Dora B. Montefiore, New Age June 1905
Source: New Age, p. 394-395, 22 June 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
It was on this plea that I refused last I shall suffer in the same way this year, though if the choice were possible, I should prefer going to prison to purge my offence of rebellion against an unjust law, rather than, suffer a financial loss which I can ill afford. In the light, however, of the Report of Sir William Butler’s Committee on the War Stores Scandal, showing how the money represented by the taxes we are forced to pay is squandered by incompetent and corrupt administration, all women taxpayers should begin to realise that the power of control over public expenditure, which possession of the political vote connotes, should be increasingly demanded – not so much as a right, but as a duty. Administration in the home has been for ages the special function of woman; and the wise laying out of the sums of money committed to her charge has been her daily duty – a duty, on the whole, of which she has honourably acquitted herself. Tens of thousands of widows are the administrators of large fortunes, and at the same time fulfil their duties to the State by bringing up sons and daughters for citizenship – thus fulfilling the double duties of parenthood. The majority of these women would be scandalised if in their estate or home accounts a hundred pounds or so had been misappropriated, or muddled away. Yet they make no sign when, six millions of public money (of their money, for they are part of the public) disappears in a dust cloud of discreditable, unbusinesslike, and demoralising transactions.
After all administration remains administration, whether it be the spending of an income of £500 or of five hundred millions. Forethought, method, and honesty are necessary in the personnel employed in one administration and in the other. Moments of crisis are sure to come in both administrations; they can only be successfully met and dealt with by a display of loyalty and regard for duty on the part of those chosen to help and supplement the administration. There are dishonest and pushful tradesmen, just as there are dishonest and pushful contractors, ever ready to bribe the underling, and oust the honest trader. The woman’s business has for long been to combat these lesser depredations; the fact of her having to concentrate her mind on trifles – on what may be almost described as the “pence” side of finance, has been perhaps in some ways injurious to her character as a whole; has made her pay, at times, too much attention to detail, has narrowed her imagination, and made her over-cautious or penurious. But these are surely the “defects of qualities” which would be most valuable at the present time to public administration in England; yet woman’s influence is entirely excluded from the control of public expenditure; and in the case of Local administration, the small, but growing power that she was exercising a few years ago on the Finance Committees of London Vestries, and on School Boards, has been rigorously curtailed. Let me beg women who understand the responsibility of the spending of incomes without waste, but also without penurious solicitude, to study Sir William Butler’s Report and the Report of the War Commission; and to mark especially such passages as the following: “The waste of public money on this occasion was attributable to insufficient preparation and lack of forethought.” “The minutes of evidence hold many proofs that the signing away of thousands of pounds, the granting of rebates or refunds, and the acceptation of a contractor’s representation without query or comment, were regarded as ordinary occurrences in everyday administration, worthy of less attention than would have been bestowed upon a few pounds or shillings in a similar situation at home.” One more quotation, and I leave the subject in the hands of my tax-paying women readers: “And there is another point, perhaps the strongest of all, to which the Committee must refer; it is: Are the taxpayers of this country to continue to be the sport of the many questionable contractors who are as ready to follow their several avocations in the wake of a war, as they are also willing to be its pioneers?”
Mr. G.K. Chesterton has been indulging in some “Chestertonian” remarks in the Fortnightly for June on what he is pleased to term “Female Suffrage.” Mr. Chesterton’s recipe for the throwing off of these airy nothings on a subject which has been before the Parliament of the country for the last forty years, seems to be to collect at random some of the most well-worn arguments that have been used for or against the measure; to hurry them willy-nilly into the motley garb of Chestertonian paradox, and to lay on three imaginary contemporaries, Colonel Bartram, Mr. Desmond, and Dr. Paul, the duty of pulling the strings which will make his old-fashioned oddities dance. One of the crudest and most futile a priori arguments against Woman Suffrage that has been used ad nauseam by its opponents is that its granting would make very little, if any, difference to the trend of politics. We of the less logical sex had ventured to hope that as positive data respecting the effect of political enfranchisement of women are now procurable from our Colonies, those who professed to be leaders of thought would henceforth give up using arguments based on their own private and unsupported opinion, and would begin to make some serious study of new conditions and tendencies. Yet we find Mr. Desmond, under Mr. Chesterton’s auspices, making the old motley puppet dance in bewilderingly up-to-date cake-walk style. “My view of female suffrage is that if it were conceded it would make absolutely no difference at all. There are the same kind, and the same number of Conservative she-donkeys as there are of Conservative he-donkeys. There are the same type and number of Progressive-Radical pigs as there are of Progressive-Radical sows.” The prophet has spoken! We “females,” “she-donkeys,” and “sows,” may think little of the utterance, and less of its form, but we may be sure that the whole farmyard and pigstye on the “male” side will squeak and grunt approval; for has not the great Chesterton spoken?
I have been sent by a friend a series of articles by Mr. H.G. Wells, under the title of “Joint Households,” in which he advocates families and individuals living in community. The Daily Mail, which publishes the articles, calls the idea which they embody “a daring social suggestion”; if there is in reality anything daring in the suggestion, it is consoling to think that it was first made by women, as Miss Jane Hume Clapperton wrote many years ago an elaborate scheme of what she then called “Unitary Homes” – the inhabitants of which were to meet at meal time, and when they, desired in social intercourse; but whose privacy at other times was to be as much respected as if they were secluded in their own home.” Mrs. Stetson Gilman has also thrown out in several of her works suggestions for these joint households of the future, when “Home” is no longer to be the place where cooking, washing, and scullery work is carried on unceasingly, either by the unpaid wife and mother, or the paid servant or help – but when Home is to be a place for rest, for recreation, for really precious moments of communion and intercourse with those we love. “Social development, and the development of housing must go together,” says Mr. Wells, “and one must wait upon the other.” This is so absolutely a true statement of the case that it is to be hoped in some of the Garden Cities and Suburban Utopias where ideas are to be allowed ascendancy over the conventions of builders, social development running in the direction of Unitary Homes may be practically considered.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.