A New Political Method Emerging in the Orient, December, 1923



Miss Jane Addams

We arrived at Bombay just a few days before the Indian women were voting for the first time, for as you know, the English have given the vote to the women of India under exactly the same conditions the women of England have it, save that the ages are lower. In England the women vote when they are thirty, in India they vote when they are 21, in Burma at 18.

If it was a somewhat strange event for an American woman the first time she cast a ballot, it must have been much more bewildering to a woman who has lived in seclusion, who has seldom discussed political affairs, to find herself coming up to the polls and there depositing the record of her individual judgment, assuming, of course, that the Australian ballot system functions as it should. Nevertheless these Indian women were even there securely tied to their old experiences.

The public question most frequently discussed in Bombay at that moment was that of housing, for Indian cities, like cities all over the world ever since the war, have lacked adequate housing facilities. The large industrial plants and the street car companies were building houses for their [employees], the city as well as the provincial governments were not only erecting houses, but granting special taxation rates to induce capital to invest in workingmen’s dwellings. Not only the women voters but the women candidates for the city council of Bombay were much interested in this situation. Of four women who “ran” for office (I supposed I should say “stood” in Bombay) three were elected to the city council.

Throughout India the Indians who are eager for self government are trying to bring to the present governors of India the impression that if they get the government into their own hands they are not going to be callous and indifferent to the fate of the people, as have often been predicted, but that they are going to be consistently interested in their welfare.

They try to prove this in all sorts of ways, but we were especially interested in The Servants of India, a society organized about thirty years ago. One branch of this society is devoted to education, another to labor legislation, and the third to the improvement of social conditions. This latter branch has a membership of 1,500 people in Bombay. They were Indians determined to introduce into their new plans for governmental affairs the social welfare motive, expressed in care for the daily life of the people.

We also got the same impression from the Social Service Clubs which we found in every large city in India and Ceylon, that they were trying to formulate for political action these ideas of better housing, of wider education, and care for public health, until it seemed as if these new voters in the Orient were evolving something of the same purpose which the women in western countries claim to be doing.

When it came to China, we found there that public spirited people are trying to secure education and freedom of life for all women as well as for the educated few. A group in Shanghai who are working for wider spread health measures are constantly asking for more nurses, for more women doctors, hoping that Chinese women will enter into public life through those well known methods of approach.

Much of China’s present difficulty comes from the fact that many of the thirty-two provinces are at present ruled by military governors. Each one of these men is now hoping that he may by some happy turn of the wheel become president of the Chinese Republic and many of them consider a military dictatorship the first step. On the other hand the people who are sincerely devoted to China’s future, who are enormously interested in the constitution which the Chinese have been working on for twelve years, (we must remember that it took our [forebearers] thirteen years to decide upon a constitution for the U.S.A.) are most anxious that the new type of political motive shall assert itself, that only through it can China possibly overcome the menace of military dictatorship, melt it down by sheer good will, expressed through education of her children, the canalizing of her rivers, the reforestation of her mountains, the restoration of her natural fertility.

One finds in Japan that the women, [although] they do not vote, are much more westernized because they have had much wider educational facilities. These groups of Japanese women remind one of the early suffrage days; they are pushing for college education, for a longer period in girls’ schools, for the opening of professional schools for women. They do not talk so much about the vote but they are very anxious that women should be ready for the new political life when it comes.

From one country to another whether women are voting as in Burma, hoping to vote as in Japan or as in China striving for their first openings (and eagerly cherishing their equal chances in the State Universities) this new type of political material is emerging all over the Orient.

It would be a thousand pities if at this moment western women should be drawn back into the old type of political activity and through a desire “to play the game” should revert, should fail to encircle the globe by the new political method of which the distracted old world is in such dire need.

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