Dora B. Montefiore, New Age July 1903
Source: New Age, p. 491, 30 July 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
I am glad to see that a Working Woman is writing to the Labour Leader with a suggestion for forming a Women’s Labour Party. There is no doubt that working women in England are, as a class, behind their continental sisters in political organisation, and in fact are scarcely class conscious at all. Those few who are so, are working side by side with their men comrades; but an immense, and an almost untouched work lies at their doors – the political education and organisation of their sister women workers. An example of what may, be done in this way is given by Clara Zetkin in Germany, who has educated and organised the German Social Democratic women; and there is little doubt has in this way helped to bring about the recent triumph of social democracy in Germany. M. Mitchell writes, in the letter I refer to “A Women’s Labour Party, to be effective, would have to be, as all branches of the Labour party have been in the past, largely educational .... There is as crying need for such a party, and with half a dozen determined women in every town, it ought very soon to be an accomplished fact.... The question of Women Suffrage, in my opinion; would be a great dial better merged in adult suffrage, when men and women could work together in bringing it to the front.” If M. Mitchell will communicate with me, c/o THE NEW AGE, 1 shall be only too glad to help towards the formation of a class conscious educational Women’s Labour Party, both through this column and through any other means in my power... THE NEW AGE has always stood for equality between the sexes, holding that the cause of humanity is best served where men and women work everywhere side by side. But until that equality, social, economic, and political is established, some of women’s unrepresented interests must necessarily be treated separately. M. Mitchell will always find this column representing women’s interests from the most democratic standpoint, and the writer’s only desire is to make it of real use to women in general, and to the working woman in particular.
It is difficult to understand by what process of reasoning a Wandsworth. jury, at an inquest on a three month old child, of parents living at 59 Vanderbilt Road, Wandsworth, brought in a verdict “Death from natural causes.” The mother gave evidence at the inquest that she had given the child broken biscuits to eat, and the doctor who made the post-mortem stated that the immediate cause of death was convulsions, whilst the child, was suffering from indigestion. The coroner remarked that biscuits were daily used by parents for the feeding of children, and it has been shown in the records of his court, as well as in the records of other courts, that it was an extremely dangerous thing to do. In the face of all this evidence, I am compelled to ask “Where do the ‘natural causes’ come in?” That Wandsworth baby was the victim of the ignorance, the muddle-headedness, the selfishness and callousness of Imperial England, which squanders millions in the acquisition of distant mines and territories, and allows the infants in its teeming capital to perish for want of their natural food. It is of little use teaching a working class mother that any starch food for an infant under six months old is slow poison – because the saliva at that age does not contain the necessary ingredients for the digestion of starch – if, at the same time, the community does nothing to provide a cheap and wholesome supply of milk, which is the only food an infant of that age should be given. Until such supply is forthcoming, we, as a collectivity, have to bear the guilt of the yearly slaughter of thousands of biscuit, beer, and gin fed infants, whose baby blood helps to pay the price of extension of Empire. Whilst reaching out for empty wealth and power, we forget that fact of which Ruskin so eloquently reminded us. “There is no wealth but life. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings.”
At a recent meeting of the New Zealand National Council of Women, the President, Mrs. Sievwright, in a powerful, well-informed address, sketched what she considered should be the policy of the Council in various matters where education and leading were necessary: Short summaries of two of her pronouncements on the subjects of preferential tariffs, and of “The Bible in Schools” question, may be of value to English readers, as they breathe the widest spirit of tolerance and of humanitarian judgment. On the first subject she says: “Speaking of preferential tariffs, Mr. Carroll discoursed on our colonial policy of Protection, and exhorted us to open our hearts wide enough to take in the Empire. Just so; I, a woman would like to know why we are to stop at the Empire? Why we may not open our hearts as wide as the world, and do unto our brothers of other lands just what we should wish them to do to us?” And when combating the church movement for the re-establishment of Bible teaching in the schools, she urged: “As I have no wish to coerce, or to be coerced by others, I counsel – leave theology to parents and parsons, and render Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; Caesar, that is the State, requires obedience of its laws; if your child or mine – of even comparatively tender years – breaks the law, that child is dragged before a public tribunal, of which it probably never before heard, except through some vague scare of a policeman – is convicted of this or that misdemeanour, and the penalty appointed by law follows. Now I think that if this be so, the state is bound to teach its children of the existence of such laws, and explain that the country demands that its citizens shall lead moral, law-abiding lives, and that to this end it must teach and train up its young people with high ideals of civic duty and responsibility.... That the just, honest, temperate, truthful man is he whom all must honour and respect; and that it is righteousness, and righteousness alone that exalteth a nation.” Verily, New Zealand has “trusted” her women to some purpose!
Dora B. Montefiore.