Dora B. Montefiore New Age February 1905
Source: New Age, p. 106, 23 February 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
The struggle of women for social, economic, any political freedom is nothing if it is not international and we English women are, therefore, watching with intensest interest the struggle of our brave Russian sisters, who are showing themselves in every way the equals of the men in their efforts to establish a Socialist commonwealth where the land shall be owned by the people, and where the present corrupt and blood-stained system of the Czar shall be swept away. A few weeks ago I spoke of Vera Figner, who, after twenty years of exile and imprisonment, has been sent (suffering as she is from scurvy and rheumatism) to a remote village in the Arctic region of Archangel. Every day we hear from newspapers, or through friends, of courageous propaganda carried on by women of all classes; and of the frightful sufferings meted out by a deliriously scared Government to these heroines and martyrs in the cause of liberty. The Express, of St. Petersburg, tells, how, when the workmen at Novikoff’s factory at Rostov, refused to join the strike, the wives of factory men who had come out from other works held an indignation meeting; after which 600 stormed the factory, upbraided the men, and drove them out. The officials were helpless. The Cossacks were summoned as usual, and they rode into the mob, slashing with their knouts, and trampling the women under foot. Several were killed, and many wounded. To-day I had put into my hands a little recent book published in Chicago, giving the life history and portrait of Katharina Breshkovski, who, after 25 years of Siberian exile, is at the present moment carrying on a vigorous campaign in the United States, creating everywhere extraordinary enthusiasm for the Russian cause. The portrait shows an aged, but still powerful face; a great wavy mass of grey hair frames a broad brow, heavily scored with the deep, ineffaceable lines of suffering. Her eyes, under their high-arched brows, now flash the fires of her dream, now beam forth the warm affections of one whom hundreds call endearingly “Babouska” – little grandmother.
This is how this old woman, who counts life as nought without freedom for all to live that life, describes the first Russian prison in St. Petersburg, in which she awaited trial for her “political crimes.” “I was pushed in, the heavy door slammed, and bolts rattled in total darkness. At once I was sickened by the odour. I took a step forward and slipped, for the floor was soft with excrement. I stood still until, deadly sick, I sank down on a pile of straw and rags. A minute later I was stung sharply back to consciousness, and sprang up covered with vermin. I leaned against the walls, and found them damp. So I stood up all night in the middle of the cell.” .... During the rest of the two years spent in awaiting trial, the cell she occupied was 9 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 7 feet high. It was clean, and a hole above gave plenty of air. Her bed was an iron bracket with mattress and pillow of straw, rough grey blanket, coarse sheet, and pillow-case; she wore her own clothes. When, in 1878, she and others who had been arrested with her were tried, 100 of the number had died or become insane, and the white-faced, crippled remainder started, after receiving their sentence, on the 5,000 miles journey to Siberia. Along this great Siberian road over a million men, women, and children have dragged – 250,000 since 1875 – people from every social class; murderers and degenerates side by side with tender girls, who were exiled through the jealous wife of some petty town official.” When the present hapless Czar, in a burst of epileptic fear, cries out for sympathy in his present troubles, should not the people, should not the women of the world, remind him that his system, his Government, have proved themselves deaf to the cries for pity of tens of millions of those whom it was his duty to protect and save?
A most successful meeting was held on Sunday, 12th inst., at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, under the auspices of the Women’s Trade and Labour Council of Manchester and Salford, to demand the extension of the franchise to women. Mrs. Sarah Dickenson (who has since been up to London to interview, with other organised women, members of Parliament on the same subject) was in the chair, and Mr. Philip Snowden moved, and Miss Gore Booth eloquently seconded, a resolution to the effect that: “This meeting urges the Government speedily to pass a measure for the enfranchisement of the women workers of the country.” The organised women workers have done more than any other body of women to make this question of the enfranchisement of their sex a vital one; and there is more stirring of Parliamentary dry bones on women questions than there has been at Westminster for many years. Dr. Shipman, an old and valued friend of our cause, has secured a place for his Bill to replace women on Borough and County Councils; and Mr. Crooks’s Bill, for which much lobbying was done in the early days of last week, has secured a second place on May 12th.
Thirty-one Council schools and nine non-provided schools, together with special exhibits from the evening schools, and industrial schools under the care of the Council, are represented in an interesting exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, which is now open, and which well repays a visit from those interested in the subject. The housewifery section is, let us hope, the embryo of a teaching system, based on scientific and modern methods, which will revolutionise for the better domestic work and motherhood among the women of the people. The care and feeding of infants is specially taught, and in order to minimise the risks of over-laying of infants, the girls are taught how to make cradles out of clothes-baskets, and tiny hammocks out of sacking and ropes. I would suggest that one or two of the new “Women Inspectors” should visit the School of Domestic Economy in Berlin, which some of us had the privilege of inspecting at the time of the Women’s International Congress; where the practical work of food preparation is taught on the most simple, economical, and wholesome lines; and household cleaning is carried to a pitch of undreamt-of perfection.
Women workers who are hesitating about joining an organisation, should attend a public meeting, to be held at Essex Hall, Strand, London, W.C., this evening at 8 p. m., when the Rev. Stewart Headlam will preside, and the speakers will point out the importance to workers of joining a trade union, and urge those who are not already organised to strengthen themselves and their fellow-workers by entering organisations.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.