Dora B. Montefiore, New Age December 1904

Women’s Interests

The Salaries of Assistant Mistresses


Source: New Age, p. 811, 22 December 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


A small, pamphlet on the above subject has been issued by the Association of Head Mistresses, and a perusal and study of it raises several questions, which it may be of advantage to discuss in a column devoted to women’s interests. The assistant mistresses, the amount of whose salaries under the reorganised scheme of secondary education is here under discussion, are mostly women of the upper middle-class, with brothers either at the University, in one or other of the professions, or in the Army and Navy; and whose own education and training; from fifteen to twenty five years of age, has, on an average, cost from 1,000 to 2,000. At the age of twenty-five the assistant mistress is, after three years of University and one year of professional training, prepared to enter on the arduous and absorbing work of education; and the writers of the pamphlet before me recommend that “ she should receive for her probationary year a salary of not less than 105 to 120. For her second year her salary should be at least 120, and should rise to 150.” At the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight, therefore, a very highly educated gentlewoman should be receiving the magnificent salary of 150 a year whereas a twin-brother (to state an imaginary case) who might have gone through a similar course of study, have taken his degree, and have undergone a year’s training in the art of imparting knowledge, would command a salary about double that offered to his sister. What are the reasons that tend to continue this state of things: this inequality of opportunity between human beings similarly equipped, and possessing similar needs and aspirations. The reasons are various and complex, but one among the not least unimportant is the fact that such a pamphlet as the one I am criticising should be published by an Association of Head Mistresses, one of whom, at least, is in receipt of a salary of 1,500 a year!

The Disabilities of Trained Professional Women.

One of the serious disabilities under which women graduates of Oxford and Cambridge still suffer is caused by the fact that the two leading Universities still refuse a degree to women. The more generous Celtic spirit has this year done its best to remedy this injustice by offering the Dublin degree to any woman-graduate of either Oxford or Cambridge. Then, again, a profound injustice is done to educated women, as also to those engaged in industry, etc., by calculating the scale of their remuneration not at its market value as work accomplished (irrespective of the sex of the worker), but on an arbitrary and artificial basis of the bare necessities of subsistence. It is in this respect that the pamphlet issued by the Association of Head Mistresses offends most glaringly. Instead of courageously and justly demanding equal pay for equal work, they first fix the minimum salary of a woman secondary teacher possessing a University degree, or its equivalent, at a sum which a similarly trained man would indignantly reject; and then to justify their false attitude they draw up tables (based on the inquiries of Mr. Alfred Pollard and “experts”) of the cost of living for educated women – which tables they remark, are “worth studying.” This is how Mr. Alfred Pollard and his “experts,” with the approval, I gather, of the well-paid head mistresses, suggest that the educated young woman, should spend her magnificent salary of 100 year: –

  s. d.
Board and lodging during 40 weeks50 0 0
Half rent during holidays 4 0 0
Railway and other expenses for six weeks’ holiday with friends 4 0 0
Six weeks’ holiday at own expense 9 0 0
Educational books 1 0 0
Dress15 0 0
Petty cash for omnibuses, amusements, presents, charities, etc 4 10 0
Laundry 3 10 0
Medical attendance and provision against sickness 5 0 0
Sum available for provision for old age 4 0 0
 100

Could anything be more exactly and accurately calculated; unless, indeed, it be one of those tables of costs set forth in the housekeeping columns of our numerous “Ladies’ Papers” published by men; wherein the housekeeping expert, gives advice to the inquiring young housekeeper about the items of expenditure in an income of two or three hundred a year? I have often wondered with a smile whether the housekeeping experts have ever tried their own nostrums of a cook at 15 and a house-parlourmaid-nurse at 10 a year; with never a hint of the need of a possible charwoman at 2s. 6d. a day when one or other of these extravagantly paid domestic helps breaks down, gives sudden warning, or in some other way departs from the normal? Naturally, it is the unexpected, whether in the housekeeping or in the bare subsistence budget of the assistant schoolmistress, that always breaks down the carefully prepared and balanced tables of cost; and it is the unexpected that always happens! Besides which, why should the needs of the assistant mistress bend before the authority of a Mr. Pollard or of “experts"? Has there ever been a Mrs. Pollard and a band of “experts” to frame a table of the cost of living for “educated men” – a table from which everything in the shape of the smallest luxury is eliminated, and in which personal expenses, as represented in “petty cash for omnibuses, amusements, presents, charities, etc.,” is worked out at the princely sum of 4 10s.? That, “etc.,” by the bye, must mean stamps and stationery, for there is no other item in which these two necessaries of life could be included. Then look at the items a year for “educational books,” with nothing allowed for the occasional purchase of a bargain at a bookstall, or a good reproduction of some old master; nothing for a library subscription or for the purchase of a song or a piece of music! Would Mr. Alfred Pollard, or any of his “experts,” care to try the experiment of a six weeks’ holiday at his own expense on 30s. a week? Is it not the dreariness of an existence as gray, as bare, as colourless as the one typified in this table of costs that discourages many girls from entering on the courses of training – necessary for the teaching profession? Is it not the persistent underpaying of women in every walk of life except the Stage, Art, and Literature that accounts for the “lack of efficiency” cry where women’s work is concerned? The writers of the pamphlet remark: “But the question of obtaining efficiency is not more important that that of retaining it.” Quite so. And the best way in the long run of retaining efficiency is to remove artificial barriers, and give equal pay for equal work; basing the scale of pay on that already fixed for men secondary teachers. It is just at such moments as these, of “crises in, educational affairs,” that women in a position to advise and administer should state the case of their fellow-women with fairness and courage. They admit the attractions of other and better-paid professions; they admit the expense of the training necessary for those who would enter the teaching profession; they remind the new authorities of the danger of “allowing fees to be fixed at so low a rate that it is not possible to offer salaries large enough to secure educational efficiency”; and at the same time they publish as a guide to those authorities tables of the costs of living for educated women, which, far from being worthy of study, are a contemptible example of the financial meanness of a hierarchy, which, though enjoying to the full themselves the good things of life, desire to keep the lives of the majority of their fellow-workers at the cold drab level of bare subsistence.

DORA B. MONTEFIORE.

IN MEMORIAM.
ZONA VALLANCE.

Born Feb. 6, 1860. Died Dec. 16, 1904

The cause of Humanity lost on December 16 one of its most devoted workers in the person of Zona Vallance, writer and lecturer, who, after a short but painful illness, is now at rest. A woman fellow-worker writes of her: “She recognised clearly and fully that every worthy motive for right living remained the same, whether life lived ‘for evermore,’ or ceased with the parting breath; and the less she concerned herself for a personal immortality the more she strove for the well-being and the moral progress of the race. ‘Progress,’ writes a modern author, consists in human souls, taught to know their dignity, and the vast Universe of their inheritance.'”

D.B.M.