her first letter to The Times. Here’s how she starts the story:

‘Nor must I forget ‘my’ first letter to The Times. Mrs [Emmeline] Pankhurst wanted publicity for some aspect of the suffrage question and wrote a letter which she thought my title might get accepted. So signing it with my initials only, I obediently copied and sent it off.’

As a result, on the day of publication a Times journalist turned up at the London Road Campus wanting her opinion on the issue in question. The interview never took place however:

‘When he heard that I was the Professor Morley he had taken so much trouble to track down, his language was not exactly parliamentary: ‘Sold again’ and a bang on the table were his parting shots as he stormed out of the room without troubling to elicit my opinions.’ (p. 143).

1st page enlarged
Title page of the most heavily annotated of Morley’s three original typescripts of her memoir. On this one she has added the subtitle by hand (University of Reading Special Collections)

As well as the way this incident is treated so lightheartedly, it is one of several occasions in the memoir where I am surprised by what  Morley neglects to tell us. Even though she insists that her memoir is not an autobiography, and self-deprecatingly refers to it as ‘these rambling reminiscences of my activities’ (p. 182), I would have expected her to say something about the details of the letter, the year of publication, the precise topic, and (if I have identified it correctly) the reaction that it provoked.

The Times Digital Archive contains all the letters addressed to the editor of The Times during Edith Morley’s lifetime, but I was puzzled by her statement that she had signed it with her initials only. If the published letter only ended with E.( J.) M., how had the journalist identified her so quickly? I searched the archive using both her name and her initials, and the earliest letter that I could find was published on 2nd May 1914. It concerned the Home Secretary’s proposals in The Criminal Justice Administration Bill and it ended with Morley’s full signature:

‘E. J. MORLEY (Member of the Penal Reform Association). University College, Reading, April 30.’

The letter draws attention to alleged flaws in four clauses of the bill. These raised issues concerning women in general and for militant activists in particular. It is, therefore, exactly the kind of topic that Emmeline Pankhurst might have asked Professor Morley to give her name to.

The claims by Morley/Pankhurst are these:

    • Clause 10 enabled fines to be paid from the sentenced persons’ belongings, or from money they had on them at the time of arrest. It was therefore ‘aimed at passive resisters’ because they would be ‘deprived of the right to refuse to pay a fine, the imposition of which they consider to be unjust.’ (NB The numbering of this clause was an error; In the final Act of Parliament Clause 10 dealt with Borstal Institutions; the relevant clause was Clause 4).
    • Clause 13 would allow prisoners sentenced to jail terms of 10 days or less to be held in police cells rather than a prison. The letter argues that such cells were often ‘dark, unventilated, insanitary, and verminous.’ Furthermore, there were rarely women attendants on duty at night, and male officers were in the habit of entering women’s cells, allegedly to prevent suicide.
    • Clause 14 would allow magistrates to deal with malicious damage to property up to the value of £20 (instead of the previous £5), thus depriving  many of those charged of the right to trial by jury.
    • Clause 17 would give the Home Secretary the power to have prisoners subjected to surgical operations without their consent. This had the potential for serious abuse.

The letter ends:

‘Thus under cover of some very necessary reforms, an attempt is being made to smuggle through certain dangerous innovations in what is miscalled “criminal justice administration.”‘

The Home Secretary of the time, Reginald McKenna, was sufficiently provoked by the Morley/Pankhurst criticism that he immediately arranged for a certain S. W. Harris of the Home Office to issue a rebuttal. It is worth noting that women prisoners were a sensitive matter for McKenna; only the previous year he had been savagely mocked by a gruesome cartoon in The Daily Herald that depicted him force feeding an unnamed, bound and blindfolded suffragette, referring to him as ‘Forcible-Feeder-in-Chief to the Cabinet’.

The Harris/McKenna letter appeared in The Times on 6th May 1914, four days after the one signed by Morley. It addresses each of the four points in turn, and accuses Mr. E. J. Morley of having ‘misread the clauses he discusses.’ The letter asserts that:

    • the provision would not apply to “passive resisters” (Clause 4);
    • allowing money to be removed from someone’s person to pay a fine merely corrected a legal anomaly (Clause 4);
    • that  imprisonment would not be in ordinary police cells but in specially certified accommodation like the Liverpool Bridewell with female attendants for women prisoners (Clause 13);
    • the magistrates’ jurisdiction over wilful damage up to the value of £20 was an extension of existing powers and terms of imprisonment for such offences were to be reduced (Clause 14).
    • with regard to non-consensual surgical operations, the claim was denied, stating that the Home Secretary would have no more than the power to authorise removal to a hospital where an operation could be carried out more efficiently .

It will come as no surprise that Morley and/or Pankhurst were less than impressed by these statements; five days later on 11th May 1914, their second letter appeared, again signed E. J. Morley of University College, Reading. I am not aware of the extent of Pankhurst’s involvement, but their arguments were that Harris/McKenna has adopted a much too narrow definition of ‘passive resister’ and the provision would indeed apply to them; that police cells were not ‘suitable places’ for prisoners detained for more than one or two nights; that there was no explicit requirement in the bill for the availability of female attendants; that Harris/McKenna had failed to respond to the matter of trial by jury –  furthermore,  prisoners in magistrates’ courts received convictions based on unreliable police evidence; and that if the Home Secretary was not empowered to authorise operations on prisoners, why weren’t the words ‘with the consent of the prisoner’ included in the bill?

I have been unable to find any further correspondence on the legislation either from Morley, Pankhurst, or Harris. There are, however, letters about the arrest, imprisonment and maltreatment of Sylvia Pankhurst, and in June of the same year S. W. Harris submitted another rebuttal on behalf of the Home Secretary with the title: ‘The militants:  the motive of suffragist crime.’ This again concerned women prisoners and the matter of force feeding. It contained a denial that prison doctors were not willing to do everything possible to prevent the death of suffragettes from starvation.

Post Script

The Criminal Justice Administration Act was passed in August 1914. The introductory text describes it as:

‘An Act to diminish the number of cases committed to prison, to amend the Law with respect to the treatment and punishment of young offenders, and otherwise to improve the Administration of Criminal Justice.’

I have not been able to access earlier drafts of the Bill and cannot therefore give precise details of any changes that were included in the final Act of Parliament. Nevertheless, I can confirm that in the final version, Clause 13 allowed detention in police cells, bridewells and other places, ‘Provided that no place so certified shall be used for the detention of females unless provision is made for their supervision by female officers.’

In addition, Clause 17 appears to presuppose the prisoner’s agreement to hospital treatment or surgical operation by the inclusion of the word ‘consent’.

Thanks

To Charlie Carpenter, Academic Liaison Librarian, who discovered Edith Morley’s second letter and helped me negotiate the Times Digital Archive.

Sources

Criminal Justice Administration Act 1914. (c.58). [Online]. London: HMSO. [Accessed 15 June 2022]. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/4-5/58/enacted

Harris, S. W. (May 6, 1914). Criminal Administration: Home Secretary’s reply to criticisms of the Bill [Letter to the editor]. The Times, Issue 40516, p. 4.

Harris, S. W. (June 17, 1914). The militants: the motive of suffragist crime [Letter to the editor]. The Times, Issue 40552, p. 10.

Lawson, M. (June 18, 1914). The case of Sylvia Pankhurst [Letter to the editor]. The Times, Issue 40553, p. 15.

Morley, E. J. (May 2, 1914). The Criminal Justice Administration Bill: the Home Secretary’s proposals [Letter to the editor]. The Times, Issue 40513, p. 4.

Morley, E. J. (May 11, 1914). The Criminal Justice Administration Bill: the Home Secretary’s proposals [Letter to the editor]. The Times, Issue 40520, p. 3.

Morley, E. J. (1944). Looking before and after. Reminiscences of a working life.  Original Typescript, University of Reading Special Collections, MS 938/7/4, Folder 3.

Morley, E. J. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.

Murray, F. & Schutze, H. (March 19, 1914). Mrs. Pankhurst’s imprisonment: a medical statement of injuries [Letter to the editor]. The Times, Issue 40475, p. 5.

One Reply to “Edith Morley and the Letter to The Times”

  1. Edith Morley is an impressive figure in both political and educational fora. There is certainly a case for some kind of permanent exhibition, maybe in the foyer of the building that now bears her name so that future generations can appreciate her contribution.

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