Dora B. Montefiore, New Age December 1903
Source: New Age, p. 827, 24 December 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Some little time ago I called attention in one of my articles to the fact that, during a recent resurgence of clericalism in some of our Australian Colonies, some leading ecclesiastics, fired by the thought that women, their last hope, were now numbered amongst the voters, tried hard to regain their influence in the schools of the people, and to re-introduce denominational teaching. The artificial agitation reached such
a pitch that the matter was put to the referendum, and the clericals were ignominiously beaten; since which time peace on that particular subject has reigned in the land. Once again have our Australian sisters vindicated through their vote the opinion which advanced and developed women all over the world have formed of their own sex; namely, that if you educate and enfranchise women, and give them equality of opportunity with men, you will be making giant strides towards progress in its best and most evolutionary form. The recent Federal elections in Victoria have resulted in a majority for the Labour party in that Colony, and this success on the part of Labour is attributed largely to the women voters, who went to the poll on the Labour ticket regardless of other considerations. How long, I wonder, will it take to convince our Socialist bodies in this country that it would be for them a matter of expediency (not to say of justice) to turn their attention to the political enfranchisement of women instead of treating the question as one outside the dominion of practical politics? The recent action of Mrs. Pankhurst at I.L.P. meetings shows in what straits intelligent women who have given life work to the cause of progress, now find themselves, largely through the ill-concealed hostility of the men-comrades in their organisations, who cannot, or will not, recognise the woman’s point of view in every question of the day. As 1 have over and over again pointed out, every time that women’s hardly gained rights and privileges are filched away by this reactionary Government, democratic institutions as a whole suffer; and Socialists, who should be the first to agitate for the restoration of these rights, remain unmoved.
As women find more and more that they can obtain no genuine support from any of the existing political organisations (though these organisations are always willing to make use of women’s work, influence, and money for masculine propaganda), they are driven to organise by themselves and for themselves; and the Women’s Social and Political Union is one of the outcomes of this really unnatural state of things. It has been formed by women who are adherents of the Labour party, and one of their methods of work is to question Labour candidates as follows: – “Will you pledge yourself to endeavour, if elected to Parliament, to introduce a Bill giving the Parliamentary franchise to women, such Bill to be to the following effect: That for all purposes connected with, and having reference to the right to vote at Parliamentary elections, words in the Representation of the People Act importing the masculine gender shall include women.” A list of candidates and their replies will be published in due course. The Union has its centre at Manchester, and Mrs. Scott, of Woodbine, Fixton, is hon. secretary. The members have just published a leaflet to working-women, reminding them that this much discussed question of Free Trade and Protection is “primarily a worker’s question, and, since women form the worst paid section of labour, it is above all a woman’s question. ... Every crisis such as this is a new lesson as to your need of political power.” They further point out that the proposed Bill, “beginning that for all purposes connected a with, etc.,” should be the woman’s charter in her struggle for equal rights; and they call upon working-women to demand their rights, and uphold their charter! All women who feel keenly their unprotected position in the political arena, where men are grasping for the power to dictate the prices women shall pay in the future for food and necessaries of life, should join this Union, and strengthen the hands of those who are uniting to demand the sweeping away of sex injustice.
The National Council of the Women of New Zealand is the New Zealand Branch of the Women’s International Council, which is to hold its quinquennial meeting and Congress next year in Berlin. Mrs. Sievwright is President of the New Zealand Council, and at a recent meeting of the session at New Plymouth she delivered a masterly and statesmanlike speech on the position at the present day of women in that Colony. She reminded her audience of Frances Willard’s so oft repeated statement that a woman is a woman first, and only second and relatively either wife, mother, sister, or daughter; this, with the object of combatting the criticism of the editor of a New Zealand daily paper, who was vigorously opposing the proposed law for giving “economic independence to husband and wife.” That is to say that if women are to be forbidden by law to work at certain periods of their lives, they shall also be assured by law a certain share in their husband’s earnings. “If the gentlemen of the Press,” she remarked, “here in New Plymouth have any holes to pick in our proposals we shall be only too glad to discuss the matter with them, but, gentlemen, do let it be something original. We are as tired of all the patriarchal objections I have alluded to as Mr. Seddon must be of assuring people that ‘women did not want it.’ “ When speaking pregnant words on the question of national education, she called attention to “the unequal pay given to women teachers for the same, and sometimes for better work and longer hours than men ... there is no more cruel injustice,” she continued “in all New Zealand than this assessment of women’s work at a lower value than that of men.” Mrs. Sievwright’s words apply equally truthfully to the treatment of women’s work in England, which, as I have so often pointed out, is invariably underpaid when in, any way competing with men’s. Cruel injustice is not too severe an epithet for this traditional practice, which is too often the cause of women being ill-nourished and anaemic, because they cannot earn sufficient to keep themselves in health. “Sixteen nations,” Mrs. Sievwright concluded, “have federated in International Council to replace woman on her pedestal by the side of her mate, and to inaugurate the practical application of the golden rule to individual, social, commercial, national, and international dealings. New Zealand is asked to keep her link of the globe-encircling chain bright and strong and serviceable.” After reading Mrs. Sievwright’s address, and the papers read by her coadjutors, we need have no fear as to the bright and serviceable state of that particular link.
Dora B. Montefiore.