It is not possible to research the Scottish Women's Suffragette

movement without a certain amount of personal grief. Women have not so

much been been written out of history as surgically removed. There is a

poverty of information. The sparse chunks of collated material read like

a secondary schoolbook; superficial, factual, with all the interesting

matter kept out. The documentation on women in Scotland who were

fighting for the vote is as illuminating as a 10-watt bulb. The vitality

and eccentricity of the main, female protagonists is missing, their

personalities ignored in history, as they were by the authorities

against whom they rebelled. It seems that International Women's Day,

argues Anvar Khan, is simply a case of trying to remember what has been

dusted, put to the back of the cupboard and conveniently forgotten

FASHION has overtaken politics. It is trendy among professional women

to denounce International Women's Day as a token celebration. Feminism,

they masticate, is for women who need a crutch. But to deny the

importance of feminism is to declare oneself completely ignorant of

international inequality, past and present.

At 10.30am tomorrow, Glasgow City Council Women's Committee will erect

a plaque at the site of a tree which was planted on April 20, 1918, in

Kelvin Way, by Glasgow Women's Suffrage Organisations. At that time, the

tree was intended as a commemoration of women getting the vote. On

Wednesday, the oak will be singled out, and its history explained,

symbolic of the way feminism and the fight for equal rights have to be

continually justified to men and twentieth-century women.

Those who have experienced discrimination are more inclined to want to

eliminate it. In September 1907, there was a split within the women's

suffrage movement over the question of democracy. Some women regarded

Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst as dictators, and they, in return,

regarded dissenters as ''wreckers'' of the movement. The wreckers

seceded to form the Women's Freedom League, which had a strong

representation in Scotland. The League opened a suffrage centre, with a

tea-room and bookshop, in Sauchiehall Street.

The front-line of Scottish feminists included Louisa Innes Lumsden,

Frances Melville, Chrystal MacMillan, Anna Munro, Maggie Moffat, Kate

Evans; women who were among the first to enter the male sanctum of

universities, politics, law and science. Their academic credentials were

immaculate. There isn't one who doesn't have an alphabet behind her

name. But the most interesting is Eunice Murray, a powerful speaker and

propagandist from Cardross.

Eunice wrote many essays on why women should be allowed to vote, why

women should no longer be kept ignorant of the issues, both moral and

legal, which directly affected their lives. Hers was a mission to

explain why women, like slaves, should be treated not as property but as

people. Like every other suffrage organisation, the Women's Freedom

League saw the vote as a means to an an end, a key which would open the

floodgate of legislation to alleviate female oppression. They campaigned

for justice, listing court cases weekly in their newspaper. The cases

were entitled ''How Men Protect Women'' and gave examples, such as when

Sheriff J M Gray sentenced one man at Dundee Sheriff Court to 40 days

imprisonment for stealing two pounds of sugar, and another for 14 days

for sexually assaulting a little girl.

The celebration of women getting the vote, in 1918, however, was a

hollow one. Let's put it in perspective. From 1885, voting in more than

one UK constituency was permitted to owners of land, occupiers of

business premises, and to university graduates. In 1918, when Scots

feminists planted the suffrage tree, the Representation of the People

Act had reduced the residence qualification to six months and

enfranchised some categories of men. Yes, it also enfranchised women,

but only those over 30. Given that female life expectancy was about 40

years, women couldn't hope to vote that often. It wasn't until 1928,

when the Equal Franchise Act lowered the voting age, that women could go

to the polls at 21. Then, in 1969, the Representation of the People Act

provided everyone with a vote as soon as they reached the age of 18. In

effect, women have not been trusted with the ballot until a mere 26

years ago, this writer's lifetime.

Eunice Murray was a terrific logician. In her pamphlet, Warrior Women,

1923, she said: ''We have always held, and hold now, that it is because

men and women are so different, and not because they are so alike, that

we require the vote. If man fulfills his duty to the nation -- by being

ready to sacrifice even his life for the nation -- woman equally

fulfills her part by being ready to sacrifice her life for the producing

of life. Thus each sex fulfills its obligation to the community. Each

women is a potential mother as each man is a potential defender of his


In Prejudices Old and New, again in 1923, she said: ''It is prejudice,

not reason, that has delayed the emancipation of women. Every step

forward has been won in spite of prejudice. It was prejudice which

excluded girls from good schools. It was prejudice that declared that

woman must not enter a hansom without a man to accompany her. It was

prejudice that prevented her going to a public swimming bath or even

bathing in the sea. (But) it is reason, not might, which should govern

the world.''

Eunice continues: ''If we study women's history for the last 50 years,

we find that what made their ultimate victory certain, was the unbarring

of university doors to them in 1869. Once a person can read and reason,

liberty and freedom follow in due course. Many arguments were produced

to demonstrate that to educate women would be an irreparable disaster.

With education, they would lose the feminine charms of docility, modesty

and delicacy.

Their brains were not made to grapple with the problems of theology,

mathematics, science or art, declared men, and more than one asserted

that were women allowed to compete with men in examinations, their

brains would give way under the strain.''

This is the laughable lore, the vague, woolly, self-serving images of

women the Scottish suffragettes were up against. They marched on

campaigns like bulldogs, at a time when fainting was considered a pretty

and feminine thing to do. They found themselves in opposition to other

women, the way some feminists might feel today, in arguing a case for

political empowerment against women who insist that there is no need.

The fear used to keep a woman in line was that if she proved herself

intellectually equal to a man, she would never get a husband. The man's

desire for a subordinate partner was never questioned, just the woman's

for asking why. The Scottish suffragettes were in combat with years of

conditioning. Eunice wrote of another female writer: ''She tells us that

'Nothing is so likely to conciliate the affection of the other sex as a

feeling that women look to them for guidance and support'.''

There were women who were brave enough to go their own way, unhindered

by threats from a sex for which they had no real respect. ''In 1869,

Miss Jex Blake sought to obtain a medical degree in Edinburgh

University,'' Eunice recounts. ''The opposition to this was as great as

the militant suffragette experiences in 1913. Yet in the year 1913 a

memorial tablet to Dr Sophia Jex Blake was erected in St Giles

Cathedral, Edinburgh. In 1869 she was told that to study anatomy was

impossible for a lady, and even to discuss the question was indelicate.

It was suggested that she wished to enter university to carry on

'flirtations and intrigues' with the students''.

The message was clear. In order to have an apology of a relationship,

to live in the shadow of men, and hope to be married off as a

subordinate, women had to hide their talents and subsume their

intelligence. It was too much to ask. Women wanted to establish

themselves as sentient beings, not decor. And even if it was at the cost

of being seen as ''feminine'', even if they were punished for their

efforts by being ignored by the hirsute sex, these were an insignificant

levy for intellectual and emotional freedom.

* The Women's Unit is keen to find out more about the suffragettes who

planted the tree, and about any descendants alive today. Although they

have managed to source some basic data, they would be pleased to receive

more information on Eunice Murray, Frances Melville, Louise Lumsden and

Chrystal MacMillan. If you can help, contact the Women's Unit on

0141-227 5861.