Dora B. Montefiore, New Age May 1905
Source: New Age, p. 288, 4 May 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
As the Bill for the Enfranchisement of Women is down for second reading on May 12, all true reformers are looking forward with anxiety to the result of the debate, whilst men and women of every shade of political opinion are working whole-heartedly for this long delayed measure of justice towards English women. It has been decided, therefore, after consultation with our Editor, to ask a veteran woman worker in the cause of humanity to speak in this column, devoted to women’s interests, on the eve of the introduction of the Bill, which asks for the political vote for women on the same terms as men exercise it. Jane Hume Clapperton, the author of Scientific Meliorism, and of the Vision of the Future needs no introduction to those who have, for the last generation, followed the writings of social reformers. A writer on social evolution, when reviewing Scientific Meliorism, wrote: “The spirit shown by the writer is one of intense sympathy with the needs of human nature in the various stages and conditions of modern life .... As a guide for conduct the book is so comprehensive and just that it may claim to stand for the Bible of Altruism.” The author has for some years been a member of the I.L.P., but has never actively identified herself with the Woman movement. She, however, like many others, feels that public life is losing ever more and more by the continued exclusion of women from politics, and from administrative work; and she has, in consequence, been moved to write an appeal, which is pregnant with the weight of the writer’s experience of life and of work in the cause of humanity. From this I make the following extracts:-
“Political activity without political responsibility was a rock ahead in those days when the wise John Stuart Mill urged the immediate giving of the franchise to women. They were everywhere awaking from intellectual torpor – the hypnosis imposed by long ages of complete subjection to man; and how to direct this rising tide of life, this new social force emerging on the scene, was the problem before him.
“Self-education in all the duties of national and civic life was the only sure pathway to effective public service, and that women might voluntarily choose that true path, a measure of political responsibility was necessary.
“The policy advocated, however, by Mill, Fawcett, and other great leaders in England, was not followed. Partial measures of relief from conditions complained of were devised, some laws that pressed heavily on women were removed, and the agitation of the gentler sex subsided on concession of greater civic liberty without that political liberty which, as Joseph Mazzini well said, is its sanction and guarantee.
“For thirty years now the women’s suffrage movement has been in a backwater, and so far are we from the realisation of Emerson’s bright hopes of the purification of politics that in 1900 Herbert Spencer wrote as follows: ‘The process of rebarbarisation which has long been going on, is now going on at an increasing rate. At present there is an unusual resurgence of the passions of the brute. Men pride themselves not on those faculties and feelings which distinguish them as human beings, but in those which they have in common with inferior beings – pride themselves in approaching as nearly as they can to the character of the bulldog.’ “
The writer will not assume that if women had been enfranchised no such retrogression would have occurred; but she proceeds:—
“I venture to affirm that in the general interests of our race there was fatal blundering when, on lowering the franchise to men, Gladstone refused to append the rider to his Bill that would have made women voters.
“A fine impulse ensouling the Woman Movement in its beginnings has been tampered with, and in great measure lost. It was a blend of enthusiasm and courage, of noble ideals and a strong moral purpose to achieve, not personal distinction, but public work of the highest and best.
“Can we wonder that the blunderings of men have been followed by the blunderings of women; and that some of the irresponsibles have rushed into a political area – where angels might fear to tread – and have worked blindly as tools in the hands of party politicians?
“As regards the concessions of former years, these are gradually being withdrawn. Mazzini was right. Political liberty is the guarantee of civic liberty, and there is no assured liberty without the vote.
“Women suffragists have, by this time, abundantly proved their capacity in electioneering fields; but they cannot afford to be generous, giving service on party lines without reference to their own particular cause.
“In view of their high aim and of present conditions, they should firmly refuse to work for Parliamentary candidates unless these pledge themselves to support female suffrage, and that vigorously. No bye election occurs without women being called from all parts of the country to assist; and when the next General Election takes place women’s help is likely – I quote Mr. W. McLaren’s words – ‘to be at a premium.’ To canvass for opponents, or even for men who show only a ‘nebulous, hazy kind of goodwill’ towards female suffrage, is impolitic, nay, I venture to characterise it as disloyal to our cause. By too much of such unwise generosity, hitherto, a false impression has been created, viz., an-impression that women are not in earnest in seeking the vote for themselves, and that they are satisfied by the permission to serve as political hacks to men, and to flutter around on the threshold of legislative areas sipping sweets like butterflies without burden of terrestrial responsibility!
“No one on penetrating into the centre of the movement for women’s suffrage could accept as true the reproach of indifference. As a matter of fact a revival has taken place, a new impetus has been given to the cause, and it manifests greater vitality to-day than it did thirty years ago. Veterans have been joined by many new enthusiastic workers; whilst outside the Houses of Parliament, in the list of candidates for the next General Election, so far as their views are known, an overwhelming majority are in favour of Women’s Suffrage. Within the House there are six members in the Cabinet, five of whom have proved their adherence in and out of Parliament; and there are a very considerable number amongst the members of the Ministry outside the Cabinet, who are its friends. (Women’s Suffrage Record, December, 1904, pp. 6 and 7.)
“The crying need of this age is a large-hearted as well as a long-headed legislative policy – an intelligent policy of comprehensive grasp that will gradually banish squalor and misery from our midst, and – without industrial revolution – master and subdue the vile tyranny of competition that enslaves our masses and rebarbarises our classes – a policy that by inaugurating the reign of justice will set coursing through the arteries of our whole social organism the pure elixir of joy that can bring to birth not only physical health, but all the qualities that ennoble and adorn Humanity.
“Grave fears of disaster to national dignity and honour from feminine sentimentality and ignorance float about in the public mind, and give pause to many would-be supporters of women’s enfranchisement. An earnest study, however, of late experience in the Colonies – especially New Zealand – discounts these faithless fears.
“This twentieth century is an epoch of conscious evolution, as Sir Oliver Lodge has told us, and, in consequence, all legislative measures not conceived and carried out in conformity with ethical law are destined to fail. The moral laws of the universe – so far as man knows them – must rule in human affairs for further evolutional progress.
“From the heart of this nation there arises to-day the poet’s prayer:-
“O God, make no more giants,
Elevate the race.”
“But laborare est orare, and the answer to the prayer lies with humanity itself.
“That a half of the nation’s emotional and moral strength should continue debarred from this task will prove fatal to its accomplishment. Amid to-day’s social forces that make for righteousness is the spirit of justice that, in both sexes, claims Parliamentary suffrage for women.”
I cordially commend this appeal to the earnest attention of my readers.”
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.
[The correspondence and discussion over last week’s article by “The Childless Wife” will be postponed till the issue of May 11 D.B.M]