Dora B. Montefiore, New Age August 1903
Source: New Age, p. 555, 27 August 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Once more the holidays are with us, and men, women, and children, who for several months past have been working hard in office, classroom, or at home are enjoying now (as far as the weather will allow it) a well-earned change of air and scene. Moor, sea, and mountain are bracing jaded nerves, strengthening flaccid muscles, and putting red corpuscles into anaemic blood. The more faithfully we have worked, the more we enjoy our free scamper, and holiday; whilst the pleasanter and more thorough the holiday, the better work we should be prepared to do when it is over. If there is one way better than another by which the Anglo-Saxon may hope to keep the lead among European nations, it is by being a better animal than his Latin, Slav, Muscovite, or Teutonic brother. The stress of life and of civilisation bears hard on those in whom the balance between brain and brawn is not carefully adjusted, and an intellectual genius is too often handicapped by a feeble physique. At a time therefore when such heavy mental demands are made on the young immature brain, on the too suggestionable nervous system, and on the eyesight, which is too often forced to read abominably bad print, the rule of life for the young should be, as much time as possible spent out of doors, and as much sleep and good nourishing food as may be desired; with the postponement for as long as possible of school life. Mary Somerville, afterwards the famous mathematician, and author of The Mechanism of the Heavens, ran wild in a little seaside village on the Firth of Forth for the first ten years of her life; and who can estimate how much this freedom from boarding school, books, and governesses contributed towards the fact that she was able at the age of ninety-two to revise and complete a treatise on the Theory of Differences, and to continue her mathematical studies and scientific studies till the end. There are too many lessons from books given in our schools, and too few from life. The Swiss system, which keeps its primary schools open only during the winter, seems to me an excellent one. The summer months, far from being spent by pupils or teachers in idleness, are given over to practical and necessary work in the fields, and gardens, with the result that both return to studies in the autumn with renewed stores of vital, animal energy.
A great work awaits women, and those interested in the cause of women and of progress, when we reassemble at the close of the holidays. It has been decided by those who feel keenly the wrong done to the whole nation by the shutting out of women from organised administrative work, to make a supreme effort to stem the stream of legislative reaction culminating in the removal of democratically elected women from the educational authorities. A two days’ Convention will be held in London in October, under the auspices of organised women throughout the United Kingdom, and which will be addressed by Members of Parliament and men and women administrators and workers who realise the importance of the influence exercised by women in administration and in political work. Mr. Meredith writes in his jottings from the Pilgrim’s Scrip: “The compensation for injustice is, that in that dark Ordeal we gather the worthiest around us.” This, it seems to me, should be our motto for the forthcoming Convention. Those who are ready to come forward and publicly denounce an act of the grossest injustice perpetrated on the unrepresented will prove themselves, by that act, to be the “worthiest” in the land. If the test for the ripeness and the necessity of a movement be the measure of its financial support, then we have every right to consider that the present is a psychological moment in the history of the woman movement in our country; for the rich are promising their cheque; and the widows and workers are subscribing their mites. A large fund will be required towards the expenses of the Convention, and the strenuous campaign that is to follow. This is no party question, this question of the emancipation of womanhood; for, as Mrs. Wolstenhohne writes in a reply to Mr. Holyoake’s recent serious mis-statement in Reynolds’s Newspaper, that she at one time deserted the Liberals, and went over to the Tories, who had promised to support Woman’s Suffrage: “I think it is the duty of women working collectively for justice to womanhood to stand outside party trammels; and in this policy I but follow the example of that splendid American woman, Susan Anthony, and the party, which she has led for so many years.” In this same connection Mrs. Elmy quotes a speech by the late Mr. Cobden, addressed to the Council of the Anti-Corn Law League in 1842. He said: We are no political body, we have refused to be bought by the Tories; we have kept aloof from the Whigs; and we will not join partnership with either Radicals or Chartists; but we hold out our hand, ready to give it to all who are ready to advocate the total repeal of the Corn and Provision laws.” The strength of organised women must spring in the future from the same principle; they must be ready to hold out the band to those – and to those only – who are ready to advocate the claims of womanhood in public administration, and at the ballot box.
As a practical object lesson of the way in which women’s interests are ignored once the women are secured as helpers and workers for a party, I quote from Justice of June 21st, 1884 and beg women democrats to contrast the tone which pervades these quotations with the tone of democratic organs of to-day. The front page contains a “par” headed “Women as voters,” from which I quote the following: “Nothing important can be done, we are convinced, until women are stirred. Half the success at least of the revolutionary party in Russia is due to the women, and so it will be here in a very short time.” It might be to the point to enquire what efforts have been made in the interval to “stir” women. The fact of women being gradually removed from all pubic administrative work does not seem to trouble official Social Democrats, any more than it does official Liberals or Conservatives! In the leading article of the same date I read “Women are wanted everywhere, not only in the political arena, the character of which it is to be hoped they will improve by the mere fact of their presence, but on all legislative and executive bodies, imperial and local .... A woman’s method of attacking any philanthropic work is essentially practical, although men regard it as a method to be despised. Her idea of founding a hospital would be to gather a few sick together in a cottage, and as funds and experience grow, apply the funds with the wisdom of her acquired experience. A man, inspired with the same philanthropic idea, builds a great hospital, endows it, and leaves it with a code impracticable rules which he insists on having carried out. These two modes need to be united; when laws are made for the country from the discussion ground of the House of Commons, we want someone there who is not thinking of political and party motives, but of the little children who are to grow up and live under these laws.” The case could hardly be better put, and an excellent beginning was made towards the uniting of these two modes of approaching a public question when women were placed on Local Government Boards. No fault has been found with their administrative work, which is for the people, and should be supported by the people. Does the fault lie, then, with the people and their leaders, that such necessary and excellent work has been allowed to be destroyed by a Conservative Government?
Dora B. Montefiore.