John Campbell Gordon

Earl of Aberdeen and Temair (1847-1934)

Library and Archives of Canada.

Library and Archives of Canada.

The Earl of Aberdeen has been best known as the British Viceroy of Ireland (1886; 1905-1915) and Governor General of Canada (1893-96). His grandfather, Lord Aberdeen, had been prime minister of the United Kingdom and his family were leading landlords in eastern Scotland. Deaths of a father and two older brothers brought him unexpectedly to the title in 1870. This Gordon was also a Victorian and Edwardian feminist and suffragist. He developed that allegiance as a result of his evangelical, scientific, and political faith and his marriage to Ishbel Marjoribanks (1857-1939) in 1877. A progressive Presbyterian, he was deeply influenced by the social gospel of his day and a supporter of foreign and domestic missions, settlement houses, urban renewal, children’s welfare, and labour unions. Like many in his age, he was also fascinated by scientific discovery. Particularly important for him was the apparently happy reconciliation by contemporaries, such as the influential Scottish theologian and his good friend, Henry Drummond, of Darwinian evolutionary theory with a faith in divine love and the potential of human altruism, especially as the latter was embodied in women. In the 1870s he emerged as a member of the Liberal Party led by William Gladstone (not a suffragist) and soon made his name as a reformer, friend of feminist causes, and supporter of Irish Home Rule. The latter was the cause to which above all he devoted his life until forced to retire from his Irish post in 1915. Marriage to the talented and energetic Ishbel, soon herself a force in the English and Scottish Women’s Liberal Federations and a proponent of women in local government, produced one of the most prominent reform-minded couples in Great Britain, on a part with the union of suffragists Henry and Millicent Fawcett. He was, as Leila Rupp has demonstrated widely admired by international feminists as a ‘new man’ and the Aberdeen marriage as a model of affection and equality. In explicitly feminist politics, he often stood in Ishbel’s shadow but he was also co-President of the Mothers’ Union of the United Kingdom, which also emphasized the role of fathers, and president of the National Vigilance Association, which opposed prostitution and insisted on purity for both sexes. Aberdeen maintained a deep conviction that education and conciliation were the best way to bring about understanding between different classes, races, and women and men. This philosophy drove his earnest devotion to Home Rule and to liberal imperialism more generally and allowed him to believe that women suffrage was inevitable. In any case, he feared that divisions over female enfranchisement would wreck the fragile political coalition in favour of representative and responsible government for Ireland. It also meant that he opposed suffragette militancy. In British terminology, he was a moderate constitutionalist in suffrage matters.


Resources & Further Reading

Aberdeen [J. C. Gordon], Lord and Lady Aberdeen [I. M. Gordon]. 1925 and 1927. We twa, 2 vols. London: W. Collins.

Barbour, G.F. and Matthew Urie Baird. 2004. ‘Gordon, John Campbell, first marquess of Aberdeen and Temair (1847–1934)’, rev. H. C. G. Matthew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 19 Jan 2012]

Bebbington, D.W. 2004. ‘Drummond, Henry (1851–1897)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. online edn, May 2007 [, accessed 19 Jan 2012]

John, Angela V. and Claire Eustance. 1997. The Men’s Share?: Masculinities, Male Support, and Women’s Suffrage in Britain, 1890-1920. London: Routledge.

Pentland, Marjorie. 1952. A Bonnie Fechter: the Life of Ishbel Marjoribanks, marchioness of Aberdeen & Temair, CBE, LLD, JP, 1857 to 1939. London: Batsford.

Pugh, Martin. 2000. The March of the Women. A Revisionist Analysis of the Campaign for Women’s Suffrage, 1866-1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rupp, Leila. 1997. “Sexuality and Politics in the early Twentieth century: the Case of the International Women’s Movement” Feminist Studies 23:3. Autumn, 1997. 577-605.

Strong-Boag, Veronica. [forthcoming] Kind Hearts and Coronets: the Liberal Politics of Lord and Lady Aberdeeni.


USA Suffrage Literature

From the early 1850s, when an organized national women’s rights movement emerged, to 1920, when the 19th Amendment enfranchising women was ratified, U.S. women writers from a variety of racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds published hundreds of short stories, novels, poems, plays, essays and conversion narratives in support of woman suffrage. In an essay entitled “The Truth of Fiction, and Its Charms”, published in the first issue of the very first American journal devoted to women’s rights, The Una (1853), for example, an anonymous editor argued that popular fiction was a valuable rhetorical form for the emergent movement. “[Fiction] brings the truth of nature—the probable, the possible and the ideal—in their broadest range and utmost capabilities into the service of a favorite principle, and demonstrates its force and beauty, and practicability, in circumstantial details, which like a panorama, presents an image so like an experience that we realize it for all the purposes of knowledge, hope and resolution” (qtd. Petty 4). In 1892, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the President of the newly formed National American Woman Suffrage Association, reiterated this appreciation of literature’s ability to move people to embrace a “favorite principle: “I have long waited … for some woman to arise to do for her sex what Mrs. Stowe did for the black race in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ a book that did more to rouse the national conscience than all the glowing appeals and constitutional arguments that agitated our people during half a century” (Stanton, Pray, Sir, vi-vii). Many suffrage supporters responded to Stanton’s call, particularly in the final two decades of the campaign.

An astonishing number of canonical and popular US writers voiced their support of woman suffrage through literary works. “Fanny Fern”, for example, wrote pro-suffrage essays such as “Independence” and “Shall Women Vote?”. Harriet Beecher Stowe published serialized fiction such as My Wife and I and fictional dialogues such as the Chimney Corner  that expressed moderate support for suffrage. Louisa May Alcott and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps authored suffrage literature for children. Twentieth-century authors Gertrude Atherton, Mary Johnston, Zona Gale, Edna Ferber, and Mary Austin all wrote novels that describe aspects of American suffrage in moving detail. Early twentieth-century poets–Frances Harper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Marianne Moore, and Edna St. Vincent Millay to name just a few–wrote poetry in support of suffrage or in praise of suffragist leaders. Modernist. Even avant-gardist Gertrude Stein considered the suffrage theme when she wrote an opera libretto memorializing Susan B. Anthony, The Mother of Us All twenty-five years after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. In addition to these more canonical figures, many popular writers–sensation novelist Lillie Devereux Blake, satirical poet Alice Duer Miller, and Western writer Abigail Scott Duniway–also made significant contributions to the suffrage literary tradition.

Examples from this extensive archive of literary works about suffrage appear in my Treacherous Texts: US Suffrage Literature 1846-1946 , an anthology designed to showcase creative interventions in the suffrage campaign, which are often overshadowed by oratory and other discursive forms. These creative works—fiction, poetry, drama, and autobiography as well as cartoons, banner slogans and song lyrics–should remind us of the importance of literature to political battles both in the past and today.

Resources and Further Reading

Alcott, Louisa May. “Cupid and Chow Chow,” in Aunt Jo’s Scrap Bag, vol. 3. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1880. 5–40.

Atherton, Gertude. Julia France and Her Times. New York: Macmillan, 1912.

Blake, Lillie D. Fettered for Life or Lord and Master. New York: Sheldon & Co., 1874.

—-. “A Divided Republic: An Allegory of the Future,” in A Daring Experiment and Other Stories. New York: Lovell, Coryell, 1892:  346–60.

Duniway,Abigail Scott. Edna and John [1876]. Reprint, Pullman: Washington State University Press, 2000.

Ferber, Edna. Fanny Herself. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1917.

Fern, Fanny. Ruth Hall and Other Writings. Ed. Joyce Warren. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1986.

Fordham, Mary Weston “Atlanta Exposition Ode.” In She Wields a Pen: American Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century. Edited by Janet Gray. Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1997. 270–271.

Gale, Zona. “Friday.” Century Magazine 88, no. 4 (August 1914): 521–24.

—–. Friendship Village. New York: Macmillan, 1908.

—–. Mothers to Men. New York: Macmillan, 1911.

—–. Peace in Friendship Village. New York: Macmillan, 1919.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. In This Our World. [1899]. New York: Arno Press, 1974.

Harper, Frances W. “The Deliverance.” In Sketches of Southern Life. Philadelphia: Ferguson Bros. & Co., 1893. 6–16.

—–. “Aunt Chloe’s Politics,” In Sketches of Southern Life (1871), in A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Reader, ed. Frances Smith Foster .New York: Feminist Press, 1990. 204–205.

Johnston, Mary. Hagar. [1913]. Richmond: University Press of Virginia, 1994.

Jonas, Rosalie. “Brother Baptis”, The Crisis. September 1912: 247.

Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Upon this marble bust that is not I,” in The Buck in the Snow (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1928), 66.

Miller, Alice Duer. Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times. New York: George H. Doran and Co., 1915.

Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart. “Trotty’s Lecture Bureau (Not a Trotty Story, but a Trotty Scrap. Told for Trotty’s Friends.),” St. Nicholas Magazine 4, no. 7 (May 1877): 454–55.

Stein, Gertrude. The Mother of Us All. in Last Operas and Plays, ed. Carl Van Vechten (1949; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977).

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. My Wife and I: or Henry Henderson’s History. 1871.

—–. Uncle Tom’s Cabin [1852]. New York: Penguin, 1986.

“The Truth of Fiction, and Its Charms”, The Una vol. 1 no. 1. 1853.

Zink-Sawyer, Beverly Ann. From Preachers to Suffragists: Woman’s Rights and Religious Conviction in The Lives of Three Nineteenth-century Clergywomen. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989.