Dora B. Montefiore, New Age February 1903
Source: New Age, p.91, 5 February 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
So the Right Honourable Joseph Chamberlain is posing as the champion of Women’s Rights! He is particular, however, as to a shade in colour, and his sympathies only go out towards woolly-headed Kaffir ladies, who (I blush tell the tale) go shares in a husband, and co-operate in keeping house for him; tilling his land, raising his crops, and bringing up his woolly-headed offsprings. The eye of the great Brummagem statesman does not look with favour on the domestic arrangements of the male Kaffir and he is determined to teach him ethics as it is understood and practised in the heart the Empire, by a salutary course of compound and enforced labour. The Right Honourable gentleman is outraged to think that any British subject should dare to live on the labour of women, and those women his wives. “Philanthropists at home,” he exclaims, in a burst of generous indignation, “would no doubt be astonished to hear that we were encouraging slavery in another form.” .... Well, well, who would have thought it? .... But it must surely occur to some English working women, living in slums, and striving to bring up a family on the husband’s 25s. or 30s. a week, that we also in England are encouraging slavery “in another form”; and perhaps the fate of the Kaffir woman, sharing her duties with three or four other wives, and labouring in pure air, in a more genial climate, is not after all the worst form of slavery going.
But the high moral tone taken by Joseph sets one thinking out all sorts of ethical and economic problems, and suddenly the inspiration flashes through one’s brain: “May not after all this fateful discovery of the Right Honourable’s of the only safe and certain cure for polygamous tendencies – namely, life in a compound and enforced labour in the mines – be the real cure for the various social evils from which (even globe-trotters to our shores cannot avoid observing that) we suffer?” If every male Britisher, who failed to come up to Joseph’s monogamous standard, or who lived in idleness on the labour of more than one woman, were sentenced, according to the gravity of his offence, to so many mouths or years of compound life, and enforced labour in the service of those deserving and moral fellow-subjects of his – the mine-owners – what a paradise the British Empire would become! There are loafers we know at both ends of the social scale, and philanthropists would do well to observe those at what is known as the upper end more closely. I would suggest as a first step that carefully-revised tables should be prepared of all those male British subjects who live a life of ease, ministered to by female waitresses and cooks, housemaids, barmaids, telephone maids, or typewriting maids; after which a Royal Commission might be appointed to enquire into the causes of complaint which this bevy of ministering females had to make about the conditions of their labour, and as to whether or not they considered it enforced labour, and therefore another form of slavery; and also whether or not they would prefer the loafers who employ them to be themselves sent off to do their “little bit of time.” After which we should know where we were with the Kaffir lady, and how to set about getting at her opinion on these important social and economic changes.
However much our sympathies may go out to the Denaby Miners themselves, who one Sunday in June last year decided “to stop the wheels of both Denaby and Cadeby until their just grievances were remedied,” we do not forget, we women, that the worst sufferers in these class wars (which are to all effects and purposes civil wars on a small scale) are the women and the children. In order to force the miners to surrender, the mine owners, who are also the landlords of the men, evicted them and their families from their homes. For weeks and months the unfortunate families herded in tents – three or four families sometimes in one tent. Then the Primitive Methodist minister, Mr, Wilson, all honour to his name, offered many of them a shelter in the Methodist Chapel, and the schoolroom. Ninety-seven children and forty-eight adults have lived and slept for months in the schoolroom, and forty-four children and sixteen adults in the chapel; whilst other smaller local schools and chapels have been used in the same way. Children have died in these improvised shelters, and the accounts that we read of the hardships and degradations undergone by the evicted and starving families remind us of some of the horrors of the South African Concentration Camps. The burghers signed finally the terms of peace, because they could no longer face the idea of protracting the struggle whilst their families were being slowly exterminated by British “protective” measures. No doubt the lesson of “means to an end” was not lost on English coal mine-owners, and they determined to crush the men who were struggling for an ideal by adding to starvation the persecution and degradation of those nearest to them. What can be said of the moral responsibility of those who force their fellow citizens to herd together for months like cattle? Is imperial and industrial prosperity always to be built up on the sufferings and lives of those whom men profess so glibly to desire to honour and protect, but whom they too often in their struggles tread under foot?
DORA B. MONTEFIORE